Mason Mount got the goal on Thursday that beat Liverpool. The Reds could have prevented it with one fix, though.
Chelsea had a pretty obvious game plan on Thursday. They kicked it long, aiming for space behind the full-backs, and stretched Liverpool’s make-shift defence.
It worked. They kept creating chances and neither Ozan Kabak or Fabinho knew how to deal with things. The well-placed long-balls frequently isolated a defender and made things happen for Chelsea.
And that’s how Mason Mount got their goal.
A Liverpool attack broke down, resulting in N’Golo Kante picking the ball up around 35 yards from his own goal. He got his head up and launched one across the pitch.
He aimed for the left corner of the Liverpool box, behind Trent Alexander-Arnold. Mount ran there and it dragged Fabinho across to defend.
The Chelsea man sized Fabinho up and Alexander-Arnold dropped in line to cover a cut to the byline. Mount, however, just ran inside.
Liverpool had five players back. All of them ended up in the box. As Fabinho was with mount, Thiago had tracked Timo Werner into the box.
Ozan Kabak drifted across to mark Hakim Ziyech, who had got behind Andy Robertson. The Scot was free but on the other side of the box to Mount.
No one, then, covered the edge of the box – the D. That’s exactly where Mount carried the ball.
He got into the middle and fired a shot into the corner of the net. That proved to be the match-winner.
This just does not happen with Liverpool’s first-choice midfield. In fact, their entire midfield is supposed to be build around this not happening.
Liverpool typically line up with a holding midfielder and then two wider, pragmatic players. They move around in front of the holder and look to cover the full-backs.
But that didn’t happen. No one covered the full-backs, forcing Fabinho out wide. Then the lack of a holding player created a mess.
Because by the time Mount scored, one more Liverpool player made it back into the picture – Roberto Firmino. No, neither of the centre-mids. Both Curtis Jones and Gini Wijnaldum were miles away.
For us, this is a symptom of Liverpool not knowing what their midfield is. We thought Wijnaldum, for instance, was the holding player. But here it was Thiago – and he’s no good at it.
A true holding player would have fixed this goal. They would have been in position on the edge of the box to stop the shot at goal and to stop Mount cutting inside.
It’s why Alexander-Arnold’s positioning sort of makes sense. There’s supposed to be someone cutting off the middle, forcing Mount to drive towards the byline.
Yes, he should have adapted but it doesn’t change the fact that a holding midfielder corrects the situation. Liverpool do have one, of course – Fabinho.
This should be the end of the Fabinho in defence experiment. It can work when Jordan Henderson is there to play in midfield but otherwise, it leads to a mess like this.
If the Brazilian is holding, this goal doesn’t happen and we believe Liverpool are stronger as a whole. It is far too easy to get at the defence right now but Fabinho stops that if he’s in midfield.
It’s a simple move that creates stability in the middle and reduces confusion. It also just benefits the others to have simpler roles.
Goals like this don’t happen with a better setup. Liverpool must learn their lesson.