Monday, 27 April 2009

How will Barcelona beat Chelsea? And More.

The most critical game in the season. Let's start by labeling it this way. First because it is hooked on the string of our most demanding league Fixtures, and secondly because the team we will play against contain ultra physical tanks in every line. So this is it, the battle between techniques and muscles show its head in a mouth watering battle.

Chelsea Issues:


Without Cole, I had a hunch that Hiddink may start with three static Central Backs (Carvalho, Alex and Terry), Alex on Henry and Terry plus Carvalho Guarding the box, Plus Ivanovic who mark Messi all the way. Now that Carvalho is out, things are more complicated. There is no other Defender in Chelsea with enough Versatility to mark Messi tightly. Belletti and Bosingwa are realistic options. This type of Right backs can do well on the left while marking Messi. With their right foot inside they can create an initial problem for Messi when he cuts into the center, but its not all rosy. If -as predicted- Alves cut inside more, and Messi ran on the flank, The right footed marker can only run for fun, his role vanish. Besides, The moment Messi passes his Marker (and he will), there is no way back. The right footed defender can no more reach the ball glued to the Argentinean left foot. So either he tackles him and get booked or he cry for help. But his teammates may have some other mess to deal with. Messi is a key player for Barcelona, but not the only one.

The other option is hiring Essien to mark Messi. Essien can do the job, like it or hate it, it's true. But that will be a very expensive bill to pay. Chelsea were able to live without Essien team-contribution against Liverpool in the Champions' league first leg, because Gerrard is simply the key midfielder and inspirer for Liverpool. Marking Gerard out of the game cut Liverpool spine and communication channels between offense and defense. With all his brilliance, Messi is not the oxygen pipe between defense and offense in Barcelona, and there is exactly where essien is needed. Or else, Iniesta-Henry-Xavi-Eto'o-Alves can link together and create their own dance.

Iniesta is Messi's best news. If it was only a Messi concern, then Hiddink would be able to dedicate a man for him without shaking the tactical stability of the team. But Iniesta is another man who can take one-on-one situations with fun. If Hiddink dedicate a man for Iniesta, another for Messi and a third for Xavi, then he is handing his neck to Guardiola. His players positioning will no more follow Hiddink tactical structure, but will be dictated by Barcelona players movement on the field, now can you imagine the spaces Barcelona can create this way?

I dare to predict that Chelsea may not man-mark Messi. They may play with Deep defense line, and with a Zonal midfield. While defending, Chelsea will look more like a 4-3-2-1. Four defenders, Three Diffensive midfielders closing the spaces through crowding the Flank where the ball is on the move, With two Extra midfielders to run out of system barking for the ball, and a Drogba "Eto'oizing" our defense with his high pressure. For me, that’s the most successful way to defend against Barcelona.


Hiddink has lot of options to select from. The most predicted scenario is playing the traditional Malouda -Drogba-Anelka/Kalou, with Essien-Balack-Lampard in the midfield. But knowing Hiddink, he is unpredictable. He may Choose to play a trio of Lampard-Balack-Belletti/Deco in the midfield, with essien in front of them helping Drogba and Anelka to put more pressure on Yaya and the backline to keep the ball as long as possible in our own field (nothing is better than that to avoid Barcelona offense threat). That may also lead Barcelona defense to clear the ball rather than handing it to the midfield to start a new attack, beside the possibility of defensive errors. Essien has the legs to generate fast counters like no one else in Chelsea. If he links well with Drogba, he can cause troubles. Also, leaving Essien without a lot of Tactical instructions hooked around his shoulders will give him the chance to be a utility player who help anywhere needed without destabilizing the overall structure.


As a long follower and admirer of Hiddink, I can say for sure that:

1) He will have some interesting tactical surprises for this game. Why? Because that’s what he does all the time, whenever he approach a decisive game.

2) He will work for that away goal. Something I heavily criticized Klinsmann about was the way he approached the first leg game against Barcelona. It's unlikely that Hiddink will ask his players to cover their faces and let Barcelona punch with pleasure. He want an away goal, either at the beginning of the game if Barcelona were not able to catch the momentum from minute one, or at least he will try to use time in his favor, Keeping a clean sheet till the second half and hunt a goal when Barcelona turn desperate to score.

3) He will put lot of pressure on our defense when Puyol and co are exchanging the ball. Hiddink has that orange gene that dictates the rule "Defense start from the offense".

