Thursday, 19 April 2012

Chelsea v Barcelona review

Chelsea take the plaudits, they beat Barcelona at home to take a 1-0 lead to the Nou Camp next week  for the vital second leg.

Barcelona could not beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, in a rivalry that has been built up over the last six years as their paths have crossed in group stages and knockout matches. Barcelona have not yet won in West London.  Lionel Messi has still not scored against an English side in an away match (the final at Wembley does not count as it was a neutral site).

Chelsea won in spite of giving up 79% of possession to the Catalan giants, they had three shots at goal and scored with the only shot on target - Didier Drogba's first half injury time winner as he swept in Ramires' square ball following Frank Lampard's counter-attacking thrust as he dispossessed Messi in midfield.

The reason the Champions League holders always struggle at Stamford Bridge is the small confines of the pitch measurements.  Barcelona play an incisive, neat and patient passing game looking for openings in a defence which may crack under the constant pressure.  Yet in contrast to the vast size of the Nou Camp dimensions, the Chelsea home is tight and so the tactic of Chelsea employing two banks of four as walls in which Barcelona had to get past was impressive.

There were fears of Gary Cahill being overawed by the occasion, yet the ex-Bolton defender had his most impressive outing yet in a blue shirt.  He dived at every ball, was strong and indicative of the resilience of his teammates - John Terry, the recalled Ivanovic and solid Ashley Cole.

They were matched by the solidity in midfield by Frank Lampard, Jon Obi Mikel and Raul Meireles - a trifecta who knew they had to bide their time to make an impact.  Miereles fouled a few times in the first 10 minutes as he was outwitted by the tricky of the Barca midfield.  Yet when they did, Lampard made it count.  A glorious ball released Ramires who laid it on a plate for Drogba, who stayed on his feet for possibly the longest all night to convert the match winning chance.

The second half was a vertiable bombardment from Barca - they hit the woodwork twice in the match, and was thwarted by Petr Cech and the do or die blocking of the Chelsea defence.  The last chance in injury time summed up Chelsea's achievement - a Messi shot blocked by Cahill, it falls into the path of Pedro who strokes it to the far post, a slight deflection from Cahill makes it hit the post as Ashley Cole again goes back to the line to cover, the richochet back to Busquets is blasted over as bodies go flying.  The chance of an away goal has gone, and the opportunity for parity is squandered.

This was a game of respect, usually past encounters have turned into a shouting match overshadowed by refereeing inconsistencies and controversy yet this was a game when the magic of Barcelona went missing. Their body language was lazy, not arrogant just a general ennui with the surroundings and meeting head on the defiant rearguard.

Some players were absent without leave, Cesc Fabregas' return to London was a poor one.  He had a great chance yet his soft lift over Cech allowed the tracking back of Cole to easily clear away the danger, he wafted an air shot at a chance that went begging.  There was always the lovely caressing of the ball, yet the gaps to slide the ball into the net were few and far between.  Messi's best chance was a header from 18 yards out that failed to trouble Cech.

Oddly, it went exactly as Fabregas recalled past Arsenal v Chelsea ties, 'We would dominate the ball, keep possession, create chances and then....a counter-attack, Drogba, goal! They have a super fast counter attack', how odd that it should happen again.

You can expect more of the same next Tuesday night at the Nou Camp.  It promises to be intense, intriguing and immense. 

Pep Guardiola says Chelsea are favourites, this may be an attempt at psychology, nonetheless the chance for Chelsea is there to reach Munich.

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