Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Preview : Chelsea

Venue : Stamford Bridge, London

The unstoppable force comes up against the immovable object in what promises to be an interesting (if not goal-filled) game. The only team to prevent Barcelona from scoring a goal at the Camp Nou this season comes up against a Barcelona team that has scored 146 goals in all competitions this season.

A great deal has been said in the week since Barcelona and Chelsea got together in the Camp Nou, with accusations and counter accusations flying both ways. Talk of only one team playing football and the other falling over at the slightest of bumps have added to the spice of this contest that has always provencontroversial if not always breathtaking. All the talking will cease Wednesday when these two teams get together once more to decide who will book theirticket to Rome.


Attacking Chelsea
Chelsea coach Guus Hiddink said before the first leg clash in an interview with soccernet that "We expect a very attacking Barcelona and Chelsea has the character not to sit back, it is impossible in this team even if I say to the team "hey guys let's sit back and defend" it is impossible because there is this desire in the team to play football as well."

The stats however told a very different story. Barcelona dominated with 18 shots to Chelsea's 3, 10 corners to Chelsea's 2, and 65% of the possession according to UEFA's official website. Chelsea meanwhile led the Blaugrana comfortably in one category Fouls committed in which the led 20 to 7. The fact that both teams ended up with 2 yellow cards apiece speaks volumes about the standard of refereeing.

Media Controversy
After Chelsea's display at the Camp Nou the firestorm kicked off immediately with Pep Guardiola saying "It's never easy to play well when the opponent isn't trying to push forward and play football." while Xavi launched a scathing attack "In England they talk about fair play so much. It's a shame that they don't put that into practice out on the pitch." and "There was no fair play from Chelsea at all. We played football; they did not play anything at all. The [Michael] Ballack challenge was a blatant red card but the referee did nothing. We had them holed-up in their own penalty area for the whole game.".

Chelsea meanwhile were ecstatic with the result Captain John Terry declaring his pride in the result saying "We held our nerve and it was important we did that. The work the midfield did tonight was incredible." while Petr Cech hailed the Chelsea performance saying "This team have a lot of courage and a lot of blood, mentally it was great performance." and "The result is a compliment to the team, achieved in a very difficult circumstances."

Still incensed by Chelsea's tactics Iniesta launched another attack on the Blues "We tried to play our football. All the while, we tried to attack and score a goal, but when the team in front of you do not want to play football, it becomes complicated", which forced Blues boss Guus Hiddink to reply "There were some collisions, but from either side. It's a man's game. They were controlling and dominating the game and I'd have liked to have had some more initiatives, but they controlled it."

Meanwhile German International Michael Ballack (who was lucky not to be sent off in the first leg) stirred the pot saying "The referee did a great job. This is football and the Barcelona players should know this. Maybe they expected us to roll over for them and because we didn’t, they don’t think it’s fair" and "In fact, it was a game where it was not necessary to talk about the referees at all. But this is how players react when they do not obtain the result they want". Meanwhile Frank Lampard declared his delight for the result saying "It was a magnificent result and a terrific performance".

The Key Players
Pique vs Ivanovic
Messi vs Malouda

Gerard Pique has had a breakout season with Barcelona, after starting just 5 EPL games and 3 Champions League games for Manchester United last term and playing a grand total of 12 games, Pique has finally started to fulfil the promise that prompted Sir Alex Ferguson to take him to England as a youngster. He has started 23 La Liga games, 10 Champions League games, 4 Copa games and also made his debut for Spain.

Though he started a little slowly, which resulted in giving him a C in Barcelona Transfer Report Card in March, he has picked his game up in the past few weeks with good performances against Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid springing to mind. He has looked calm and assured at the back and provides some much needed aerial presence in the Barcelona backline and also in attack. He only has 3 goals this year but his presence at set pieces gives opponents one more thing to worry about. With Puyol, Marquez and Milito all out for the 2nd leg of the Chelsea clash Barcelona will look to the "one that got away and then returned" to provide some much needed defensive stability at Stamford Bridge.

Like Pique, Branislav Ivanovic has had a breakout season of his own. Signed for 9.7 million pounds by Chelsea last season (the largest sum ever paid to a Russian club) Ivanovic was not seen again for the entire of the 2007/2008 season. He finally made his Chelsea debut in the Carling cup this year and followed that with a League debut the following month. Still he was not really a regular until Guus Hiddink took over.