4) He is a psycho the way he prepare his team mentally for a game, specially when they are out looked and not labeled as being Favorites. He knows how to make his beasts starve almost to death, and then untie them to run for flesh.

5) He doesn't mind using any tactic to win. Yes, including dirty tactics or black magic. Ok I don’t admire this thing about him.

6) He is a shrewd tactical analyst, he watches you, he analyzes you, he do his SWOT analysis , and he customize his players' roles to meet the needs to overcome that specific challenge.

7) The seventh thing to tell about him is that it doesn’t work for him all the time. Fair enough?

The point is that we will play against a team with potentials and lead by a quality coach. It promises to be a very interesting match to enjoy, and we will live a mature performance that we barely see every week.

Barcelona Issues:

Barcelona players must not have any doubts or concerns when they enter the pitch. Or else, forget it! There is no Classico few days later, they are not tired, nor do they lack anything to beat Chelsea. Thats the spirit needed for this game.

Being the game of the season, there are six games we played this season that I hope the team take notes about. If we learn the lessons from these games then I am confident, we will do well.

Sevilla, League game (Home): When a team outclass you physically, switching the offense triangle with Eto'o and Henry playing behind Messi can do wonders, specially with more disciplined performance at midfield.

Real Madrid: We didn’t do what Sevilla game taught us. And it showed the Counter attack vacuum tunnel I have been nagging about since ever, I am sure no one want me to repeat that, but I will later.

Malaga: That was one of the most unrated games we played this season. It's unlikely that the fans even remember it. There was a brilliance tactical strategy in that game. Instead of typical Barcelona approach to pressure instinctively the moment the team lose the ball, in this game the team performed a "Position then pressure" Strategy. We lose the ball, we position ourselves properly on the field closing all the gaps to prevent counter attacks, then we do our High pressure on the opponent. It consumes less energy, and offer a better output. Hopefully Pep was testing the option then to use it when needed, rather than applying a one-time strategy.

Bayern Cl second leg: The mental preparation is as important as the tactical one. Against Bayern the players were prepared to expect a Bayern that have concerns they may get trashed on their own field. Bayern were not squeezing themselves in their box to avoid humiliating result as expected, they instead came out to attack. Their unexpected approach caught us by surprise. You could see Barcelona defenders in the first Fifteen minutes behaving as if they are walking on water, unbalanced and unfocused. You cant do that against Chelsea, Barcelona need to be prepared for all the scenarios, including the fact that they may not dominate the game (not even the possession) the way they used to. They must have the "it" to win even when things are not going boldly for their favor.

Sevilla (Away): even in that game where Barcelona produced a stunning performance, there was one dark note. The defense tends to complicate things a bit sometimes. When they feel under pressure, they make mistakes. You do NOT dribble an opponent in your box, Hear me pique?! You play your passes out of trouble when the opponent is all in your half, deal Abidal?! And so on. Watch that game again, and you will hunt these moments. There will be a Drogba with Chelsea.

Valencia League game, (away): yea the most recent game. Hiddink watched that game, and he noticed two brilliant things Emery (Valencia coach) did.

1) Defensively, Barcelona scored lot of goals through a pass played behind the opponent defense to the striker on the move. It’s a classic trick, the offense move out of the box pulling the defense creating a space in front of the keeper, then a ball played to an unmarked teammate penetrating to the box from behind. What Emrey did is to instruct his Defense line to play deeper than usual, all the time, regardless of Barcelona offense movement. Valencia defense was inside the box all the time, with Marchena and Baraja, assisted by Pablo creating the second defense line to monitor Barcelona movement outside the box. It clicked.

2) Offensively, Valencia by intention avoided horizontal passing in the midfield. They played a Pure Vertical game. The moment they win the ball, Pablo, Silva, Mata, and Villa made their runs forward with the ball racing them to Barcelona area. Their was no time for Barcelona to do the transition, nor to reposition defensively. It was clearly a "Cut the crap, straight to the point" strategy.

3) Set pieces…no further comments.

The way Barcelona deals with all what mentioned above will be vital to decide the destiny of Chelsea encounter.

To the game:

The first ten minutes are the most important. If Barcelona players catch their offense momentum then they can finish this stage in the first leg. Chelsea will do their best to avoid that at any cost. Physical battle? Provocative Behavior? Tactical fouls? Doing an attempt to squeeze Barcelona in their own half and make them doubtful? And worse, trying to score an early goal then park the bus and counter? That’s all on the list, get ready. Barcelona like to turn any game to a joyful carnival, Chelsea will try to turn it to a battle field. It will be the clash of mentalities and it will be the most important factor, over tactics, skills and talents.

