Liverpool played out a 2-2 draw against Chelsea on Sunday afternoon. It was a result that confirmed just how important Thiago and Roberto Firmino are to the Reds.
Liverpool weren’t great against Chelsea and struggled badly to control this game. But what do you expect? They lacked several first-team players through injury and Covid-19. They didn’t even have Jurgen Klopp on the sidelines.
While the Reds battled against those absences, though, the game did confirm just how badly they need two players. Both Thiago and Roberto Firmino sat this one out and Liverpool needed at least one.
Liverpool struggle vs Chelsea
Liverpool didn’t have Thiago because of a hip injury, while Roberto Firmino was one of three players who tested positive ahead of the game. These are two players whose skillsets were made for a game like this.
Chelsea pressed high up the pitch, hoping to prevent Liverpool from playing out from the back. They did that incredibly well, too, with Liverpool’s entire back four completing under 77% of their passing. That extended into midfield, too, as James Milner managed to find his man just 65% of the time. Jordan Henderson wasn’t much better at 73%.
That was Chelsea’s press shining, then. Liverpool struggled to pass through it and couldn’t play between the lines particularly well. As good as Henderson and Milner are, keeping the ball in tight spaces isn’t their strong suit.
It is Thiago’s, however. He’s one of the best in the world at it and Liverpool are clearly a better side with him in the team. Without him, the team couldn’t pass it as well as they like.
Now, that should bring up a question – why could they do it before Thiago arrived? Gini Wijnaldum’s ability to keep the ball under pressure was a big part of that. Another, though, was Firmino’s ability to drop deep and link play with the forwards.
Unfortunately, Diogo Jota just isn’t anywhere near as good at this. That’s clear from his passing stats against Chelsea – he completed only 11 at a 48% completion rate. That was, by some distance, the worst in the game.
Jota was unable to provide that link, then. Certainly not in the way Firmino does at his best and it really showed – Liverpool could have threatened far more often with a more natural False 9. Having their Brazilian there would have made breaking the press and getting Chelsea on the turn far easier.
So what now?
We’re not sure there’s really a way around this. Liverpool simply lack players who can progress the ball right now, especially as Naby Keita disappears to AFCON. Curtis Jones might be the only reliable one left, though Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another good option.
But until Thiago or Firmino returns, Liverpool may be susceptible and a little easier to beat. That’s certainly looked like the case in recent weeks and will continue unless the Reds find a fix.