Football Features

Liverpool vs Chelsea predicted XIs: Tuchel’s solid defence meets Klopp’s ‘skeleton key’

By Ben Green

Published: 13:30, 4 March 2021

Liverpool managed to get back to winning ways at the weekend but the reigning champions face a Chelsea side currently unbeaten under Thomas Tuchel.

The Reds have been on a full-throttle nosedive since Boxing Day, all but surrendering their league title to runaway leaders Manchester City, but there were green shoots of recovery in South Yorkshire at the weekend, as Jurgen Klopp stopped the rot of a four-game losing run and picked up three points at Sheffield United.

His job will now be to build some momentum and ensure his side secure Champions League football for next season, starting with Thursday’s matchup against Chelsea. The Blues have looked a different beast under Tuchel and are reaping the rewards from a changing of the guard, making this showdown at Anfield a very fascinating prospect.

Relevant Sky Bet odds for Liverpool vs Chelsea

  • Liverpool win – 6/5
  • Draw – 5/2
  • Chelsea win – 21/10

18+ only. Be Gamble Aware. all odds within this article are correct at time of writing.

No longer in Klopp’s shadow

It seems that wherever Klopp has taken his career, Tuchel has not been far behind. First at Mainz, where he succeeded Klopp with distinction, taking the relative Bundesliga greenhorns from newly-promoted club to European regulars, and then at Dortmund, where he enjoyed great success but departed under a cloud.

Now they are both slogging it out in the Premier League, and while Klopp has been something of a managerial ‘kryptonite’ for Tuchel, who has enjoyed just two wins from their previous 14 meetings (Mainz 1-0 Dortmund, 2010 and PSG 2-1 Liverpool, 2018), the momentum is very much with the latter.

With the ink barely dry on the divorce papers from Frank Lampard’s departure, Tuchel has already struck a chord with the Chelsea fanbase, settling into his new posting with great alacrity and building a side capable of challenging consistently in the upper reaches of Premier League football.

There were too many uncertainties under Lampard; by contrast, Tuchel has the aura of a coach completely in tune with his own philosophy. He has already put together a side playing with far greater cohesion and understanding, while he has fixed Chelsea’s defensive vulnerabilities, the Achilles heel under Lampard.

Having risen to prominence and taken his game from the Ruhr Valley, to Paris and now London, all while tutoring a young Julian Nagelsmann at Augsburg, it is fair to say that Tuchel has undoubtedly shrugged off that once incessant tag of ‘the new Klopp’ and has very much cultivated his own image.

Defensive solidity a by-product of possession emphasis

Vic Buckingham, one of the pioneers of Total Football and the man responsible for unearthing a certain Johan Cruyff at Ajax, once gave a brief but very relevant homily on his tactical blueprint: “If you have got the ball, keep it. The other side cannot score.”

It’s a very self-evident premise, but one that is difficult to put into practise. Tuchel, however, has done just that. And the words of Buckingham perhaps best sum up these opening few weeks with Tuchel at the helm in west London.

Chelsea predicted XI: Mendy; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; James, Kante, Kovacic, Alonso; Mount, Werner, Giroud.

Since taking charge of his first game, only Man City (5,098) and Man Utd (4,425) have completed more passes than Chelsea (4,329) in the Premier League, with the Blues keeping the joint-most clean sheets during that time (five) and conceding the fewest number of goals (two).

The club’s number of completed passes per match is up by nearly 100 from Lampard’s reign in the first half of the season (618.43 under Tuchel, 529 under Lampard), and that has translated to greater defensive solidity, with Chelsea recycling possession, retaining the ball and controlling games with greater authority.

Chelsea’s average possession under Tuchel has also increased from 59.8% under Lampard to 67.38%, and in that time the German has become the first Chelsea manager to not concede a single goal in his opening four Premier League home games.

Some may point to the reversion to a back three at Stamford Bridge as the key to their defensive success under the German, but the press-and-possess principles Tuchel has instilled may, in fact, be the predominant force behind their upturn in fortunes at the back.

As Buckingham says: ‘if you have got the ball, the other side cannot score.’

Liverpool predicted XI: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Phillips, Kabak, Robertson; Thiago, Wijnaldum, Jones; Mane, Salah, Firmino.

Klopp could have the skeleton key

Although this current version of Liverpool is a far cry from the all-conquering side that won the title, Klopp enters this contest with two key variables in his favour: his own ‘high-press’ approach, and Sadio Mane.

Regarding the former, it isn’t easy to transpose a philosophy from one team to another, and while Chelsea have fully embraced Tuchel’s possession-heavy tactics, they may come unstuck against a side who have literally been conditioned under Klopp to play on the front foot and press with relish.

Only Man City (143) have won possession in the final third more than Liverpool’s 140 this season, having played a game more, despite the Reds being noticeably out of sorts and, quite frankly, a shadow of their former selves — they’ve also registered the third-most recoveries (1,633), behind only Marcelo Bielsa’s obsessively determined Leeds (1,714) and Leicester City (1,650).

Chelsea are yet to face an opponent of such intensity as Liverpool, one who will not give them a second to breathe and think about their next pass. If they’re thinking of hogging possession with the confidence they’ve exuded up until now, they can think again.

Klopp can also turn to Mane. The Senegal international has scored seven goals in 16 appearances against Chelsea in all competitions, only netting more against Crystal Palace (10) and Aston Villa (eight) since moving to England.

  • Sadio Mane to score – 23/10
  • Mane to score and Liverpool win – 7/2
  • Mane to score a brace – 18/1

But, away from the scoring metrics, Mane is someone who presses as though his life depends on it, while he is also constantly looking to break defensive lines, play on the shoulder of defenders and make diagonal runs inside, a nightmare for any defender. He might well be Liverpool’s ‘skeleton key’ to unlocking the Blues’ back door.

So, while Chelsea have controlled games with authority in recent times, the intense press of Liverpool, coupled with Mane’s spring-heeled exploits, could inflict the first blot on Tuchel’s near-flawless Chelsea CV and offer the perfect acid test for the German’s true capabilities at the Bridge.


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