Hiddink knowing Ivanovic from his time in Russian football started Ivanovic versus Liverpool in the Champions league and the rest is history. Two headed goals at Anfield and Ivanovic had become an instant Stamford Bridge favourite. He has started regularly since then and done well for the Blues. Tall, strong and good in the air, Ivanovic is exactly the kind of player that has the attributes to trouble Barcelona from set-pieces. With Ricardo Carvalho out, look for Ivanovic to fill in well for the Portuguese man and the Blaugrana will have to keep a close eye on him to ensure he does not destroy their Champions League dreams.

Leo Messi has been scoring goals seemingly at will this season, but people who do not watch Spanish football still question his claim to the title of the best player in the world. The same people that were screaming from the rooftops "42 goals" at any dispute to Cristiano Ronaldo's position of the world's best player last year have failed to notice Messi is already on 36 goals for this season. I even read a few comments and articles saying that Messi disappears in the big games.

Totally ignoring his 6 goals against Real Madrid in 4 Clasicos, they point to the fact that he has not scored against English opposition in 9 games as proof that Messi does not turn up for the big games. Messi has the chance to answer his critics once and for all in this second leg, with Henry still nursing as knee injury from the Clasico mauling and Etoo having scored just 1 goal in his last 7, Barcelona need the little man with the big reputation to step up and deliver a match-winning performance. He has been in good form recently netting 6 goals in the last 7 games he has played and the Blaugrana need La Pulga to continue his good form if they are advance to Rome in London.

Like Ivanovic another player enjoying a revival after the arrival of Hiddink is Florent Malouda. One of the hottest prospects in Europe after the 2006 World Cup, Malouda got his big money move to Chelsea in 2007. He did not live up to expectations last season though and there have been rumours of him leaving for Juventus. Enter Hiddink however and Malouda began to show some of the form that indeed made him one of the most coveted left wingers in Europe.

2 assists against Liverpool in the first leg of the Champions League Quarter-final and a goal against Arsenal in the FA Cup Semi-final marked Malouda's resurgence. Malouda will need to try to exploit the space left by Dani Alves, looking to get forward to support Messi, as well as getting back to help out Ashley Cole with the immense task of keeping Leo Messi quiet for the second game in a row.


Chelsea are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Having failed to score at the Camp Nou the Blues now need at least 1 goal to advance to the semi-finals without going to the lottery of kicks from the penalty mark. Chelsea needed to put all 11 men behind the ball in the Camp Nou just to prevent Barcelona from scoring and after looking at the massacre in the Bernabeu they certainly will be tempted to hang back at Stamford Bridge and play a similar to the first leg. The only problem with playing for a 0-0 draw is that Chelsea have an abysmal record in penalty shootouts as shown below. After last year's nightmare, you have to figure that John Terry would rather go out in regulation time than face the possibility of missing the crucial kick again.

Chelsea's Penalty Woes : Chelsea's Penalty Shootouts in the past 3 years

Carling Cup 4th Round 2008/09
Chelsea 1 - 1 Burnley (Chelsea lost 5-4 on penalties)

UEFA Champions League Final 2007/08
Chelsea 1 - 1 Manchester United (Chelsea lost 6-5 on penalties)

FA Community Shield 2007/08
Chelsea 1 - 1 Manchester United (Chelsea lost 3-0 on penalties)

UEFA Champions League Semi-Final 2006/07
Liverpool 1 - 1 (Agg) Chelsea (Chelsea lost 4-1 on penalties)

Carling Cup 3rd Round 2005/06
Chelsea 1 - 1 Charlton (Chelsea lost 5-4 on penalties)

So what do Chelsea do? Do they go forward and risk being ripped apart by a hungry Barcelona strike force or do they hang back and wait for the dreaded penalty shootout. My guess is that Chelsea will go for a mixture of the two. When Guus Hiddink first took over, there were a couple of games in which his team scored early and then went into their defensive shell holding on for the 1-0 win. This would be the perfect scenario for the Blues. It would allow them to attack early and then go back to their Camp Nou tactics confident in their mind, rightly or wrongly, that Barcelona would not be able to break through. Look for the Blues to come out firing on all cylinders looking for the early goal which would allow them to play the game the way they want.

