Chelsea wouldn’t have won at Anfield with 11 men

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: Reece James of Chelsea is shown a Red Card by Match Referee Anthony Taylor during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield on August 28, 2021 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: Reece James of Chelsea is shown a Red Card by Match Referee Anthony Taylor during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield on August 28, 2021 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images) /

Chelsea travelled to Anfield last Saturday and took a well-deserved, hard-fought point after being reduced to 10 men. This has caused the football community to praise Thomas Tuchel’s tactics and defensive organization. Unfortunately, that defensive organization only came about when the Blues were reduced to a man less. Chelsea fans are focusing on the wrong thing in this contest though.

There’s a lot of argument—weirdly—about whether James should have been sent off, even though these fans agree that a penalty was the right call. James swung at the ball, as his thigh was not enough to keep it out, his reaction to the red card was his attempt at selling the “what did I do wrong?” narrative. He’d never get a clearer red card in his career, and he’s just 21. Over the past week, tweets and outrage have been directed at Anthony Taylor, but the reality is the Blues had no sort of control of the game even before the red card. The team was inept in the final third. All indications pointed toward Liverpool being in pole position to shift Chelsea’s defense around and make something good.

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Chelsea did not fail to win at Anfield because the Blues were down to 10 men

The Reds created three clear cut chances before the red card and the fourth was their penalty, which Mohamed Salah converted. Chelsea created zero clear cut chances in the first half, and of course, zero in the second half, as well. The statistics from the first half matched the eye test and showed that the Blues only seemed to have control at very specific moments in the match.

Defensively, the Blues were not alert at key points in the game. Trent Alexander-Arnold found a cross to Jordan Henderson early on, who was running free in the Blues’ penalty box. The Liverpool captain was unable to direct his shot goalwards in what could have been a very awkward moment for Chelsea indeed. The communication between Edouard Mendy and Marcos Alonso for the corner in the 45′ was poor, as well. Alonso came in late to head a ball that was bound for Mendy’s outstretched arms and safe hands. The aftermath of this chaos ended in James stopping a goal with his arm, earning him a sending off. According to fbref, Chelsea conceded an expected goals against (xGA) of 2.7. For comparison, Arsenal conceded 2.9 xGA against the Blues, that should give a clear picture of how disorganized they were at Anfield.

Chelsea had three counter attacks in the first half, an indication of how much pressure it was under from the Reds. All these counter attacks led to shots, but none of them led to a clear cut chance. The Blues found themselves in several positions in the first half to create very good goal scoring chances but decision making ultimately let them down. There was one where Kai Havertz received the ball and had a clear sight of Romelu Lukaku, who was running in behind—unmarked. Havertz saw the run, decided against the pass and eventually dribbled into the box to fire a weak shot at Alisson, which the Brazilian easily collected.

Another example was where Lukaku made a very good play and ran at Liverpool defenders, three against three. The No. 9 released the ball to Mason Mount, who dribbled his man and had a clear opportunity to shoot or pass. The angle of the shot was against him and Havertz would have had a better chance at the goal, but Mount refused to pass and shot the ball. His shot was fizzled wide (due to a slight deflection that the official missed) of the goal and signaled the end of an attacking opportunity that didn’t come the Blues’ way often.

Nothing from the first half indicated that Chelsea was on its way to winning the game and a case could be made that the red card helped the Blues because it forced them to pack it in and be compact. Chelsea’s attack is lacking players who’ll make key decisions in the final third. Lukaku is the only one who did against Liverpool. It doesn’t bode well for the Blues that in such a high profile game, the attack and defense came up short until they were at a disadvantage and their back was against the wall.

Every Chelsea fan hopes that Lukaku will score lots of goals, but he is headed for a Timo Werner 2020/21 league season numbers wise if the decision making around him continues to be as appalling as it was against Liverpool. It’s all well and good creating five clear cut chances against an imaginary Arsenal defense, but the ability to also create these chances against better opponents would have more of an impact on the Blues’ objectives and achievements this season. In a high profile match against potential title challengers; Marcos Alonso led or joint-led the team in pressures, recoveries, progressive passes and shot creating actions, according to fbref. He was Chelsea’s best player on the pitch and got little credit. That really makes you wonder what the big money signings and key players were doing throughout.

Next. Chelsea transfer window review (Part one): Goalkeepers. dark

The Liverpool clash was the cliche game of two halves, where the Blues were grossly incompetent in the first and were forced to be more organized in the second. They deserve the praise they’re getting for the second half performance, but aren’t getting nearly enough criticism for the first half showing.