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Apr 2012
That's Football, by Rafa Benitez

General Articles

Rafa Benítez

‘That’s football’ said Vujadin Boskov when he was asked about the game at a press conference. With his limited Spanish, the former coach of Real Madrid and the old Yugoslavia national team amongst others, couldn’t find a better, more graphic, way to explain why a team could win a game from a very difficult situation against all the odds. But Chelsea did exactly that last night in the UEFA Champions League Semi-Final. With ten men for a large part of the match, they were able to score two goals against the champions and thus prevent, for at least another year, a team from winning the Champions League title two years running.

FC Barcelona 2 – Chelsea 2

There’s little point in talking about systems in a match like Tuesday night’s. But to paint the full picture we should say that Barcelona again went with a back 3 in a 1-3-4-3 although these are really just numbers. Messi was behind Alexis who was the striker, Cuenca on the right and Iniesta on the left, but Messi’s mobility made the shape less rigid and, on the contrary, the interchange of positions was constant.

As for Chelsea, they had to play the same way they had done at Stamford Bridge. They had their players dropped deep in their own box, although they gave the impression they wanted to try to get out more on the counter and look to get the important away goal.

In the first few minutes there were a couple of notable moves. First Chelsea had a counter-attack and then Messi had the first chance to give notice of how the game would go. But as we said, football is football and things started to change with the visitors losing Cahill through injury. The Chelsea centre back went off with a muscle problem and Bosingwa came on. So this meant Ivanovic moving to centre back and the Portuguese player coming on to his natural right back position.

It was the same pattern as the first leg - Barca attacking and Chelsea defending with a lot of players behind the ball. Cech was also ready for penetrating passes.

Also like the first game, Chelsea would try to make the most of direct play from their goalkeeper and set plays. So after 16 minutes, a long ball from Cech was cleared by Valdes who collided with Pique which forced a change a few minutes later. In the throw directly after the incident, Ivanovic threw in to the box and you could see the problems this type of play causes the Catalan team, although on this occasion it came to nothing.

Now with Dani Alves at right back and Mascherano at centre back after Pique’s substitution, Cech saved a Messi shot on 19 minutes after a great attack by FC Barcelona who were intensifying their attacks and managed a couple of shots in the next few minutes.

In the 31st minute, Cech played long and Drogba’s flick found Mata which showed how Barcelona have problems with this type of play. However Barca were controlling the game even if they were finding it difficult to create gaps through the middle.

After 34 minutes and after a corner, the Catalan team regained the ball and found the Chelsea defence out of position. Cuenca played the ball across and Busquets made it 1-0 which looked as if it would change the tie.

But suddenly everything changed, with Alexis going down after receiving a kick by Terry and one of the assistants brought it to the referee’s attention; a red card for the skipper and Chelsea were down to ten men. Bosingwa moved to left centre back, Ramires went to right back and Meireles moved slightly left in midfield to help Cole.

Seven minutes later, Messi looked for a pass behind Ramires in his new right back role and found Iniesta who made it 2-0. At that time Chelsea were suffering. But a few minutes later, Ramires got himself free in the box against the advancing Valdes and chipped the ball over the goalie with a Messi-like finish.

Chelsea, against the odds, had the advantage. They had scored the only goal in the first leg in time added on in the first half and they had done the same again in last night’s match.

The ending

The second half began with a chance for Iniesta, now with Chelsea using Drogba on the left to give them a line of five midfielders in defence and with the feeling that Barcelona would sooner or later close the game out. It was a matter of time. Maybe not.

As if to confirm this feeling, after 47 minutes Fabregas combined with Messi to get behind Drogba. Cesc went to ground after the Ivory Coast player’s tackle, the referee pointed to the spot and it looked like it was over for the London side. Again however, football is football, and Messi, yes Messi, struck the bar and Chelsea still had the advantage and could breathe again.

Barcelona could not get through the defence, and you could see they were getting anxious with yellow cards for Iniesta and Messi, the Di Matteo defence was holding and Kalou came on for Mata… It continued in the same vein, the real truth being that FCB insisted on going through the middle and Pep Guardiola brought on Tello for Cuenca. The squad player was able to get in a few crosses but never getting to the by-line so never really threatening the massed ranks of the English defence.

After 73 minutes, another change. Keita came on for Fabregas and Tello, who had been on the right, moved to the left. It was obvious that Guardiola was looking for penetration and width, his side were playing too quickly through the middle and were not creating chances.

Then Messi, on 82 minutes, finished by again hitting the post in a piece of individual play. Another ball hitting the woodwork for Barca… And Chelsea were holding out.

Just when it looked all over and the British side could see themselves in the final, we witnessed another unexpected incident in the game. Torres started a counter attack, tried to push the ball past and run and gave it away although he stayed up. The attack from Barcelona ended with a shot rebounding out of defence and it fell to Fernando’s feet who from his own half, with no opposition, ran with the ball upfield and dribbled past Valdes to score Chelsea’s second goal putting them through to the final. Fernando was not going to throw away a chance like this to score and the game was over.

Barcelona, the champions, cannot now defend their title in Munich and maybe many were hoping for Chelsea to go through, but I am sure that no-one expected it would be like this. And that’s it – ‘That’s football’. Congratulations to Chelsea.