Barcelona have some worries of their own. With Puyol, Marquez and Milito all ruled out of this game through injury or suspension, Barca have only Pique and Caceres as natural centre-backs. Caceres has not settled as well as Barcelona would have hoped for when he was signed, but he has improved since his first few appearances. He is a physical defender that could be just what Barcelona require to tame Drogba and Anelka, or he could be the mistake prone mess that we saw earlier this season.

The other logical choice would be to move Eric Abidal from left-back to centre back and put Sylvinho out on the left flank. The two concerns for Barca would be Abidal ability match up against a power-forward like Drogba and Sylvinho's ability to cover what could be a rampaging Bosingwa down the Barca left side. Sylvinho is not the same player he once was and his ability to keep up with a younger quicker Bosingwa is very much in question.

A third option to Barcelona's centre back problem would be to move Yaya Toure into the Barca defence with Pique and start Busquets or Keita in the centre of midfield. Personally I think this would be a bad idea as Barcelona need Yaya in the middle of the park to control Essien Lampard and Ballack. Take Yaya out of the midfield and we could see Chelsea's physically bigger players begin to boss around Xavi and Iniesta which would be very bad for Barcelona. The final option is Victor Sanchez, the Barca B utility player has been included in the final squad but I cant really see him playing in this game. He is just a back-up in case there are any injuries to the other two central defenders.

Another problem Barcelona face is the possibility of Henry not being fit to start the game. Henry was instrumental in Barcelona's win over Real Madrid at the weekend rolling back the years with a marvellous performance and his loss could be a big blow for Barcelona. Iniesta has done a good job filling in for Henry on that left flank this season and would no doubt be the first choice to go to the left wing position if Henry cannot play. This would mean however that Keita would most likely be required to slot into the midfield in Iniesta's place which would limit the creativity of Barcelona. In the end Pep Guardiola said it before the Real Madrid game, Barcelona will play in the same manner they have all season. No parking the bus here, expect Barcelona to keep hold the ball and look to attack Chelsea at every opportunity possible.

Predicted lineups

Chelsea : Cech, Bosingwa, Terry, Ivanovic, A. Cole, Essien, Ballack, Lampard, Malouda, Drogba, Anelka

Barcelona : Valdes, Dani Alves, Pique, Abidal, Sylvinho, Xavi, Toure, Iniesta, Messi, Etoo, Henry


As usual there has been a lot of banter between these two teams before the 2nd leg of this game. Henry kicked off the talk right after the Real Madrid clash saying "We will go to Chelsea looking for the win like we did here – It is the only way we know how". Drogba meanwhile sounded his confidence in his team saying "I think, in the last few months, we've shown that we can score goals and, okay, they have Messi, Henry, Eto'o, and Andres Iniesta who can also score. But we've got more players able to score. Our midfielders, our defenders can also score. We can score from every position in our side. We know that.We know that, tomorrow, we have to score goals to win the tie."

Drogba also fired a shot at Barca after their last game saying "Everyone enjoyed the game in Camp Nou last week. They complained, sure. But their complaints are coming from frustration because they didn't score." Messi then fired a warning shot for Chelsea saying "We will play in the same way against Chelsea as we did against Real and, playing like that, we will have many chances. If we do things as we did on Saturday then we will score and go through." Ballack meanwhile added his two cents "So we have to take things as they come, whatever they do. They might have to put Eric Abidal in the middle. But even if they had Rafael Marquez or Carles Puyol, Didi(Didier Drogba) is strong enough to challenge them."

Iniesta then continued to preach the Barca motto saying "We will be thinking, 'Attack, attack, attack'. That is the Barcelona way" while Pique urged Barca to focus on the Chelsea clash and forget the amazing win in Madrid saying "the win against Madrid is history. We’ll remember it even better if we also get to Rome. Right now, let’s talk about the Champions League please!"

Finally the coaches expressed their views with Hiddink saying "You have to play very intelligently against the top team in Europe now as the slightest error will be punished," "On the other hand, you must not play without any emotion. If you do, it might put the brakes on your own performance. If you can combine both, you have a very good game."