Barcelona usually take some minutes to get into the mood. Not in this game. Staying focused and avoid tense is vital, and Guardiola need to lead by example here.


I hope the Photos below say it all. We will have the most tested Selection on the field (though may not be the most practical). Marquez may start as well, but this selection is the most likely.

Knowing that Chelsea will try to complicate things for our defense with high pressure, it's important for Yaya and Xavi to drop deep to run the show from behind when we are in our own half. Usually they position themselves in the midfield as outlets, and the defenders hand them the offense stick. This time they need to contribute in moving the ball from defense to midfield.

The Yaya-Iniesta-Xavi midfield has many positives. But it also has its defects. First, if Iniesta open to the left, Xavi lack a passing outlet beside him and become the only hunt for the opponent defensive midfielders to contain. And secondly, when Barcelona loses the ball, there will be a highway for the opponent counter attacks to slide over to our box. We can overcome that by giving Messi some more playmaking responsibilities contributing with Xavi. Xavi simultaneously move forward to contribute offensively and backward to position himself between Yaya and the offense operation area. This way Barcelona can create a lethal offense structure with a solid backbone to prevent getting exposed by counters. At the same time this will create more complexities for Chelsea defense. If they mark Xavi Tightly, he will pull his marker out of position through dropping deep and that will create more space for Messi and co in and around the box. If Chelsea unmarked Xavi, he will be able to do his passing work away from the crowded area. This will also make him able to mark the player generating the Counters for Chelsea the moment Chelsea win back the ball (probably Lampard), and that will delay it till Barcelona reposition.

Continuous movement is Vital, that’s the thing that hurt Chelsea most. Switching positions is not something Chelsea players are trained to handle, it will confuse and pull them out of position, and it is needed. Get me a Messi into the box and serve him the ball and I will throw my spell on Terry so he Knock Messi down, offering Barcelona a penalty and may be getting suspended. Terry will do so anyway with or without my spell.

To do so, Henry Messi, and Eto'o need to move in harmony to avoid getting contained. Iniesta need to do his roaming here and there and every where, Messi need to move to the right opening a gap for Alves to cut inside and blast his shots. The team needs to keep the continuous movement till Chelsea players get dizzy.

Moving the ball From Box to box

(Click to enlarge)
The crosses are not recommended unless if it’s a cross on target. Or if Iniesta is the player who is crossing the ball, because he can send it to move in circles three times around John terry belt then park on Eto'o right foot. Ambitious wishful crosses are gifts for Chelsea defense and keeper. I prefer penetration attempts, it hurt more.


Lets be honest, we are not fresh enough for a transition battle back and forth. We need to break down the transition distance between players, rather than forcing them all to run all the way.

The Anvil and the Hammers:

This was a subject for the article I planned as a follow up to the Previous article "Barcelona: System Analysis". But there is no way to avoid clinching it here while discussing the game against Chelsea, so let it be.

We play high pressure to defend. This way we stay closer to the Opponent area all the time, and we keep the opponent in their own half rather than moving to ours. This system has its advantages, and we all know it. Yet, it has lot of disadvantages. It is exhausting, and demand running all over the place all the time. It requires lot of transition if the opponent succeeded to overcome the initial pressure and generated counter attacks through the spaces we leave behind. Linking the two disadvantages together lead to conclude: It is exhausting, while to work perfectly it requires fresh legs. This is why Barcelona is more fragile while dealing with fatigue issues. And that’s why the intensity of games has more impact on Barcelona form than it affects any other team.

Sample about PLayers high pressure demands-Alves

-Name another Fullback who does this continious dance-

(Click to enlarge)

Alves Movements on pitch
So what? Anyone recommend that we switch our football methodology from Total football to the traditional Catenacio? Forget it, or else go and find yourself some Calcio. Catenacio means that when you lose the ball, you run back all the way to closedown the area in front of your own Box. It's more secure defensively, no doubt. It's less demanding fitness wise. But it puts you miles far from your opponent box declining your offense efficiency. That’s anti-Barcelona.

