Rafa Benítez Blog RSS Rafa Benítez Blog

Apr 2012
13:59 Comments (26)

The second match in the first legs for the teams looking to get to the UEFA Champions League Final in Munich also did not disappoint. As happened 24 hours earlier, last night’s match in London was hard-fought, tremendously disputed, with one very dominant but with only one winner. And it at least showed there is truth in the maxim that a victory has to be worked for. Chelsea won because they converted one of the few chances they had. And Barca lost for precisely the opposite, because they couldn’t score from one of the many chances they created. That’s football. Let’s see what happened.

Chelsea 1 - Barcelona 0

At Stamford Bridge, they were eagerly awaiting FC Barcelona. The Chelsea players’ messages before the game were positive, you could see they were concentrated and they gave the impression that they knew what they had to do. But even so, they respected the opposition, very much so, and it showed throughout the whole game.

Nobody has won the Champions League two years on the trot and many people were hoping that this Barcelona team would be the first to do it because of the extraordinary quality of their players which made them favourites. Nevertheless, we will have to wait for what happens in the Nou Camp to know who will get to the final. And 1-0 is very, very dangerous. An away goal for the Blues will mean Barca will have to score 3 to go through automatically. And we know that it will not be easy to control every one of Chelsea’s counter attacks in Barcelona.

From the start, Chelsea had a system of 1-4-3-3 which really became 1-4-5-1 because the wide players were dropped deep to help out in defence. Even Drogba was helping his midfield for large parts of the game to block the way to goal.

Barcelona, on the other hand, went with their usual 1-4-3-3, giving a lot of freedom to Messi who rarely played as a centre forward and to Fabregas who tried to use the little space between the defensive lines of the home team.

Chelsea knew straightaway what the game was going to be like, what the script was. Barcelona would have the ball and they would have to counter attack and look to play long balls or use set plays, the archetypal English game, to try to surprise the Catalan defence. There was no other choice, they had to use these 3 options.

It was rare to see them try to play out from the back, and when they did, Barcelona’s pressing forced them to go back to Cech and play long for Drogba in the middle or Ivanovic wide. They then looked for the second ball to play from there.

The other two weapons the London team tried to use were the set plays, long throws from Ivanovic, corners or free kicks, along with the occasional counter attack they could muster.

The goal came from one such counter attack which in the end was decisive. Messi tried to beat Lampard in midfield but he won the ball and played long for Ramires to run in to space and run with the ball in to the box. He then played a square ball to Drogba who was free because both centre backs were trying to stop the Brazilian and it left Drogba on his own and he made it 1-0, which gave hope and confidence to his side for the next game in the Nou Camp.

It all may have been different if Alexis Sanchez had scored instead of hitting the bar in the first few minutes when he ran behind the defence. But football is fickle like that and this incident will be remembered all week, or even longer depending on the result of the second leg.

Barcelona assumed the role of favourite, they had possession of the ball from the first minute (72%, with 223 successful passes for Chelsea to 843 for Barcelona, one corner for Chelsea to 8 for the Catalan team, 4 shots for the Blues to 19 for Barca and 70% of Barcelona's passes were in the opposition half - Stats supplied by Opta). However, this is what makes football different to other sports and all stats or data must be used in the appropriate context.

Summary of the game is simple. Chelsea defended with 10 or even 11 men behind the ball, with the defence deep most of the time and looked to regain and counter when they could. Barca, though, looked to penetrate this human barricade, without much success most of the time, as they insisted on trying to go through the middle.

When they did try to go round the outside and were in a good position to cross, there were so many players in the area that it was not really worth crossing.

Except for the start of the game, there generally wasn’t space behind the Londoners’ defence and it was difficult to create chances, except for a couple of times for Fabregas and the aforementioned chance for Alexis Sanchez in the first few minutes. In addition the midfield line of up to 5 players were dropping even closer to their back four and there was hardly any space to play easily between lines. Messi was dropping deep to initiate play from there and Fabregas was trying to use the space he left to receive a penetrating pass.

This was how the first half passed, with a Fabregas shot that Ashley Cole kicked off the line as the most dangerous, a header from some distance, though it was met well, by Messi but little else as far as dangerous moments are concerned.

