Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Preview : Chelsea

Venue : Camp Nou, Barcelona

What is it about some teams that just bring out the worst in each other when they get together? Chelsea FC and FC Barcelona have no historical rivalry like Real Madrid and Barca nor do they have a rivalry based on proximity to one another as Barcelona and Espanol or Chelsea and West Ham, but something about Chelsea always seems to rub Barcelona the wrong way.

Perhaps I'm being overly analytical and the only "thing" that irritated fans about Chelsea was their coach Jose Mourinho who is now long gone, but still when these two teams gets together, something special always occurs.

The Early Clash
In the 1999/2000 season these two teams first got together for what turned out to be one of the great ties in European football. Chelsea raced to a 3-0 lead in the first leg in London on the back of Tore Ande Flo's double before Figo replied to give the Catalans some hope. 3-1 the final score then and on to the Camp Nou and needing a 2-0win.

Barcelona jumped out to a 2-0 lead after 45 mins before a Hesp howler threatened to derail their win. Cue Pep Guardiola in the 83rd min to provide a brilliant curling ball for Dani to head home and the teams were back where they started 173 mins before. Kluivert managed to put the ball in the Chelsea net 1 min later but the referee had already signalled a penalty for an infringement on Kluivert by Leboeuf. Up stepped Rivaldo to win the game for Barca in normal time but he blasted the ball wide.

So on to extra time where Barca finally killed off the Pensioners in extra time thanks to a Rivaldo penalty after Figo was felled in the box and a Kluivert header. So 210 mins later and 10 goals later the two teams were separated with the Blaugrana triumphant

The Special One
Enter Roman Abramovic in 2003 and suddenly Chelsea were the glamour team in europe. 100 million pounds later and with a new coach by the name of Jose Mourinho the new look Chelsea and Barcelona would clash in the round of 16 in 2005. The first leg of this clash would forever change the dynamic of this clash. Chelsea took the lead in the Camp Nou through a Belletti own goal before drogba was sent off. Substitute Maxi Lopez, signed in January to fill in for the injured Henrik Larsson, equalized before Etoo finished Chelsea off.

The real action was now beginning as after the game Mourinho claimed that Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard had broken FIFA rules by speaking to referee Anders Frisk during the half time interval and had caused Drogba to be sent off. Frisk received death threats and promptly retired from refereeing leaving a bad taste in the mouths of all involved in the game.

On to the 2nd leg in London which was played a frenetic pace with Chelsea racing to a 3-0 lead Gudjohnsen, Lampard and Duff doing the damage. Ronaldinho pulled a penalty back before scoring a wondergoal that put Barca ahead on away goals before Terry headed home a corner to give Chelsea the tie 4-2. The controversy did not end there as Barca goalkeeper Valdes claimed he had been impeded by a Chelsea player in trying to save Terry's header. The rivalry had just gone to another level.

Barcelona did not have to wait long for revenge as they were drawn against Chelsea the very next year in the round of 16. This time they unleashed a highly touted young player by the name of Leo Messi who terrorized opposing left back Asier Del Horno to the point that Del Horno was sent off for a reckless challenge. Chelsea took the lead through a Motta own goal, before Terry scored an own goal himself to level things up. Cue Samuel Etoo to head in the winner and Barca had their revenge at Stamford Bridge.

Determined that the tie was not to be without controversy Mourinho claimed Messi was a actor who had feigned injury to get Del Horno sent off, to which the Argentine responded that he had stud marks on his leg to prove he was not acting. Back to the Camp Nou for the 2nd leg and another Ronaldinho wondergoal gave Barca the lead before Lampard scored a penalty to equalize. Chelsea vanquished then and Barcelona marched on.

By 2007 both of these teams were sick of each other and as luck often has it, they were draw together yet again for the group stage this time. Chelsea took the first leg in leg at Stamford Bridge thanks to a Drogba goal before the teams headed back to Spain. The Camp Nou game was a bad tempered affair with no fewer than 10 players (6 from Chelsea, 4 from Barcelona) being booked.

