Rafa Benítez Blog RSS Rafa Benítez Blog

Mar 2012
13:37 Comments (19)

The first legs of the quarterfinals of this year's Champions League have now been concluded and no home team came out as winners. There was one draw, which featured AC Milan against FC Barcelona, and which, since the draw was made, appeared to be the most evenly matched tie, while the others were more predictable in this round and they gave Chelsea a win in Lisbon, Bayern a win at Marseille and Real Madrid a win in Nicosia. While purists may disagree, with the exception of the evenly contested game in Lombardy, you could say that the rest of the results were predictable. But as we have done for every round of this exciting competition, we will look at the games as we saw them.

Apoel, 0–Real Madrid, 3.

Real Madrid eventually won emphatically in Cyprus. But they had to be patient against a willing home team. The goals only came in the latter part of the game, but the tie, as indeed was expected, but is virtually decided.The two sides began with a similar 1-4-2-3-1 system, although the Cypriots had a much more defensive shape with their wide men deep, making it virtually a cautious 1-4-4-1-1.

Apoel, unsurprisingly, came out to frustrate an opponent with the stature and the substance of Real Madrid, trying to take advantage of any mistake if it presented itself. The Nicosia team are used to controlling the tempo of the game, relying mainly on the experience of their players and at the same time, working hard to give the required cover and defensive support they have to provide each other.

They had little possession and showed poor ball circulation. Like they had done before, but this time with little success, they tried to come out fast on the counter attack after regaining the ball. Of those who stood out, Ailton showed some skill, with a lot of ability, but the home team could do little more against a considerably better Real Madrid.

Meanwhile, Real Madrid were also caught up in the low tempo set by Apoel. The team in white were much better, had most of the possession and knew it was a matter of time before they got the first goal. And after the first, more would come. As usual, they were looking to overload in the wide areas, especially on the left, and move between the lines. But they were not precise approaching the goal thanks, it is fair to say, to the great defensive work by the Cypriots.

In the second half, especially after the substitutions of Marcelo and Kaka, Real Madrid improved markedly and had good movement, becaming more decisive and more effective in front of goal.

The first goal affected Apoel psychologically and then came the other two goals finishing the tie and making the second game in the 'Santiago Bernabeu' next week a mere formality.

Benfica, 0–Chelsea, 1.

Tuesday also provided us with the second of the victories by the away team. Chelsea won by the narrowest scoreline at the stadium of Benfica and put the tie in their favour but it will have to be decided in London.

Di Matteo put out a significantly different team in Lisbon. A 1-4-2-3-1 system but with several changes in the starting lineup that may have surprised almost everyone. Ramires and Kalou on the flanks could have been a gamble , both in attack and defence, but in the end it came out just perfect. Obi Mikel in the middle with Meireles, provided a protective central barrier, where the great work by David Luiz stood out alongside the experience of John Terry. Ferreira as full back, after not playing many games, was another surprise and the selection of Fernando Torres as a lone striker instead of Drogba to take advantage of the spaces behind the defence paid off when the Spaniard left behind his marker and gave a measured pass to Kalou to score which puts Chelsea with one foot in the semifinals.

Perhaps Juan Mata appeared less dynamic than usual, maybe due to number of matches played within in a few days.

Meanwhile, Benfica, also with a 1-4-2-3-1, were waiting for more space to take advantage of counterattacks, but Chelsea did allow them and generally they did not create too much of a threat. Maxi Pereira was getting forward to give width, but Cardozo looked a bit isolated due to poor support of the second line. Pablo Aimar, who always leaves his unique stamp, showed something, and there wasdribbling on the wings by Bruno Cesar and Gaitan, but not as much as usual thanks to the Chelsea defensive cover, which made the Portuguese lose some of the offensive potential they have shown in other games.

The truth is they showed periods of good intensity, but with little defence-attack balance as they showed in the goal they conceded, the only one of the game, leaving plenty of space behind the defence.

In short, Chelsea, did well defensively and tried to get out quickly on the counter, and got a good result for the second leg. But above all, which is most important, they gave a sense of superiority over Benfica and, therefore, are still favourites.

Olympique Marseille, 0–Bayern Munich, 2.

The forecast was also fulfilled in the 'Velodrome' Marseille. As we said, most people thought Bayern Munich would be too good for Olympique and to be honest we must admit that it was exactly like that. From the very first minute of the tie they controlled the game and their opponents. Marseille were quite ordered defensively and dropped off quickly, so it was not easy to create a lot of chances. But you could see that Bayern were the team that really could score first.

