The beginning of the third week of the European Champions League (ECL) group stages yesterday evening led to some frightening moments for some of the ‘greats’. However in most cases they responded to neutralise any ‘surprises’. The reactions of Barcelona, Manchester United and in a lesser sense, Juventus and Galatasaray worked to even the playing field in games that began with an uphill struggle. Amongst those games was also Chelsea, who in the end was not able to succeed and was the surprise of the evening. Then Valencia with a definitive win, finally winning away and also wins by Spartak and Bayern. Another interesting detail yesterday was the number of own goals. Interesting mix of scorelines some of which we will analyse next.
FC Shakhtar Donetsk, 2-Chelsea FC, 1.
A Chelsea loss against Shakhtar became the big surprise of last night’s games. The London team wasn’t able to level a game in which both teams displayed a 1-4-2-3-1 formation trying to keep and play the ball. There was not much time to make much analysis in the beginning as at the start of the game Shakhtar quickly went ahead with Alex Pereira scoring the first goal with a hard low shot after a throw in that the English defence wasn’t able to clear. Chelsea were 1-0 down and the game scenario changed completely.
The Ukrainian side were well organised in defence, with both holding midfielders working hard and their offensive players helping out. They defended quite deep when they had time enough to drop and were very effective both in positional play and in defence-attack transitions. After regaining the ball they always tried to launch quick counterattacks taking Chelsea by surprise, as in their second goal. Like many teams, they suffered problems defending when they were caught disorganised after losing the ball.
For their part, Chelsea played Lampard and Obi Mikel in midfield. Lampard got injured in the 15th minute and that changed the way Chelsea approached the game. Lampard was coming to receive the ball quite deep whilst Ramires, playing in the middle, tended to go a bit further up losing some balance that had to be compensated by their players between the lines: Hazard (who replaced Lampard), Oscar and Mata.
Chelsea’s usual strength in mobility, constant exchange of positions, playing between the lines and the understanding between quality players as Mata, Hazard and Oscar, has been their most effective weapon in the recent games but yesterday Shakhtar showed that they had learned the lesson well and displayed a team very solid in midfield making it difficult for Chelsea to get through. Shakhtar’s attacking potential, with their four offensive players plus the fullbacks going forward was a constant worry for Chelsea’s defence and their fullbacks were thinking more about defending than going forward which meant that Chelsea lacked width.
The more balls Chelsea lost the more threatening Shakhtar’s counterattacks were, but just at the end, with nothing to lose, Ivanovic’s overlap gave Chelsea their first goal, giving some hope of draw that never arrived.
Before the game there was lot of talk about William, a good player who likes to go inside from the left showing a good change of pace and a powerful shot with the right foot. With these movements William created the necessary spaces for Rat, the fullback, to go forward, which became a massive problem for Chelsea defenders. I would also like to highlight Henrikh Mkhitaryan, an intelligent player between the lines with good understanding with William, Alex Teixeira and Adriano. In my opinion he was a key player in Shakhtar’s win.
Finally, it could be said that Chelsea played against a good team that worked hard with discipline in defence, showing quality in attack and overall superiority in the game.
FC Spartak Moskva, 2- SL Benfica, 1.
Tight win for Unai Emery’s team in a very open game. Spartak (1-4-2-3-1) played with intensity and high tempo during the first 30 minutes, with quick transitions and with the always threatening second line players getting into free spaces. In the third minute Spartak regained the ball in the midfield and Rafael Carioca, coming from behind, scored the first goal after an assist from Jurado.
For their part, Benfica started the match with some doubts especially in defensive transitions and closing of inner spaces. Also in defence they struggled to keep a good balance. Kallstrom and Rafael Carioca, Spartak’s two holding midfielders, built up play quite well and tried to play more often with their left winger, the young Ananidze. Jurado played behind the striker with great mobility and getting into wide areas, especially on the left side as Maxi Pereira was going inside to help out the centerbacks. In the 33rd minute Lima scored the equalizer for Benfica after a good cross from the right wing delivered by Salvio. Benfica’s goal arrived after creating some chances from set pieces and individual actions.
