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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Liverpool have 34 reasons to dismiss Chelsea, but FSG must be wary of second coming

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With such a vast, gaping chasm between them and the rest, Liverpool find themselves in an unfamiliar but very welcome position whereby they are now the gold standard for their rivals to try and match, looking down from above.

The notion of a ‘chasing pack’ has long since dissipated this season, but looking ahead to 2020/21 and beyond, those who have been left in the dust this time round will need to plot out how they intend to close the gap on Jürgen Klopp’s juggernaut.

Every club will adopt different strategies in doing that, but part of the universal approach will likely involve looking at aspects of what Liverpool have done so well to achieve such an extraordinary transformation in what is still a relatively condensed period of time, and attempting to replicate certain elements of that with regards to their own strategy moving forward.

Ahead of the Premier League restart, our writers will each pick a team with aspirations of competing at the top end of the table, and explore how, what and why they can specifically draw from Liverpool’s recipe for success.

Second up: Chelsea (34 points off the pace)

Other editions: Tottenham Hotspur

Chelsea haven’t finished inside the top two positions since winning the title in 2016/17. The Blues are due to return to the summit of English football and they are quietly constructing a squad with a very high ceiling.

At the business end of the pitch, Frank Lampard looks set to have a wealth of talent at his disposal next season including Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount to name but a few.

Kai Havertz has also been linked with a move to Stamford Bridge, which captures Chelsea’s intent to follow the path of Liverpool by building the attack before any other area.

However, similar to the Reds from a number of years ago, Chelsea are relatively fragile on the defensive side of the game.

The team are generally well-drilled without the ball, restricting opposing teams to just 2.97 shots on target per match this season which places them second behind only Liverpool’s 2.9 per match.

Premier League teams ranked according to shots on target faced per match this season
Premier League teams ranked according to shots on target faced per match this season

The high quality version of the above graphic can be viewed here.

It’s difficult to generate scoring opportunities against Chelsea but when shots do materialise, they usually find the net resulting in Lampard’s men suffering dramatically.

Kepa Arrizabalaga has proved to be a real problem. This season, he’s saved just 57.7% of the shots on target that he’s faced, which places him bottom of the division when compared to the first-choice goalkeeper at each Premier League club.

Alisson Becker, by contrast, places top with a save percentage of 80.4%.

His lack of presence between the sticks seems to stem from two things. Firstly, Kepa doesn’t appear to be a very accomplished shot-stopper and secondly, the shots that Chelsea do allow tend to be fairly clear-cut.

Kepa Arrizabalaga's open-play shot on target faced in the Premier League this season
Kepa Arrizabalaga’s open-play shot on target faced in the Premier League this season

Liverpool suffered from a similar problem before 2018. Klopp’s high press was effective for the most part but whenever it was beaten, opponents would be presented with big openings that Simon Mignolet would have to manage.

The Reds tackled both problems at once by investing £67m in Alisson while also altering the way in which they press. Liverpool’s intensity was retained, but with Virgil van Dijk, Alisson and Fabinho integrating a coolness when required. Klopp’s outfit became better equipped to retreat and soak pressure when required, as well as improving aerially.

Crucially, this permitted Liverpool to adapt to different opponents. Opting to close down Burnley high up the field isn’t likely to be as beneficial as pressing Arsenal in the same manner, for example, so the Reds adjusted.

For Chelsea to improve according to Liverpool’s evolution, Lampard must upgrade on Kepa as well as ensuring that when his team allow shots on their goal, they aren’t easy to score.

It’s understandable for the Blues to give the Spaniard at least one more campaign considering his age and record-breaking price tag, but if the development of the soon-to-be Premier League champions is anything to go by – you don’t win anything without a quality goalkeeper.

When Klopp sensed that his team was close to success, he spent big on what the club have since described as ‘transformers’. Players who are good enough to single-handedly transcend the fortunes of a team. Chelsea probably have the funds to buy a whole new squad, but if they remain patient and focused in the transfer market, they could make a similar step up in the next 18 months.

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