So what about applying a Catenacio but in the opponent half, while executing our pressure on ball holder upfront? It decrease calories burning, close spaces and gaps the opponent may use to generate counter attacks, and still keep you close to the opponent net so when you win back the ball you can move the ball to opponent box in five seconds. I believe there is a possibility to upgrade the Barcelona style by adding some Italian methods. Creating something…"Barcetalia".

Let's demonstrate this through the Game against Chelsea merging that Barcetalia methodology with Chelsea game specific demands:

The moment we lose the ball, the two players closer to Yaya on the flanks drop back creating a line in front of our defense in the midfield, while the other four players keep doing our high pressure strategy on the ball holder and his closest outlets. Now the new line positioning depends on the team you play against, the higher it goes the more it squeeze opponent, though a balance need to be made between squeezing the opponent and keeping the ways to our own half sealed.

It is important for the following reasons:

1) Close any path for counter attacks Chelsea may generate.

2) Will Put another line to win back the ball in front of our defense incase initial ball pressure failed. It will keep Chelsea ball far from our box, and doing so we don’t only prevent them from scoring through counters, but also decrease the number of corners and Free kicks on the edge of our box. I believe that’s the best way to avoid Chelsea threat in set pieces, making sure they don’t have it at all. This line can play the ball out to the touch line, or even do some tactical fouls to stop the ball in the midfield. Chelsea are planning this for us, let's do the same, if needed.

3) This way our pressure on the ball holder will be more fruitful. It may sound that having a trio of Alves-Yaya-Xavi positioned behind four players doing the pressure, takes more time to win back the ball than Yaya behind six players hunting for the ball, not true. Here is a question for you: What is the best plan to catch a Rabbet? Running after it in an open field, or squeezing it in the corner? How many men you need to achieve the mission in each of the two cases? That’s the core idea here. Squeeze the opponent between the anvil of the well positioned trio and the hammers of those who are applying the pressure.

4) When you have Only a Yaya behind the six players doing the pressure not only you leave spaces in your midfield and expose the defense, but you even create an incentive for the opponent to counter attack, simply because that’s the only space they find to run out of pressure. Having a positioned midfield trio close any space. It makes the helpless opponent clear the ball with no sense just to get some air, rather than building up a counter attack. Had anyone noticed that the teams we play against rarely clear the ball nonsensely(Compared to the level of pressure we apply)? There is a reason for that, something like having a better option, or open outlets to pass the ball to, mostly behind our high defense line.

5) This line will keep players like Messi, Iniesta, Henry and Eto'o closer to the opposition area all the time. Instead of running back to our own half when the initial pressure fails, they will have a line behind them to pick the unaccomplished mission and make sure it is done.

6) This way, for Chelsea to score goals, not only they need to beat the initial pressure and run to the box to battle with defenders. They have an additional solid line to deal with. And that line may cut the communication with Drogba and anyone upfront.

7) Tactical wise, I believe the way Barcelona opponents usually attack require more a Right/left defensive midfielders than fullbacks. The opponents usually use humble number of players offensively and count on counters; they rarely hug lines while approaching Barcelona half. They approach barcelona half and cut inside. Its better to bury the opponent attack in the midfield before it go further, because the deeper it survive the more it get directed straight toward the box.

The Three Defensive Layers

(Click to enlarge)


Set pieces:

It's not true that we have lack of altitude. Recently, I made a matching between Barcelona average altitude and that’s of Manchester united, the result was surprising. Our problem is the goal keeper in set pieces. Who follow what I write know that I defended Valdes all the time, but it doesn’t mean ignoring his weaknesses. He does not offer enough confidence in the box so you can feel his teammates trying too much to cover, that lead to mistakes. He can't command his area, he doesn't have the charisma to communicate with the defenders, organize them, and even roar at them when needed.

Then the new system introduced by Guardiola to defend set pieces, Zonal marking. Our players tend either to focus on the ball forgetting the opponents' movement in the box, or the opposite. The teams we play against barely get a corner, so we are not fully experienced to deal with it. We need time to test, track errors, and fix. We are not there yet.

We are unlikely going to change our methods. I think the best set pieces structure against Chelsea goes as following:

1) Henry, Yaya, Pique, and Abidal position themselves Zonal in the area.
2) Puyol on the far post. Where he can guard the post but most importantly he can see the whole box in front of him so he yell and instruct.
3) Eto'o on the near post.
4) Iniesta on the corner flank, because while Barcelona are completely focused in the box, Chelsea may play a short corner so Lampard blast a shot to the far post. Iniesta need to make sure to prevent it.
5) Xavi on the edge of the box monitoring the player roaming there.
6) Messi set for counters.