In the second half Cardozo and Gaitan entered the pitch (64th minute) and Benfica started to play with more intensity and attacking mentality, playing much more in the opposition’s half and creating more danger through wide areas with both fullbacks, Pereira and Melgarejo going forward with determination. In the 68th minute Salvio missed a 1v1 with the goalkeeper. Spartak neutralised Benfica with order and discipline in defence, creating superiority in the middle, showing just a few doubts with lateral movements across the pitch. The Russian team showed strong tactical discipline although they struggled to have complete control of the game. In the end, Benfica’s own goal gave the victory to Spartak.
FC BATE Borisov, 0-Valencia CF, 3.
A very even match played in Minsk, with none of the teams wanting to lose the midfield battle. BATE Borisov displayed a 1-4-2-3-1 formation from the beginning, sitting quite deep trying to quickly regain the ball to launch counterattacks using mainly the central channel. Valencia also displayed a 1-4-2-3-1 formation playing higher on the pitch but struggling to give depth to their play mainly due to BATE’s defensive intensity.
In attack BATE tried to exploit their speed in the last third with penetrations through the middle by Pavlov and Hleb, playing quite direct and not using their wingers too much. Valencia were solid in defence stopping BATE from playing the ball and regaining it quickly to play with Tino Costa, who showed good understanding with Feghouli, Guardado and with Roberto Soldado, the goalscorer of the night. BATE concentrated many players in the middle, forcing Feghouli and Guardado to defend a bit more inside making it difficult for Pellegrino’s side to go forward after regaining the ball. Also their fullbacks didn’t go forward as they normally do. Nonetheless Valencia managed to control the midfield, which was a constant problem for the local team.
In the second half BATE tried to have more ball possession, which led them to take higher risks. Valencia made the most of this scoring their second goal after finishing a quick counterattack. With 2-0 down Bate began to leave more spaces and Valencia had an increasing control of the game. Mozolevski replaced Pavlov and BATE finished the game playing with two strikers, but this wasn’t enough to threaten Valencia’s goal.
FC Barcelona, 2 – Celtic FC, 1
FC Barcelona hosted Celtic with the young Bartra playing alongside Mascherano as centerbacks. Celtic arrived to Barcelona with the clear idea of playing a 1-4-4-1-1 formation sitting very deep. Barcelona had complete control of the game and much higher ball possession, but they still had to rely on Jordi Alba’s ability to go forward in order to break through Celtic’s back four. However it was the Scottish who scored first when Mascherano introduced the ball in his own goal after a diagonal free kick. After the goal Barcelona kept playing with their usual patience, always close to the rivals’ box trying to create the right gap in order to penetrate. In one of these occasions Iniesta scored the equaliser in the last minute of the first half after a beautiful play driven by himself, Messi and Xavi.
The scenario didn’t change in the second half, with Celtic defending deep with two lines of four and being a threat from set pieces with some counterattacks driven by Forrest and Commons, both very fast. Barcelona kept loyal to their script, trying to penetrate through the middle quite often finding the last pass playing over the Scottish defence. Messi and Alexis were close to scoring the second but Foster made some brilliant saves. When it seemed that the game was coming to an end with a draw, Villa hit Foster’s right post and just minutes later, with only 30 seconds for the final whistle, Jordi Alba found the back of the net finishing a cross delivered by Adriano giving Barcelona the three points.
As for now, we await tonight’s games, another eight, some of which look to be very interesting and will be commented on right here tomorrow. You are welcome to join us.
For results and tables of the Champions League, click on the next image:
The Champions League Final 2011 was a good example, where Villa started off centrally to occupy the centre backs when Messi dropped off and then when Messi moved forward with the ball, Villa moved towards the right. It provided extra depth for Barcelona and stopped the centre backs helping the midfielders for Man Utd.