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
23/04/12 at 01:16:56 #21
Hi Rafa,

It makes me laugh when people say Chelsea are killing the game - I'm not Chelsea's biggest fan but they are under no obligation to entertain any neutrals. Yes, it wasn't pretty but it was effective and in the end of the day they did what was right for them. You took Liverpool to Stamford Bridge in the group stages in the autumn of 2005 and we got a 0-0 draw, you got criticised for being negative but you did what was right for Liverpool at the time.

Anyway, after watching the game on Saturday against Madrid, I think Guardiola's next big challenge is to make a little change here and there to the way Barca play as teams got the hang of it how to play against them and get a result - we saw that in the space of 4 days. They would still get a result against the lesser teams but the Reals and Chelseas of this world make it so difficult to play your game that Barca need to find another dimension. Chelsea absolutely stifled the life out of the game, particularly in the second half -
23/04/12 at 01:34:54 #22
there was virtually no space between the lines whatsoever. Same against Madrid - how do you penetrate a wall of 9 players behind the ball set on the edge of the box? Also Barca didn't look to me to have the same freshness in their movement off the ball and the incisive passing which won them so many fans (and games) not so long ago.
As for the game tomorrow, would Chelsea spring a surprise? Surely they would not play with both Torres and Drogba in the starting line up and thus sacrificing one extra body in midfield, will they?! It would be bold but could spectacularly backfire. Might be tempting to play both Mikel and Essien as the tow midfielders in a 4-2-3-1, but Essien has hardly played this season and this game might be too big for him at the moment.
Anyway, it's beautifully poised and I think if Barca have recovered mentally from last week's double blow we are in for a threat!

Nice from Kenny paying you a little compliment over your legacy with the Academy last week Rafa!
23/04/12 at 21:05:03 #23
Hi rafa
I went the WBA game at the weekend and come away amazed at how we where not 3-0 up on 70 minutes. This has been the story at home all season. It's seems to me that when we attack we never get any midfielders joining the attack or getting in or around the box.
On Sunday when we where attacking our two midfielders Spearing and Henderson just sat back and stayed in midfield. Surely one must go and one must stay. Liverpool seem to b a team that passes sideways and backwards without any cutting edge.
Andy Carroll who looked woeful at the beginning is starting to look a bit more relaxed when on the ball and effective in the air had another good game.
Also why when Carroll plays Downing gets dropped all to often.
In my opinion Gerrard has carried this team to long and needs other players to step up to the plate.
Do you think it's a mental problem that we ve had such a dismal league points return yet have reached 2 cup finals and beaten some strong opposition along the way. 


Hello Stephen, it seems to me that it is a lack of confidence now. Thanks.
24/04/12 at 23:44:51 #24
Stephen LFC
Hi Rafa
Just watched 2 nd leg Chelsea barca and although I hate say it I thought they deserved win for there defending. I really wanted them to get beat after there fans disrespected the minute silence for the hillsborough 96.
Do u think the yellow cards players receive during a competition should be scrapped once teams reach the semis. It seems harsh that players getting booked should miss the biggest games of there lives over getting a yellow like raul merelles and Ramires. A lot of quality players dream of this all there careers and it's not as if european cup finals come along every year. 


Hello Stephen, if they know that the yellow cards doesn't count in the final, the behaviour will be different in the rest of the competition and it will be also not fair. Thanks.
25/04/12 at 08:33:50 #25
Hi Rafa,

Watching Barcelona in the two legs of semi-finals it reminds me Liverpool's form this season. Over the two games Barcelona had 75% of possession, Close to 40+ shots ...They hit woodwork 4 times and a player in Messi missing penalty...
Now if you compare this to Liverpool's season they have played fantastic football all season baring 4 games against Tottenham, Boltan, Wigan and New-Castle...even against Arsenal, Man City, Man United they always dominated the proceedings but with no results....
I see similar pattern of events teams parking Liverpool's bus at Anfield and then scoring one of chance they get.. This is something seen even during your days where Eleven men will defend the ball at Anfield...
Barcelona try to break this by keeping the ball in possession and finding spaces between the lines and with teams defensively less sound they are able to break due to kind of talent they have...
25/04/12 at 08:37:11 #26
.....According to me the best approach to break this kind of defensive formation is never from the middle but try to have Striker like Drogba or Caroll in the opponents box... and then bombard them with crosses form the either flank....The missing link for Barcelona was...
1. Striker like Caroll or Drogba
and the missing link for Liverpool is ...
1. Quality Crosses from the flanks or middle...

Can you please provide your inputs

There is an article on last night's match for you to read. Thanks.
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