The all-English UEFA Super Cup is just around the corner as Liverpool and Chelsea prepare to do battle in Istanbul.
This will be the first time ever that two Premier League sides have faced off in UEFA’s curtain raiser, making England’s top flight the third of Europe’s major leagues to fill both positions in the fixture. Serie A were the first in 1990 and La Liga have done so on no less than five occasions, with an incredible three in a row between 2014 and 2016.
But now England has completed this incredible achievement, and we will see the first English winner of this competition since Liverpool beat CSKA Moscow in 2005, what will happen in the game itself? In between Atlético Madrid’s victories in 2012 and 2018, the Champions League winner triumphed five years in a row; this makes sense due to the quality differential.
So will Liverpool’s superior ability carry them through or will Chelsea, having something more to prove, shock them and take home the trophy? We had a look at three key battlegrounds that will decide the fate of this historic clash.
1. Who wins the flanks?
The biggest worry for Chelsea is surely Liverpool’s enormously high-powered attack, specifically the magnificent Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané in the wide areas. Worse still is that they will be doubled up by the continent’s deadliest full-back duo, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson.
Liverpool are at their strongest on the flanks and their entire system is set up to create their goals in that zone of play through their wing-forwards cutting infield and their full-backs crossing. Against Norwich all four of their goals came from wide areas, albeit one of them from a corner, as they devastated the Canaries down the flanks.
Chelsea would have been nervous enough after Friday night but then on Sunday they got diced up by Manchester United, conceding four as Norwich did at Anfield, with the Red Devils causing them particular problems in the wide areas. Three of United’s goals came from them exposing Chelsea’s full-backs, twice doing so with dramatic outside-to-in runs (Marcus Rashford’s second and Paul Pogba’s assist for Daniel James’ goal) after Anthony Martial had made it 2-0 by converting a cross from the right-flank.
Now, United are a powerful counter-attacking side but Liverpool are several orders of magnitude better at that very same art. So imagine the Liverpool forwards exposing those same weaknesses United did? It could be murderous. Frank Lampard is going to have to cover up Chelsea’s own weaknesses in such a way that it will also cause problems for Liverpool’s strength. It’s a massive task and one they will really struggle to win, but it’s not all doom and gloom for the Blues.
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Last season Liverpool had a seemingly unbeatable combination of Alisson and Virgil van Dijk playing together. They only tasted defeat on six occasions, and just one of those saw them concede more than two goals (when they shipped three away to Barcelona). With the Brazilian and the Dutchman in tandem, Liverpool’s defence was impeccably organised and stout.
But now Alisson is out injured, which means that Adrián is going to be starting in goal for the Reds. Liverpool played just one game without Alisson last season and they lost it 2-1 to Wolves in the FA Cup third round. This was a reserve side which didn’t feature Van Dijk either, but there is no doubt that the Spaniard cannot provide anything like the same level of organisation as the Brazilian.
Since the start of 2016/17, Adrián has played 36 games in the Premier League. Alisson has 39, having been ever-present in his debut season. The Spaniard has made more saves, 124 to Alisson’s 78, but that’s more down to the teams they’re playing in. Alisson’s save percentage of 77.55% is a huge increase on Adrián’s 68.93%. Moreover the Brazilian has kept an incredible 21 clean sheets, which is almost double Adrián’s 12.
So this is Chelsea’s chance, their in. The exhaust port in the Death Star defensive perimeter facing them. All they need is to find a way to get past the relentless press of Liverpool’s forward line and they should find the midfield easy to negotiate (Norwich sure did) and then if they can somehow get around the radiating genius of Virgil van Dijk and get a shot away?
They just might be able to score. On Friday night, whilst Adrián was on the pitch, Norwich held Liverpool 1-1. And with the likes of Mason Mount, Pedro, Olivier Giroud and Ross Barkley you’d figure Chelsea able to pose more of an attacking threat than Norwich. There’s a chance. It’s real small, but it’s there.
3. Klopp vs. Lampard
The final battle is a kind of obvious, in the sense that of course the managerial showdown is a battleground, but it’s how these two managers will face off against each other that could decide the final. Liverpool are a known quantity at this point; it’s pretty obvious that Klopp with deploy an aggressive and dynamic midfield to press Chelsea and prevent defensive incursions as well as allowing Liverpool’s full-backs to bomb forward and dominate the flanks whilst their wing-forwards cut in to score.
But how can Lampard counter this? Unlike Liverpool, Lampard is a virtually unknown both in management generally and at Chelsea specifically. He’s used many different formations so far and seems to be a practical person, so what does he have planned? Well one change he could make is to directly counter Liverpool’s flank power.
Doubling up on full-backs to protect the flanks and trying to penetrate up the middle could be a positive move for Chelsea. Certainly Marcos Alonso and Emerson are both such deficient defenders that it’ll need the both of them to have a hope in hell of stopping Liverpool out wide.
And whilst you’d imagine Cesar Azpilicueta a defender capable of brilliant things, he looked well short of the pace required at Old Trafford when Chelsea got thrashed, so maybe affording him some extra protection with Davide Zappacosta ahead of him could work?
Then you have a three-man midfield of N’Golo Kanté, Ross Barkley and Mason Mount. Kanté is there to help the defence cope, giving Mount and Barkley license to drive forward, helping out Olivier Giroud in attack.
One of the finest target men in the game, Giroud would allow Chelsea to play a long game and stifle Liverpool. That is until Klopp did something different like introduce Naby Keita or return to the hurricane pressing football of 2017/18, a countermove you can definitely see him making and one that could destabilise any gameplan Lampard had put in place.
How these coaches plan and counterplan is going to be a major decisive factor in this all-English final.