Guardiola meanwhile gave his take on how the Blaugrana could reach the final saying "we must reproduce the concentration we showed on Saturday, that’s the first step to ensure we make the final. It’s no good us trying to take them on head on, they are physically stronger and bigger than us. We have to know how to read the game and play to win: attack, keep possession, go for goal – that’s how we will reach Rome"

Last 5 games

Arsenal 1 - 2 Chelsea
Chelsea 0 - 0 Everton
West Ham 0 - 1 Chelsea
Barcelona 0 - 0 Chelsea
Chelsea 3 - 1 Fulham

Getafe 0 - 1 Barcelona
Barcelona 4 - 0 Sevilla
Valencia 2 - 2 Barcelona
Barcelona 0 - 0 Chelsea
Real Madrid 2 - 6 Barcelona

Conclusion: Chelsea have conceded just 2 goals in their last 5 games, they have tightened up their defence significantly since the 4-4 draw with Liverpool. Tightening their defence though has seemed to come at the price of scoring goals as they have just scored 6 goals in their last 5 games. Barcelona have been scoring well netting 13 goals in their last 5 while conceding 4, however they have now not scored against English opposition in their last 3 games, a worrying statistic for all Barcelona fans. Add that to the fact that Chelsea have not lost at home in the Champions league in 17 games, a stretch that runs back to the 2006/2007 season, and an English team has not lost to a non-English team in the knockout stages of the Champions league since AC Milan defeated Manchester United in the 2006/2007 season. A glimmer of hope for the Blaugrana is that they were the last team to defeat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League. In the end I fear this may be one "Bridge" too far for Barca.

Prediction : Chelsea 2 Barcelona 1



groga said...

A final against Manchester United would be just perfect. English number one vs Spanish number one.

Knives Out said...

b4l is going to invite a lot of anger with this one!

mofof said...

I don't get it. You are "Barca for life", and you predicted that Chelsea will win?

I am 100% convinced that you are wrong. Barca is in the finals.

Marc4barca said...

wow b4l, saying your own team is going to lose and be knocked out is carrying it a loittle far but whatever. i say we draw 2-2.

Knives Out said...

Moronic quote of the day:

Barcelona have Messi, Eto'o and Henry who can score goals but we have more players who are able to score - Drogba

Oh yes of course, for us players like Keita, Pique, Puyol (not playing, but still), Toure, Xavi, Iniesta, Alves have no propensity to score. I forget!

hieifcb said...

Barca all the way!
We will win today and go to Rome to take our revenge... the only NON-english team in semis will prevail! =D

Helge said...

Guys, calm down ;)

It's a prediction, don't mix it up with a wish-result / hope.

Most of us are die-hard Barca fans (yeah, me too), but if I were asked to make a predicition, I would have to admit that my feeling for today's match is not that good either. Still, I hope for a win more than anything else!

barca4life said...

I back Barcelona 100% but if you look at Chelsea and EPL team's record in the Champions League recently and the fact that Barca are missing 3 central defenders and i have to say that I had to predict a Chelsea win. Does that mean I am any less of a Barca fan? No. I based my prediction on past stats, but we all know football is played on the pitch where anything can happen.

Anonymous said...

My prediction is a 1-1 draw, with Chelsea scoring halfway through the second half and Barça scoring somewhere in the last 15 minutes as Chelsea defend for their lives. I wouldn't be too surprised though if this game ends up being a rout. Like 0-3 for Barça or something.
One thing is a certainty: Barça will score!

Justin said...

I would say it is going to be 4-2 to Barca. Scoring the first goal would be crucial for Barca, it will blow the game wide open as Chelsea will be chasing for two goals afterward which will give Barca plenty of space to run at. But if Chelsea score first, Barca will need something special to come back...

I believe in technical football than physcial as it is proven in EURO 2008. It is for the good of football that Barca win tonight

barca4life said...

Also if it helps you guys all of my predictions have been dead wrong so far.

Ramzi said...

A very brave prediction Barca4life :)

I wonder if Chelsea will fill the pith with water or sand before the game.

Henry was my key player for the second leg, as i mentioned before. He master EPL games, he is used to the atmosphere and he is every fan/player nightmare there (beside Arsenal fans). He will attract lot of attention on the pith if he played. That was one of the reasons I didnt want to see him against Madrid.

Chelsea cant afford "open a little". Eithewr they will open the game and try to put barcelona under pressure, or they play a game that is identical to the first leg. Interesting game. Lets go for it!

Knives Out said...