Timing is important. It's important to know when to jump for the ball and clear it before a Chelsea player run toward the ball and jump. The player who run and jump always jump higher than a player who jumps in place. Our players need to take two steps to warm up the moment the ball is crossed. The second factor is jumping just before the opponent player. If Chelsea player jump first, or at the same time, it's too late. Jumping first makes you either succeed to clear the ball, or get a foul. It's even better to jump little early than little late. But needless to say, jumping on time is perfection.

That may help, even though the players know it already. So we can only hope. The worst thing about Valencia game was getting conceded from a corner. We already have doubts and that goal is no way a confidence booster.

There is no way we can predict how this game will go. Chelsea has the metal to win, even in Barcelona. Barcelona may turn it to another trashing carnival creating history. But the reality is somewhere in between. If you ask me, buy your ticket to Rome.

Ramzi Tanani





Knives Out said...

Blaugrana is right:

No Deco :)


Brilliant analysis Ramzi. Hope we can win this one by atleast a two goal margin!

Anonymous said...

really impressive stuff ramzi. ure a pretty good tactician!

Anonymous said...

great article Ramzi. I think having iniesta roam in midfield is better than messi as play maker. Iniesta is so in form right now, why not use him. I also have a feeling they will man mark him so why not let him roam(deep- wide- everywhere) to spread defense. Messi as playmaker( implying more central) will lead him to essien lampar/ballack) and congest things further.

I just have a feeling iniesta could really be key for us. have him dart straight down the middel, keep messi on right the capitalisee on passes and defensive break downs.

Mat said...

Great Article Ramzi.. I noticed you did not discuss long balls over the defense as one of the counter attacking options..any reason? maintaining such a high line of defense can make a team vulnerable to those.. and Lampard is good at those to DD.. see FA cup SF..

veteran said...

Deco and cavalho being injured is not a good news for me as a Barca fan. my opinion is that I want Barca to beat them clean and clear with all their star players in the field. That way they are not gonna have any excuses to give to the Media. Regardless of what is going on Barca is still gonna win the game.

mofof said...

Ramzi, I am really thankful that we have you writing on this blog. Amazing post, amazing.

Ramzi said...

BLAUGRANA Carvalho injury was already known since before, I mentioned that in the article :) But Deco is a new news for me.

Knives Out I am sure Guardiola and his staff, not only analyzed Chelsea, but even Hiddink performance since before chelsea. And the last game between Russia and Holland in particular.

Anonymous-1 I try.

Anonymous-2 We need to keep in mind that in Total Football players switch positions all time. The reasons why I showed iniesta on the left are 1)I want more henry in the box, we cant isolate Eto'o there. 2)Iniesta Can roam better if he start from the Flank. Performing only through the middle get him Caught on Chelsea Radars. cutting from the left to center make more Chaos. While they try to mark Xavi to cut off the passing game, Iniesta get involved there just as needed. Then he move back to the flank to stretch the field (its needed). Messi start his runs from the flank, then he cut inside either with the ball or asking for the ball in the space. So no time for the DM to mark him. And its better anyway to get a free kick facing the box rather having it on the right flank, keeping in mind that crossing the ball into the box is not as fruitfull as shooting it. At least against Chelsea skyscrappers and their shaky Keeper.3)Messi as a pure right wing close the flank for Alves, and shrink the space there. Not reccommended.

Mat The long Balls are a main threat, its another technique to generate counters. I wish if valdes was the kind of "Libero Keeper" but he is not. Against valencia it was obvious in many incedents how he and puyol were inviting each other for the ball. The good positioning for the defenders limit that threat. You cant avoid a long pass, no matter how much u press, but you can contain the reciever. We cant afford putting our Defense line deeper, because that increase the spaces between the lines, it will hurt us both defensively and offensively. The good balance between tight marking and offside trap solve that issue.

veteran at least I can tell that Deco is not really a star for them, he barely played even when he was fit.

mofof My pleasure;)

FC BARCA said...

Ramzi, once again another informative article. Just keep up the great work. Thanks
Visca El Barça

KC said...

People like Ramzi are the reason why I open that blog everyday in my life.

And that's the ONLY blog I open, by the way.

Amir said...

great article Ramzi if i will be a manager one day i'm sure u'll be my assistant really amazing genuis

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