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.
THE LAST GAME
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.
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".
TACTICS AND FORMATION
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 goal.com 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.
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
Wednesday, 6 May 2009
Venue : Stamford Bridge, London