Focus: Why Adam Lallana will be Liverpool's key man against struggling Chelsea
A Jurgen Klopp-inspired Liverpool are precisely the kind of frenetic, high energy team that should capitalise on the crumbling Jose Mourinho dynasty. But if Chelsea’s confidence-stricken players are to be beaten by the fearless attacking of the gegenpress, then Adam Lallana must build upon his excellent performances since Klopp’s arrival.
Three underwhelming draws have calmed some of the hysteria surrounding the German’s appointment, but tentative signs of progress have emerged. Chief among them is the return to form of Lallana, a technically gifted playmaker who will become a firm favourite in Klopp’s system.
Lallana has averaged 3 dribbles and 3 key passes per game in his last two (against Rubin Kazan and Southampton), up significantly from 1.6 dribbles and 0.6 key passes in games under Brendan Rodgers. Most notably, his quick turn, excellent first-touch, and intelligent positioning skills have re-emerged; in a central attacking role as part of a narrow 4-3-2-1, Lallana will flourish.
Klopp’s use of dual CAMs is perfectly suited to exploit Chelsea’s soft spot – defensive midfield. Nemanja Matic has struggled for form this season, but this is largely because he has had to cover for a virtually absent midfield partner. Cesc Fabregas has been permanently removed from deep-lying duties after poor performances, but his replacements – Ramires or John Obi Mikel – have not been much better.
Mikel averages 0.5 tackles and 0 interceptions per game this campaign, while Ramires is dribbled past 3.4 times per 90 minutes. He made just 1 tackle and 0 interceptions in the defeat to West Ham last weekend; it is surely in this zone that Liverpool, and an in-form Lallana, can over-run Chelsea.
Chelsea’s best chance of success is by aggressively pressurising the Liverpool defence. Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho continue to look shaky for Liverpool, with the latter making numerous errors against Southampton last weekend (and completing the match with just 1 interception and 0 tackles to his name).
Liverpool may assume that the goal threat will be minimal, but Chelsea recorded 24 shots against Stoke on Tuesday night. Diego Costa is in contention to start, and his usual aggressive antics could unsettle a Liverpool team that have made 10 defensive errors this season (more than any other Premier League team). But on an upswing under Klopp and buzzing with optimism, a wounded Chelsea are there for the taking.