Deco gave barca the lead before Lampard equalized with a freak goal. Gudjohnsen having switched sides in this rivalry then gave Barca the lead once more after some brilliant work by Ronaldinho before Chelsea began trying to literally kick the Barcelona players as opposed to the ball. Three Chelsea players were booked in the last 8 minutes as Chelsea tried to rough up Barca. The tactic seemed to work as Drogba equalized late in stoppage time to finish another heated game in this rivalry.

The Coaches
This season Chelsea have had their problems. Under the new management of World Cup winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari (who replaced Avram Grant), the Blues made a bright start to their domestic campaign before beginning to falter. Talk of dressing room unrest and unhappy players quickly began to spread and damaging losses 3-0 at Manchester United and 2-0 at Liverpool following 1-0 and 2-1 home losses to Liverpool and Arsenal respectively earlier in the season cost Scolari his job.

In stepped "Lucky" Guus Hiddink and the Dutch master quickly stamped his authority on Chelsea grinding out solid victories. Hiddink is known as a crafty manager that can get the best out of his players and is a brilliant tactician. His experience and ability are legendary and he is of the most respected managers in the world today.

To give some perspective on the difference in experience of the coaches Hiddink took his first coaching job as assistant manager with De Graafschap in 1982 two years before Guardiola joined the Barcelona youth Academy at age 13. Make no mistake though, Guardiola is a product of the Johan Cruyff school of thinking and also had spells in Italy and Mexico as a player that helped to shape his philosophy.

A former Barcelona Captain, Pep knows Barca through and through and has proven himself to be a powerful motivator in his first season with the Blaugrana saying “I’m going to try to seduce my players because I believe in the power of the word,” in June at a news conference. “They’ll have to learn that they’re not worth much alone, that talent and inspiration can only become great when they are at the service of the team.”

The Key Players
Essien vs Toure
Messi vs Drogba

The most expensive African midfielder in the history of football comes up against the pretender to Vieira's crown. A heavyweight clash for the ages, Yaya Toure 6 ft 3 and 200 pounds comes up against Michael Essien 5 ft 10 and 190 pounds. Make no mistake though, Yaya will need every bit of his height and weight advantage to take on the player who many consider the best box to box midfielder in the world.

Essien has had his injury worries this season though having been out from September to March with a knee injury. He wasted little time once he returned however scoring in his first game back from his injury for the Chelsea reserves, and he followed that up with goals against Juventus and Manchester City in his first two games back into the starting lineup for the first team.

Yaya meanwhile has had solid season with his most impressive performance arguably coming in the classico against Real Madrid. He has been quoted as saying that he will ask his brother Kolo Toure for advice about Chelsea and Drogba, although judging on the FA Cup semi final between Arsenal and Chelsea he may be better off asking Xavi or Puyol what it will take to stop Chelsea.

Few players in the world are a controversial as Didier Drogba although Samu Etoo seems to try as hard as possible to match the colourful Ivorian. For much of this season the talk has been of Drogba heading towards the Stamford Bridge exit and things seemed to be at an all-time low for him when he was consistently left out of the starting lineup by Scolari earlier this season. But the change in management seemed to rejuvenate Drogba who suddenly started to look more like the Drogba that won the African Footballer of the year in 2007.

The winner against Portsmouth and a brace against Bolton in the EPL as well as the winner in the semi final against Arsenal in the FA Cup, and a goal in every leg of the ties against Juventus and Liverpool in the Champions league are proof of just how great form Drogba has been in. The definition of a power forward, the Barcelona defenders will have their hands full with Drogba who has now 9 goals in his last 12 games for the Blues.

