From king Leonidas to Thomas Tuchel: How depleted sides defend their land

The Battle of Thermopylae, in which an alliance of Ancient Greek city-states led by king Leonidas I of Sparta managed to hold the Persian invasion for seven days, has been used by ancient and modern writers as an example of the power of a patriotic army defending its native soil.

Differences in numbers between the Greeks and the Persians were diminished by the good use of terrain from the Greeks and their advanced training. Overcoming that deficit in numbers by using strategical and technical variables is often referred to as force multiplication in military science.

The unequal playing field in terms of quantity might force the smaller side to change how the battle is played out. And there’s no better explanation than the one Juergen Klopp gave after his side failed to break down Chelsea in the second half at Anfield.

“That (the red card) didn’t make the game really easier for us. Because now obviously Chelsea who we all know, not only because of watching the Champions League final but knowing they are a really organized side. And in the most decisive area, deep around their box (and) in their box they don’t have a player less. They just have a player less for counter attacks”

“Everybody thinks against 10 men ‘Come on’ this kind of stuff, but that’s always the first problem you have. Two things, there is no advantage. There’s an advantage when they have possession, yes you have to outnumber them, you have to defend them really top level. But the defensive structure changes that they just defend slightly deeper, but they have eight players. Leave Lukaku up, but eight players defend that area around the box. We couldn’t use that.”

After going a man down towards the end of the first half, Thomas Tuchel maintained his back five by introducing Thiago Silva instead of Kai Havertz while Mateo Kovacic replaced the injured N’Golo Kante. Dropping deeper into a 5–3–1 shape.

As Klopp explained, Chelsea’s man less was upfront and the shape dropped deeper than the first half. The interesting part though was how Jorginho moved horizontally across the pitch to hold Liverpool’s threat from the wing area and the channels. When the ball was on Chelsea’s left side he moved there to match Liverpool in a 4 v 4 scenario when Diogo Jota roamed to support Liverpool’s right side.

The same situation happened on the other side of the pitch. Jorginho’s presence in the right channel to support Mason Mount, Cesar Azpilicueta and Thiago Silva matches up against the advanced Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Andy Robertson and Sadio Mane who is out of the picture here, coming back from an offside position.

This type of initial positioning from Jorginho inside Chelsea’s defensive structure allowed the wide center back to move out with Salah or Mane, while the other two center backs were positioned centrally inside the box in case Robertson or Trent Alexander-Arnold managed to put in a cross. The gap in between was filled by Jorginho. On the right side….

… well as the left side. Here, Jorginho’s role allows Antonio Ruediger to move out and mark Harvey Elliot, leaving Andreas Chrsitensen and Silva to deal with any aerial threat. The gap in between Ruediger and the other two center backs, is filled by the dropping Jorginho.

So that when Salah plays the pass into Alexander-Arnold, the option of Mane is covered by the dropping Jorginho which allows Silva and Christensen to stay central, thus covering the other option which is a cross into the box. The lack of options for Alexander-Arnold forces him into a more difficult pass in behind Ruediger which the German defender manages to clear into a corner kick.

Jorginho’s alertness to dropping into that right channel allowed the wide center backs to be more aggressive towards the touchline, as they knew there was cover behind and that centrally the aerial threat was also covered because the other two center backs kept their positioning and didn’t need to shift across.

Another example here illustrates how committed the Chelsea players were to be in that defensive structure. Thiago Alcantara’s cross field pass into Robertson catches Jorginho out of his dedicated role with Azpilicueta and Christensen far from the ball. Jorginho hurriedly sprints back…..

…..signaling to Silva to keep his position and not cover the space because there’s a probability of a cross….

…..and eventually the Brazilian midfielder is back where he is supposed to be. Robertson’s cross was blocked by Azpilicueta but in case it went through, Silva was in the correct position to cover the near post.

In the 87th minute Jorginho was replaced by Trevoh Chalobah, but Chelsea maintained the same defensive structure. Chalobah moving to the near side when the ball was there to maintain the four man block.

Before doing a Jorginho and dropping into the gap between Silva and Ruediger — who were marking Jota and Salah respectively…..

……to win the header ahead of Alexander-Arnold and clear the ball into a corner kick.

The defensive structure Chelsea had in place in the second half limited Liverpool’s progression in the wing area and the channels by moving Jorginho horizontally to maintain at worst a 4 v 4. Then by dropping Jorginho into the gap between the wide center back and the other two center backs, it allowed the wide center back to be more aggressive against Salah or Mane. Meanwhile, it also meant that the other two center backs didn’t need to shift across, maintaining their central position in the box in case a cross came in.

After the second day at Thermopylae, a local resident named Ephialtes betrayed the Greeks by revealing a small path used by shepherds. It led the Persians behind the Greek lines and later on the Greeks fought to the death.

Tuchel retreated, used the deep block to his favour and devised a defensive plan to stop Liverpool. At the battle of Anfield there was no betrayal, a point resembled victory in the battle.

English Football. United