Just talking of the two systems used, we can say that there was a similarity, albeit with nuances. In this case, the two sides went with a 1-4-2-3-1.

As for the development of the match, there were some timid counterattacks by Marseille, and the lone threat of Remy, as Valbuena dropped deeper to link with the two midfielders who are more defensive, were all they could offer in attack. In addition, there was some sense of a threat at set pieces but little else.

The fact of the matter is Bayern's defence did not have too many problems. A second ball following a corner, which Remy should have used better, and a mistake by Boateng, which could have ended up in the back of the German net if Neuer had not had a good stop, were the most interesting pieces of action. Not much more stood out for Marseilles. Deschamps offensive changes had no influence on the game, because the second goal scored by Robben was a big blow to French interests.

By way of contrast, Bayern found it more comfortable as the game wore on. The first goal by Mario Gomez before half-time meant that Marseille had to attack and spaces were left for the skilled German attackers to take advantage of. Especially Robben with his pace and ability, got the second goal after a wall pass with Muller and that finished off the game. From then until the end, Bayern had even more control and the tie is almost decided.

AC Milan, 0–Barcelona, 0.

The most even of the matches, the one most in the balance and, ultimately, the one with the most uncertainties. Everything hangs on the second leg at the 'Camp Nou' because yesterday neither team was able to score. So they will both have to fight on.

From the start, it must be said that both teams used their usual systems. AC Milan with a classic 1-4-3-1-2 and FC Barcelona with their usual 1-4-3-3. At first, the Rossoneri pressed the Catalans high with the option that, if they could not regain the ball, they had to drop off quickly to help the defence.

With the number of men in the middle, they hindered the ball circulation of Barcelona and, as Andres Iniesta came inside, they had no width on that side. On the right, as always, Dani Alves gives width and allows Alexis to move inside and behind the defence.

Milan created a good chance for Robinho who has mobility in attack. It was at the start of the game and before another clear Ibrahimovic chance who was faced with Valdes to prevent him scoring. There was not much more. Their game is based on looking for the space created behind Dani Alves or finding Ibrahimovic to challenge with Mascherano to win the first ball. And from there try to win the second ball. Barcelona, who had more possession and control, lacked the inspiration of Messi, heavily guarded by the Milan players. Also Abiatti made sure they did not get an away goal in a Champions League match for the first time in thirty games. And this was despite their 17 shots on goal.

On another subject. There were shouts for two penalties that I would like comment on. The first, following Abbiati’s contact with Alexis. There was contact with the raised arm which usually gives away a penalty when the goalkeeper dives at the striker's feet. But Alexis exaggerated it a bit and it was not given. But what is the fifth or sixth official for? Or rather, what should he be doing?, For sure he saw the contact as much as Alexis Sanchez exaggerated his fall.

The other penalty was a shirt pull on Puyol. You could see on television the clear grip on his shirt and the position of the fifth or sixth official and the same issue. Both on the line, both nearby and facing the play, but no whistle for the penalty. Is it a problem of number of officials or a question of decision making? I also want to emphasize again, because they communicate using signals and now microphones: Why are they not on the other side, away from the linesman on that side and then they would have a different view, closer to the other side of the box. Amongst the six, yes six, they would be able to cover the whole pitch from all angles.

OK, to get back to purely football, Guardiola in the second half looked for a higher tempo and width to convert the possession in to chances, bringing on Pedro and Tello. They did manage to, but they could not make anything happen through a mistake or creativity thanks to Abiatti. Now, with the score 0-0, everything hinges on the game back in the 'Nou Camp' and it promises to be very interesting.

19 Comments Send us your opinions
29/03/12 at 19:06:01 #1
John Bromley
Having watched every Chelsea game this season, I really don't think Juan Mata is to take Chelsea forward. To me his general fitness is a serious doubt. He is too slow and chickens out of tackles he attempts. he need too long on the ball to put through a telling pass.
He is not the Zola that us Chelsea fans were hoping for.
29/03/12 at 19:27:01 #2
Yes. The extra officials seems useless..

Rafa, any views on the pitch condition at San Siro? Both Arsenal and Barcelona seemed to struggle because of lack of wing play. Do you think the pitch conditions on the side affected both games?


