In the 2020/21 season, there was a popular opinion about Liverpool. Most fans and several pundits agreed that they struggled at home as a result of an empty stadium without fans. Given past events, that opinion might be true, as the Reds have channeled the Anfield energy many times to get a result.
The Reds lost six successive matches at home, ending a club-record in the empty stadium last season. Such a record could give credence to how important the home support has always being, to Liverpool’s performance.
However, Gameweek 3 saw Chelsea pay a visit to the Merseyside; a first-ever visit to Anfield for a big team since the fans returned. On a day Liverpool was expected to announce to the world that they’re back and ready to rock, they fell short, once again.
Which brings a question, what could the problem be? Are Liverpool good enough to win the 2021/22 PL title? Can they dispose of teams in the manner that they did in their title winning season?
Liverpool started brightly against Chelsea but fell behind to a Kai Havertz header. However, for all Liverpool’s perceived good spell at the start of the game, they barely got anything in the Blues box. As half time approached, the Reds got a boost with the dismissal of Reece James, as that meant they could now play with a man advantage after Salah had tucked home the resulting penalty. By the time the second half began, Thomas Tuchel had Chelsea sitting deeper to make up for the one man that was missing.
In the first half, Chelsea deployed a high front three that occupied Liverpool’s defense, a low defensive block and opted for energy in midfield to cover the gap. However, they couldn’t keep up with this after the red card. With this happening, Liverpool had more of the ball and it was left to them to utilize it. Matip and Van Dijk could now spend more time on the ball, which resulted in higher possession (77.1 percent) for the Reds in the first quarter of the second half. Despite having a lion share of the possession, Liverpool hardly created anything of note. Until the closing six minutes, only Sadio Mane’s 56th minute attempt had an xG of more than 0.1. The chance itself didn’t particularly spell glorious but it was the closest that Liverpool could get in spite of having so much of the ball.
Liverpool had a routine of attack that has been characteristic for several seasons and this made it a little easier for Chelsea to stop them in their tracks. Liverpool’s overreliance on creating through crosses from the flanks has helped them for a while but has also become their Achilles heel. This was evident against Chelsea, as Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold had the most key passes, four and five respectively. None of Liverpool’s middle men played more than one key pass in the game, as only one player aside their wing backs, had more than one key pass (Mo Salah). And this was on the flanks rather than inside. All Chelsea needed to do was pack their defence and they rarely had to worry too much.
Liverpool ultimately missed their opportunity to stake their claim as genuine title contenders. Their lack of imagination in the final third was another demon they struggled with, same demon that might stop them from challenging for the title this season. In the 2020/21 Premier League season, no Liverpool player has more assists (7) or created more big chances (14) than Trent Alexander-Arnold. Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold also averaged more key passes 1.7 and 2.2, the top two by any Liverpool player in the 2020/21 Premier League season. This 2021/22 season appears to be the same already, with Trent Alexander-Arnold leading the assists chart for Liverpool with 3 assists. While the wing backs Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold als lead the way for average key passes this season, 4.0 and 5.0. The lack of creativity in the middle third makes Liverpool predictable.