Chelsea is facing a Liverpool side that hardly look like reigning champions. As soon as their home run streak was broken (far short of Chelsea’s, naturally), they fell apart. What should the Blues look for against these fallen champions?
1. How does Chelsea attack Liverpool’s “centerbacks”?
To say that Liverpool is dealing with some injuries would be like saying N’Golo Kante is a decent athlete; it doesn’t quite do the truth justice. The biggest issue for Jurgen Klopp’s side is that those injured players are almost exclusively centerbacks or other players who were forced to play the role when no one else could. From Virgil Van Dijk to Jordan Henderson, almost every warm body Klopp has thrown out there has picked up some sort of knock, ranging from a pulled hamstring to a blown-out knee.
On Thursday, it will likely be Ozan Kabak as one of the central defenders, alongside possibly Fabinho if he’s fit, otherwise Nathaniel Phillips. None of those names will exactly strike fear in the hearts of Chelsea’s attacking core, even if Fabinho did do a good job of containing the threat of Timo Werner when these sides met back in September.
That being the case, Thomas Tuchel will need to fashion an attacking game plan that can bring the worst out of whoever Klopp does deploy at the back. When you have the combination of defenders who don’t know the position, that’s one thing. But when they don’t know each other particularly well, that’s an even greater advantage.
Chelsea won’t need to do anything particularly fancy to get Liverpool’s defenders tied in knots; decent positioning from a single striker should be plenty effective. After Olivier Giroud played a generally underwhelming 65 minutes against Manchester United on Sunday, while Tammy Abraham was left off the bench for reasons that aren’t entirely clear but smell like trouble. Either player would stand a good chance at getting some space to get a good look or two at Allison’s goal.
If neither are in Tuchel’s favor, however, we might see one of Timo Werner or Kai Havertz as the de facto number nine. If that’s the case, Liverpool’s centerbacks might actually be worse off as they try to deal with a more unconventional striker taking up spaces they may not have been drilled on in training. Again, that could give Chelsea the upper hand any time the ball makes its way down towards Liverpool’s end.
Of course, it’s all up to Tuchel to put the right names on the team sheet and point them in the right directions. He certainly has the tools to work with, but it will be apparent pretty early one if he picked the right ones for the job.