The second half, with the score at 1-0, meant that the same ideas for strategy were re-inforced. Chelsea defended even more if that were possible, to come out on the counter attack or use a set play, whilst Barcelona dominated the game, having possession and with Xavi orchestrating looking for a way to work Cech.

As the game wore on, Messi tried more determinedly to unbalance the defence with his individual play but he had little success due to the number of defenders surrounding him. He at least won a couple of free kicks on the edge of the box, but they were not dangerous either.

Barca did not really create many chances. Adriano, in an individual move, finished with a dangerous shot after 52 minutes.

Shortly after, on 56 minutes, Alexis Sanchez had another good chance from a Fabregas pass in the only possible way, over the top, giving the Chilean a 1v1 with the goalkeeper, but pressure from Ashley Cole made him put the ball wide.

Guardiola then made changes, looking for fresh legs and more penetration wide. First with Pedro and then with Cuenca, and later, looking for play between lines with Thiago. Nothing seemed to work, Messi kept trying his dribbles but to no effect.

Di Matteo tried to stop it by using Kalou and Bosingwa to protect the lead.

The biggest chance came in the last few minutes, 86th minute to be precise. Puyol diverted a free kick by Messi and Cech made the save of the evening.

A bit later, after 92 minutes, Messi found Busquets forward and he back-heeled a return pass, but just as Messi was about to shoot, Terry intercepted and the ball fell to Pedro who shot against the post.

As we said, in football stats are important. But the most important one is the one on the scoreboard at the end and in this case it showed a Chelsea win against Barcelona by the smallest of margins but a win nevertheless, and with a dangerous scoreline for the second leg which will be exciting just like the other semi in the Santiago Bernabeu.

26 Comments Send us your opinions
19/04/12 at 20:53:35 #11
Hi Rafa,

How did you think Juan Mata played? I don't think he is suited to playing the 'dogs of war' game that Chelsea played last night. Torres should start next week. His pace and intelligence could kill Puyol if Chelsea's midfield play quality balls into space on the counter.

Drogba up top with Torres behind him on the left could kill Barce next week on the counter. Plus I would have Essien in midfield above Meireles every day of the week,
19/04/12 at 22:02:45 #12
Benji Philip
I was wondering if Chelsea should take the approach liverpool had at Camp Nou when they won. Should they press for the win or stay back and defend for their lives?


Hello, Di Matteo needs to analyse his own players and decide. If they have believe, they can attack. Thanks.
19/04/12 at 22:34:04 #13
Mr X
Hello Mr Benitez

Could you please say something about what you think is the weakness of Barcelona as a team? Ideally, how you meet them tactically? Not just in the situation Chelsea are in now, but more generally if you should play against them. Is it possible for you to say something about their weakness(es)?

I think that if Chelsea travels to Barcelona with the same approach as last night, they probably won't make it to the final. Barca should've scored yesterday and are experts at penetrating teams who stacks their team in front of goal with a defensive approach to the game. Chelsea have an advantage that they can relay on counterattacks, and that they have the possibility to score an away goal. But Barca are able to step it up one more level when it really counts. I don't think Chelsea have that capacity.



Hello, your approach it depends on you palyers and your confidence. If you have pace up front, you can play deep and counter attack. I agree with you, they will score, so you have to attack them. Thanks.
20/04/12 at 02:29:28 #14
The intriguing part for me is the two massive league games at the weekend Barca and Chelsea have and how this will affect each team for the return leg.Barca are definitely the fitter team and I feel playing at home will definitely favour them on the big pitch were more space will be found.I just feel Barca will overwhelm Chelsea in the second leg being the fitter side,where Chelsea rely on players who have seen their best days Terry,Lampard,Drogba i can only see one convincing winner 4-0.
20/04/12 at 13:05:53 #15
Pratim Saikia
Hello Rafa,

Though I have never posted on your site before I have followed your work ever since you beat Liverpool with your underrated Valencia team.

I was vey happy when you decided to join LFC, and naturally devastated when collective failure (from players to owners) was laid solely and squarely upon your shoulders, leading to your eventual dismissal. For me, this marked an all time low in terms of how our club has ever treated it's manager.

