Friday, 4 April 2014

Negative tactics in Champions League


Two supposed super-powers of Europe faced daunting first legs away from home in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Both would have hoped for better results, yet neither were helped by their negative selections in personnel and tactics which invited the home sides to prosper.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, the tie between Manchester United and reigning European champions, Bayern Munich was settled by Pep Guardiola's decison to not play an out and out striker, and instead select Thomas Muller upfront in a false nine role with ball handlers behind in an attempt to pass around Manchester United and eventually breakdown the United defence.

The improved defensive display by United was due to the fact that Munich did not play to the weakness of either Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, which is pace that scares them. Whilst Bayern had all the possession, United took the lead and it was only the introduction of Mandzukic that supplied Bayern with the impetus to score their equaliser.

Bayern have a vital away goal, and on paper should progess to the semi-finals due to their formidable home form, yet that is in domestic competitions. The last time they faced an English side in a knockout fixture at home, they lost 2-0 to Arsenal but thanks to a 3-1 first leg victory went through on away goals.

Chelsea also scored an away goal, however due to some inept goalkeeping and defending, they conspired to concede three goals to a Paris St-Germain team that were flattered by the 3-1 scoreline.  Chelsea also started the match without a recognised striker on the field, with Andre Schurrle leading the line yet the Schurrle's best form this season has come from the right wing and inside to the field; his hat-trick at Fulham can attest to that.

So why did Jose Mourinho not start either Fernando Torres or Demba Ba? Mourinho would have started Samuel Eto'o had he been fit, as the Cameroonian can lead the line well, timing runs and press up the field.  Schurrle was meant to press from the front yet could not forcing Oscar, Wilian and Eden Hazard to do more work in midfield.

Mourinho has clearly lost faith in Torres whose two year malaise is seemingly never-ending and Ba has shown little of the form that warranted a move from Newcastle to West London. Tellingly, Chelsea had little of the ball in the final third and their away goal came from a penalty converted by Hazard. 

Whilst the deficit of 3-1 is not insurmountable, as the victory over Napoli in the Champions League triumph of 2012 can attest to, Chelsea have certainly made the task more of an uphill challenge for themselves. 

Yet why such negativity, such attempts are trying to avoid the worst case scenario and invites the home team to gain momentum.  United could have had two goals before Vidic's set piece header and been 3-0 up.  Last season, Borussia Dortmund demolished Real Madrid in the first leg at home and winning the tie seemingly.

The old adage of having the second leg at home, is possibly a myth. You cannot be eliminated after the first leg, but the tie could well be over.  Chelsea will hope their pedigree will hold them in good stead nonetheless.

Follow me @JamieGarwood

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