By James Bayliss
Image from Goal.com
The footballing world seems to be coating Liverpool in praise and admiration for their performances this season, and rightly so. Five wins out fo five is a terrific return for a team that entered the season knowing pressure to challenge for the title was weighing heavy on their shoulders after a superb Champions League campaign last season. Liverpool have certainly confirmed their title credentials after a win at Wembley over title-rivals Spurs, but their winning record is matched by only one other team: Chelsea.
The new Italian manager has certainly brought ‘Sarri-Ball’ to the Premier League and the fluidity of the 4-3-3 Chelsea play is wonderful to watch. The Blues have also started life so impressively, but why were they not being taken seriously as title contenders back in August? Here, I examine why I believe Chelsea are stronger contenders than the Reds.
- 4-3-3 vs 4-3-3
Same formation, but a different tactical approach – so which one do I consider superior? Over the years it seemed their was a Premier League winning formula; strong back four, clinical strikers and good squad depth, with a bit of luck on the way. Over the three seasons we’ve seen three very different winners; a gutsy Leicester City defying the odds, Conte’s three-at-the-back revolutionising the way managers approached the Premier League, and Guardiola showing you didn’t need 6ft2 robust midfielders to dominate a football match.
What all these teams did have in common was their work rate, and it’s hard to look beyond Liverpool and Klopp when you talk about a side that works with intensity. Liverpool have had an extra game away from home over Chelsea which undoubtedly affects the statistics I’ve listed below, especially as that extra game was against Tottenham. However, there’s no doubt that the midfield three of each team have fairly differing roles. Whilst Chelsea’s midfield three boasts Kante, arguably the best ball-winning midfielder in the world, their midfield is designed to retain possession and keep the ball; the first role of any player in the Chelsea side. Jorginho acts as the pivot with Kante and Kovacic dropping into space to receive the ball and either find Hazard and Pedro in central pockets, or recycle possession and rebuild attacks. The Liverpool midfield has a slightly different role. Wijnaldum, Keita and Milner perhaps aren’t as technically gifted overall as their rivals in London, though that’s not to say as a three they’re not terrific in possession either. In fact, Their role in possession comes secondary to their need to press under the Klopp system and make life difficult for the opposition, looking to release the ball to the famous front three of Salah, Firmino and Mane as soon as possible. To sum up, the Chelsea midfield focuses on possession above all else, whereas the Liverpool three are looking to suffocate the opposition and create instant, very direct counter attacks.
So far this season, Chelsea have completed 3,757 passes, more than Liverpool’s 2,892. They’ve also had 4,643 touches of the ball, higher than Liverpool’s 2,892, and Jorginho has completed the most passes in the league with 557. Milner on the other hand, as outstanding as he has been, has completed fewer at 462. Liverpool have though made 97 tackles to Chelsea’s 67, with Liverpool’s front six making 50 tackles, more than Chelsea’s front six totalling just 34.
These are subtle differences, but over a season they could have a huge impact. Whilst both teams sit on five wins each, it’s taken Chelsea far less physical effort to get to where they are compared to Liverpool. This intense style implemented with no respite by Klopp could exhaust Liverpool further down the line.
2. Europa League
In short, Chelsea can afford to rest players in the week, and play on Sunday’s knowing how a lot of the previous results have gone before they even kick a ball. Chelsea excelled without Champions League football under Conte, and the same could happen again for Sarri who has many squad players he owes game-time too.
Liverpool on the other hand face some huge Champions League fixtures and can afford to really let-up between now and Christmas, prompting Gary Neville to suggest they don’t bother trying with the Champions League. That seems a rash suggestion, but perhaps some sort of prioritising must take place and adopting a more rational and controlled approach at times may do Liverpool some favours down the line as opposed to always playing this ‘heavy metal football’, as Klopp likes to call it.
3. Chelsea have done it again, and again, and again
They talk about the mentality it takes to win the Premier League, and the one thing no one can argue with is Chelsea’s winning mentality as a club and one that is instilled in all their players. Boasting Premier League winners in Azpilicueta, Luiz, Fabregas, Kante, Hazard, Willian, Pedro, and other winners (Giroud and the World Cup, Kovacic winning several Champions Leagues), and the fact that they have won two titles in the last four seasons, suggest Chelsea are far more prepared for the mental battle that it takes to win the league. Liverpool don’t have a single title winner in their team, and their signings of Alisson, Shaqiri, and Keita don’t arrive boasting a lot of silverware themselves, with the exception of Fabinho who has won the Ligue 1 title but can’t get a game for his new club. This lack of experience could tell come the latter months of the season.
4. Eden Hazard
For me, Chelsea’s biggest advantage over Liverpool is Eden Hazard. I know Salah was extraordinary last season and could well do the same again, hitting statistics Hazard has never come close to, but I do feel there is something really special about Hazard and would honesty say he’s the third best player in the world. His ability to always make the right decision in key areas is a gift and one that is rare to find in forwards. It’s strange to say that whilst Salah has unbelievable stats to back his abilities, he can be one who takes the selfish option and arguably needs the team around him to play well for him to succeed. Hazard for me can change a game, and control it from out wide, dictating tempo and deciding when to raise his levels almost effortlessly. I’m not saying Liverpool don’t have World Class talent, they do, but they don’t have Eden Hazard.
Those are four reasons why I think Chelsea will finish above Liverpool, but hey, it’s just my opinion! Liverpool will be fantastic this year and I’m expecting a fabulous three-horse race between Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City.