Hello, the pitch in bad conditions always is worst for the teams with more technique and that play the ball on the floor and Barcelona is obviously the best doing that.
29/03/12 at 20:15:31 #3
scott cameron
i believe the problem with match officials is that they are scared to make big decisions for fear of critisism it is easier for them to not make a decision and claim they did not have a good view. when will the officials take into account the body movements of players when they are fouled. to my eye there is a clear difference to a players body shape when they are fouled as opposed to diving also why is a player like Ambrosini allowed to make a large number of "small" fouls before he is booked this gives his team a big advantage as they can keep distrupting the opponents flow very evident in game against Barca. Also if King Kenny finds the Liverpool job to much then please Mr Henry call for Mr Benitez a true Liverpool hero.
29/03/12 at 22:14:42 #4
Dear Rafa, you saw Robinho's mobility in attack, I would say one of the worst game he ever played... Another little thing you all noticed two situation in wich two panalties for barcellona were not given, but nobody noticed the one over El Sharawy? And when Messi shooted in the second half and Abbiati saved and later again Antonini saved over Tello in same action... did nobody noticed that Messi Pushed Neshba down to find his way to the kick, and when Seedorf got the yellow card for a fair foult for a late intervention, and Messi did not got it when done it over Sedderof? ... I mean, I just want to say that there are thousands of episodes if we look for it... Alexi Sanchez noticed he lost the ball, and he felt down like if he was shot... we can not talk about these two episodes and not considering the others... I mean... The game is full of those kind of situation and I would say that the referee manged it well.
29/03/12 at 22:25:36 #5
well said rafa,, hope to see you back as a manager soon
29/03/12 at 22:51:36 #6
Hello Rafa,

There is a lot of football on at the moment with various tv channels showing Europa League games (personally I have mine on the Schalke -v- Athletic Bilbao, I wanted to see what Bilbao do as I missed their games against Manchester Utd) - and during the half time break I was reading your comments on the Champions League games from the past two nights.
There is something that's been on my mind for such a long time that I couldn't wait for the game to finish so I decided to ask you straight away (especially now that Bilbao are in complete control of the game after pulling it back to 2-2):
Everywhere you look these days so many teams play in a (1) 4-2-3-1 formation. I remember when you set Liverpool in the 4-2-3-1 shape with Alonso and Mascherano in the two and Gerard in the middle of the three you got so much criticism by your "friend" in the media but to me Liverpool looked more solid and balanced than in any one time in the last 20 years or so (there was a period of time

29/03/12 at 23:01:07 #7
...continue from the previous page

...under Houllier when we did look solid but the balance between attack-defence wasn't right).

Anyway, my question is: if you were not (one of) the first manager(s) to come up with the (1) 4-2-3-1 formation then who was? And, if modesty allows you, would you say that if not in Europe were you the first in England to introduce that formation?

Also, lots of people mistake the 4-2-3-1 for the 4-3-3 - what would you say to these people, what makes the biggest difference between the two and why the first should not be mistaken with the second.



Hello Ivo,

In Spain there were some teams using this system before, Salamanca with Lillo, Deportivo with Irureta and obviously Valencia. In England you are right, it was difficult but as you say, it was working.
The main difference between 1-4-2-3-1 and 1-4-3-3 are the tow midfielders in the middle. With one, he has to be very dinamic, decent with the ball and good in defence, with two each one can be different.
30/03/12 at 00:49:04 #8
I thought Milan's approach was interesting in that when they dropped deep, they went very narrow and compact and allowed Barca space in the wide areas. Of course it can be difficult to get transitions from there but the fact that Ibrahimovic and Robinho stayed high meant it wasn't too risky.

30/03/12 at 10:32:35 #9
Defending high up is a system that I find very attractive in a side. You used it very succesfully on occassions in the CL. In what circumstances do you not use this sytem


Hello Jerome, if you have quick defenders and the strikers press you can stay pressing high. If you have no coordination between your lines, you can't press.
30/03/12 at 13:46:35 #10
Jacob Siwiti
Hi Rafa,

Am a very ardent fan of liverpool fc from Zambia, Africa. I really have had a lot of fun, esp. when you coached the team from 04 to 09. i know in the end things went bad but i'd love to see you back to play both entertaining and solid lfc football. Since both of us are not in control of you coming back, i'd like you to answer this question. what would you do differently if you were to come back and coach LFC?? Seriously hope you come back. nowadays i can't watch lfc without my heart being broken..we are now a mid-table club.


Hello Jacob, I woud like to have had different owners. We made mistakes, but the conditions were not the best to work. Thanks.
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