Much has been said in the lead up to this game about Leo Messi, Deco and Lampard have both hailed the little Argentine as the best player in the world while Michael Mancienne and Michael Essien have both been touted as the men to stop La Pulga. Guus Hiddink on the other hand declared recently that he is not losing sleep over stopping Messi and stated that his team would never use violent means to stop the Barca Superstar. One thing is for certain the Chelsea defence will need to keep a close eye on Messi if they are going to go back to England still in this tie.

A great deal has been made of the aerial ability of the Chelsea team due to players such as Ivanovic, Alex, Terry, Ballack and Drogba. Barcelona have conceded goals from set pieces once too often this season and it is no doubt a concern, however similar fears against Bayern's Big men such as Lucio, Breno, Van Buyten, Toni and Van Bommel proved unfounded. Barcelona had tightened up their defence and before their 2-2 draw against Valencia, they had conceded just 1 goal in their last 8 games in all competitions.

Perhaps more worryingly for Barca is the possibility of mental and physical fatigue setting in. Having played Sevilla and Valencia already, the Blaugrana have the Classico to come along with the Copa Del Rey Final and the final 4 games of the season that could all be crucial in the league title chase. Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink meanwhile has conceded the league title already and can afford to concentrate solely on the Champions League Semi Finals and the FA Cup final.

A major concern for Chelsea will be the left back position. Stopping Messi with a full strength team is a big enough problem for most teams but missing players increases the difficulty tenfold. With first choice left back Ashley Cole suspended, Ricardo Carvalho injured and Paulo Ferreira out for the season. The onus will fall on one of Ivanovic, Belletti, Mancienne or Bosingwa to slot in at left back and thereby attempt to stop Messi.

On the weekend Chelsea started with Mancienne at right back and Bosignwa on the left and while they were able to stop West Ham from scoring, the Hammers did have some opportunities to make Chelsea pay when Mancienne and Bosingwa both were caught out of position. Bosingwa loves to get forward like Dani Alves which raises an intriguing prospect of Messi and Alves vs Malouda and Bosingwa.

Mancienne based on Saturday's game does not get forward too much and opts for the simple short pass on most occasions. He let a few players sneak in behind him during the game and was somewhat at fault for the penalty that Chelsea gave away as he did not track a run into the box by the West Ham left back which caused Salomon Kalou to pull him down in the area. We could see a player like Iniesta who can make late runs and can move to that left flank cause Mancienne some serious problems if he does start.

Another concern for Chelsea will be the form of Petr Cech. Cech has been in pretty ordinary form for a while now and he did not look secure on the weekend despite saving a penalty. He looked really uncomfortable on set pieces especially and if Barca can get Marquez, Toure, Puyol or Henry into the box for some set pieces we could possibly see Barca cause a few uncomfortable moments for him. Valdes too is prone to an error every now and again and he will have to be on his toes to ensure that he doesnt have any blunders. This tie could end up being decided by the keeper that makes the fewest mistakes over the two legs.

Chelsea are a team that like to keep possession of the ball and build down the flanks with their striker sometimes dropping off to the wing and cutting inside. They are however also very dangerous on the break and set pieces, Liverpool dominated possession against them but Chelsea still won 3-1 at Anfield. Barcelona will want to get an early goal to settle their nerves but they will need be weary of Chelsea who came back from an early goal against Liverpool to win 3-1. Barca will get chances in this game and they need to take them if they are to win this tie. Look for Chelsea to play a physical game and try to break up Barca's passing with the intention of hitting Barca on the break.

Barcelona 4-3-3 : Valdes, Alves, Marquez, Puyol, Abidal, Xavi, Toure, Iniesta, Messi, Etoo, Henry

Chelsea 4-5-1 : Cech, Ivanovic, Alex, Terry, Bosingwa, Essien, Ballack, Lampard, Malouda, Drogba, Kalou

Chelsea have never won a game at the Camp Nou in the Champions League and they have only lead once in the 4 games they have played there (an own goal by Belletti). The last two games at Camp Nou have been draws however the first draw in 06 was a game in which Barca led Chelsea 2-1 from the first leg in London and as a result only needed a draw. One interesting fact, Chelsea have scored in every game that they have played in the Camp nou and Barcelona will do well to prevent them from doing so again.