@barca4life: thank god for that, then! :)

Let's bring out the beers :D

zos said...

Let me say it straight... We can't lose... This season although we had 3defeats we scored in all of them in fact i can't remember a match we did not score... So if we do score first then we tear them apart... If we concede first then nothing changes...One thing is for sure they will not open up... The will keep defending like the first league...But if we do not progress Uefa should consider calling of the whole CL idea...IF best football does not win then where is the point???

Koyya said...

italy won the last world cup!!!
even though France Argentina Germany played better football....

Anonymous said...

i breath drink and eat Barca
and i will be screaming and "fingering" all night for Barca????
but i too , believe we will lose , LaLiga and Coppa are enough for us this year

Knives Out said...

Die Anony.
Really. We need fans who can believe and back the team. Whatever happens in the match happens, but to lose faith even before that is a very poor excuse.

noubarca said...

Barca Drove the Bus---Thats the headline 2moro... cos they would pack the BUSES, but INIESTA, MESSI, ETO, XAVI, TITI, ALVES, YAYA ALL have keys to move the friggin buses.

I see Barca 4-1 victory

barca4life said...

I hope you are correct nou, i really do.

Anonymous said...

Telling someone to die is a little extreme but ya shut up Anony!

Jonathan said...

MASACRE AT STAMFORD BRIDGE: Barca goes around The Bridge 4 times and allow only one to un-humiliate Chealse on their own field! That will be my first comment after the Match on Goal dot Com.

Knives Out said...

Lol no no no guys, it's a 'Murder in London'. The massacre was stricly for Real Madrid - 'Massacre in Madrid'.

This one will be a very intelligent victory, hence Murder :D

It could be a 'hit and run' as Nou suggested.. hahahaha!

Messi108 said...

“Stamford Bridge is a pitch small in size, long and narrow that will make the game difficult for Barca who need space to develop their game.

“It’s different to the Nou Camp, much smaller. The small distance between the two goals makes Cech’s long-kicks important.

“Barcelona have to play as they know, move the ball quickly and try to score early to break the pressure from the crowd and Chelsea themselves.

“Chelsea have very important players like Drogba, Lampard and Essien, a strong defence with Terry and a great keeper in Petr Cech.

“They pressure you relentlessly. It will depend a lot on whether they can avoid distractions at the back from set-pieces. The absence of Puyol and Marquez will be important.”

JJ said...

Can someone clarify this stuff about the size? What are the actual dimensions @ Camp Nou compared to Stamford Bridge? I thought all pitches had to be a regulation size?

I agree, everyone needs to keep hope, Maroon & Blue will be the victors tonight!

barca4life said...

The pitch can be between a minimum and a maximum dimension JJ. What those values are i cant say off of the top of my head. But chelsea's ground is smaller than barca's

rafouka said...

the lengh of the pitch should be btween 100 and 110 meters and the width should be between 60 and 65 meters.

rafouka said...

And by the way,ramzi and barca 4 life i see u both as a pitty for barca fans' all blogs and for barca itself as a club and as fans and as a community.u know simply why because what u speak has no sense and is not serious at all.for exemple i remember ramzi when he spoke about playing iniesta on the left and henry being benched.i refused that but he declined.and now he wants henry to be fit as quiqly as possible because we need a goalscorer and an old epl player and a star like henry.what a pitty that a football genuis like ramzi(according to some people) do that.some also said he should be guardiola's 4 barca4 life i simply say its a pitty too that u are another genuis of this blog because u r lowering the confidence of the fans before the start of the game that will determne barca's seson.i say its gonna be huge 4 barca this evening.even if we lost we should always support and stay beside of the club and say that we will win even if we know we r going to lose.simply what a pitty.

Anonymous said...

@ rafouka, the idea of a preview is to be neutral, even if you are in love with one of the clubs involved. Its impossible to say Barça is going to win with 3-0 every week. If Barca4life has any fear of us losing he can put up a prediction that we lose. He does need to clarify his stance in the case whatever he says, which he does.
And as for the thing with Ramzi, i dont know for sure what u r talking about, but every day is a new day, therefore opinions about the starting 11 can change, they actually have to change.
Its not that i am a Barca4life or Ramzi lover, not at all, but when you are accusing somebody for one reason or another, you need to have truthful arguments to strenghten your case. In my opinion you dont have them in this case.

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