Nonetheless, we are where we are, and though actions of others in the past may have deprived me of watching one of your teams grace the field today, it has allowed many of us to glean further insight into your modus operandi through your website (though its clear you do like to keep your cards close to your chest). Still, thank you very much for this opportunity.

As for this blog - once again it was illuminating, devoid of superfluous subjectivity yet clear and comprehensive.
20/04/12 at 13:17:42 #16
Pratim Saikia

I detect that from your responses below the line that you would start Torres next Tuesday as you believe Barcelona will play with an even higher back line and that there will be even more space for a fast AND strong striker.

Naturally you cannot comment too much - you have respect for Di Matteo. Still, I find it somewhat ironic a section of the CFC fans do not understand that you'd approach this game with the same defensive intensity but with clearer (and better) options on the counter.

But as we all know, there's no accounting for taste.

All the best Rafa. I dearly hope to see you managing a team soon and gaining the rewards and accolades you deserve. I have a bet on that you will win the PL title within the next four years...


Hello, you read well between the lines. Thank you for your support.
20/04/12 at 22:10:22 #17
I feel that Barca have missed someone this season. However, he is coming back to form at the right time. Pedro is essential if Barca are to win both the classico and the Chelsea match. I do feel Pique and Pedro will play and this will allow for Dani Alves and Pedro to drag Chelsea and cause space for Iniesta, Sanchez and Messi.

Clearly, Chelsea have not developed the mentality of coming from behind and going two goals down will cause a change in tactics.

What are your views?


I think Pedro is important becasuse his pace and also he can pass players and as you say it will create space for the others. Also the atmosphere in the Nou Camp will help the local players. Thanks.
21/04/12 at 18:33:59 #18
Hi Mr Benitez,

I have been following your website with much interest and especially your app Globall coach.

But I'm not sure how globall coach will actually help coaches plan games tactically as the animations you have put up are all retrospective actions from the match. It's as good as watching match highlights?

1) Can you help me understand how we can plan games before matches using the app?

2) Most of your blog posts are match reports of what happened in the games and how the teams played. Would it not be better if you can write pre-match analysis of games and supported by screen captures from your Globall Coach app? That would really help us understand your thinking and ilustrate how the app can help coaches plan games.

This is just my humble suggestion for your consideration.

Thank you, Mightyreds. We use the program Globall Coach as a training session plan for communication to players. It is also a very useful scouting tool to analyse opponents and formulate the strategy we wish to use in the match. On the website, we have been using Globall Coach to try to show readers key movements in certain games, in the same way we would show players key movements before a match. All coaches have to devise their own strategy in the full knowledge of the current state of their squad so it would be unprofessional to write about pre-match strategy without this inside knowledge.
21/04/12 at 22:48:16 #19
Stephen LFC
Hi Rafa
Just watched El Classico and thought your full time match analysis was spot on. It's my first time reading your website and I think it's very interesting. The reason I looked it up was after hearing Ian wright praising your coaching app on soccer am several weeks ago.
I never got to see you on the empire as being a taxi driver I was running people back home after your show.
I am season ticket holder at LFC and was at Istanbul and Athens.
The first being the best night of my life. THANKYOU!!!!
Also I would like to thank you for all you do for the families of hillsborough you've always got a place in every Liverpudlians heart.
Hope to c u back in charge again someday and believe me that is not only my opinion. 1 question for you.
Who is your top 5 players you have managed.
Thank you. Rafa Rafael Rafa Rafael Rafa Rafael Rafael Benitez. YNWA.
22/04/12 at 00:56:07 #20
Hi Rafa, I am a Liverpool fan and a fan of your tactical nous. I think you are spot on as it is difficult to penetrate the amount of bodies that Chelsea put in that game....Moreover I think they missed Pedro a lot..He is very clinical and his movement between the lines coming from wide areas stretches defences and gives you an outlet..If Barca are to win I think they need the same system that they played today against madrid but with Alexis and Fabregas in the team. Alexis gives them a reference point and Fabregas that willing runner which goes beyond the striker..Quite like what use to happen with Gerrard and Torres.. What do you think..


Hello, I agree they will need runners, someone running behind the defenders it is important to stretch the defense and to give more space to Messi. Thanks.