Apr 00 : Barca 5 - 1 Chelsea
Feb 05 : Barca 2 - 1 Chelsea
Mar 06 : Barca 1 - 1 Chelsea
Oct 07 : Barca 2 - 2 Chelsea

Chelsea have won 3 of their last 5 games and have drawn the other 2 scoring 11 goals and conceding 8 in the process. Chelsea have not lost a game for the month of April either winning 5 and drawing 2. Barcelona meanwhile have won 3 of their last 5 scoring 10 and conceding 3. They have also not lost a game in April winning 5 and drawing 2.

Chelsea 4 - 3 Bolton
Chelsea 4 - 4 Liverpool
Arsenal 1 - 2 Chelsea
Chelsea 0 - 0 Everton
West Ham 0 - 1 Chelsea

Barcelona 2 - 0 Recreativo
Bayern 1 - 1 Barcelona
Getafe 0 - 1 Barcelona
Barcelona 4 - 0 Sevilla
Valencia 2 - 2 Barcelona

Never a dull moment when these two teams get together then, Barcelona will go out trying to get some goals but will be desperate not to concede having to go to Stamford Bridge next week. With one eye on the Classico and the 2nd leg it will be interesting to see how may minutes Pep gives Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, remember he took off Xavi midweek despite being 2-1 down and needing to score. 10 of Chelsea's 19 Champions League goals have come in the last 30 mins so Barcelona will need to pay attention to the late goals.

Against Chelsea, Barca have conceded late goals in their last two games at the Camp Nou so they will want to be careful and stay awake for the entire game. Barcelona have Conceded 8 of their 13 goals in the Champions League between mins 46 and 75, which is a quite staggering statistic. They need to come out of the break fully switched on to avoid conceding an away goal. Overall I think Barcelona will have too much for Chelsea who are missing players at the Camp Nou. Messi Etoo Henry Xavi Iniesta Dani Alves give Chelsea one too many problems to deal with and the bookmakers have made Barca the favourite to take this tie.

Prediction: Barcelona 3 Chelsea 1


Note: No English team has lost to a non-English team in the Champions League knockout stages since AC Milan beat Manchester United 3-0 in the Semi Finals on 2nd May 2007 at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in Milan


fcbee said...

Good read, b4l.

I think "never a dull moment" could be more right than ever. Especially on the pitch this time (no Mourinho, that's a difference).

The key to me is that we must CONTROL the game, we cannot let it turn into a crazy mess (like Chelsea's 4-4 against Liverpool or our 4-3 against Atlético). The guys should keep their heads cool and go out there with the idea of possess that ball.

1-0 is fine by me. Even 0-0 will do actually. Although you don't see it happen, with two teams having more the emphasis on scoring.

koko=barca said...

2-0 would be perfect. I am sure we will score at the Bridge.

noubarca said...

VERY LONG, cant read it now as I am my desk at work 10:37am. Would have this article for lunch..lol...

BlaugranaIRE said...

Great preview B4L.
3-1 scoreline would be great in my opinion. i cant see us not scoring in the brigde. hopefully there will be a fresher looking Xavi tonight than what we seen against Valencia, as we Barca fans know how much he dictates our play.

barcelona romania said...

I think Pique will play alongside Puyol in the center of defence as Barcelona will need tall players to stop the englishmen at set pieces.

groga said...

Avoiding set pieces will be key. Chelsea killed Liverpool by it in the first leg. But I'm sure Guardiola has studied it (although you can never be sure, there's luck involved too).

Ramzi said...

barca4life Where were u hiding this talent? Very good preview:)

barca4life said...

Thanks for the kind words again everybody.

FC BARCA said...

barca4life you outdid your self with all these great facts and analysis. Great job with it.

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