6 Thoughts on the Chelsea-Barcelona CL Showdown at Stamford Bridge
Chelsea will be the stripling with a sling in this evening's Champions League semifinal showdown with giant Barcelona, even if the faithful at the bridge would like vehemently to disagree.
Already memories of those penalties waved away three years ago in another such encounter are making waves on the airwaves. But truth be spoken, in 2012 Barcelona are the Goliaths of football; anyone who beats them must be the David. So here's wishing David good luck.
But six more thoughts first...
1. Pray, Chelsea, That It's Levante Barcelona That Shows Up
The Barcelona at Levente on Saturday seemed disinterested in the business at hand. Lionel Messi was a shadow of himself, never mind that he scored the two goals Barcelona needed to prevent the upset that looked to be firmly on its way, especially as Barcelona seemed to lack the will to muster anything of note.
Barcelona were so terrible that the normally dependable Xavi was subbed off. Cesc Fabregas looked like the footballing magic had deserted him.
The main problem here was that Barcelona lacked their usual quick transition from defense to attack. The transiting player often lacked quick and sufficient support upfront. This was the story for most of the match.
Whatever it was that troubled Barcelona at Levente, despite donning their surgical green attire, suggesting they meant business here, Chelsea should pray—if at all any of their numbers possesses any God or gods—that that thing returns at the Bridge, even with more vengeance.
If it does, the battle would have been half won.
Barcelona, though, do have a way of notching up their game a rung or two when it matters, which is why my deal about praying could come in handy, even if the refined and learned folks at the bridge could or may claim to know no gods, or to possess no space for stupid superstitions.
2. Chelsea Could Try "The AC Milan"
"The AC Milan" is my euphemism for leaving the ball to Barcelona everywhere on the pitch but Chelsea's own first half of the pitch. AC Milan did it to a hilarious level at the San Siro, a strategy they had first practiced against Arsenal.
Common sense now seems to indicate that if you park the bus—pardon the appeal to a cliche coined by Chelsea's one-time manager, the one with the sharp tongue—around your penalty area, you can pretty much snuff out every passing (as in tiki-taka) threat thrown at you.
What's more, you can always remain alert for the opportunity to nick the ball after the "tiki," but before the "taka," and before anyone could say "Messi" or "Victor Valdez," you've delivered a counterpunch, and suddenly Ali has been laid low by Fraser, or more famously, Foreman has been laid low by Ali.
The wisdom of this strategy?
At least, you'd prevent Barcelona from finding the back of the net, besides you could pocket Messi too.
Whether you'd scored your own goal in the process? Who cares? It didn't bother Milan, and didn't they "almost" score the upset at Camp Nou?
3. There'll be No Penalties Here
Everyone seems to hate Barcelona now.
The saying has been re-coined: "If you can't beat them, hate them." The popular sentiment is that Barcelona get all the decisions. It appears to imply that somehow Barcelona players should be kicked around, knocked around, but that somehow, and "for God sake," they should stay on their feet.
When they fail to do so; it's diving. Of course, there's often diving, but I should say not everything is diving. If Messi humored every pull, every kick, then there'd be only 30 minutes of action in the 90-minute match time. The rest of the time would belong to Messi—for his rolling pleasure.
When Zlatan Ibrahimovic advanced his conspiracy theory after the Camp Nou game, and half of the world nodded assent, he conveniently forgot that Barcelona were denied at least two clear penalties at the San Siro, and that neither Pep Guardiola nor any of his wards took to the air waves to advance conspiracy theories of their own.
And what though they complained about the horrible pitch? Wouldn't you have?
But what am I doing defending Barcelona?
To assure you that no referee will dare award Barcelona a penalty today, if events at the San Siro are any thing to go by.
But this is also a warning to Chelsea.
Don't go tripping Messi in the penalty box, for while you may get away with it today at the Bridge, this will even up at Camp Nou, which is why I thought Ibrahimovic's complaint was silly.
Again, when half of the world cried that Barcelona had been given a soft penalty at Levente to ensure they won the match, this half of the world forgot naturally to mention that Levente got a soft penalty of their own. So somehow other teams should get it but not Barcelona?
I can see you seething. So enough of this point.
4. Please Play Volley Ball, then swoon, scream and Bitch
I am in earnest.
Chelsea are not going to win the passing contest. So boot the damn thing upfield in search of Didier Drogba's head. You never know.
In fact, if this is your lucky day, you might just nick the odd goal.
In the same vein, make the corner kicks count. Use your physicality to great effect.
(Let me insert an aside: When you concede corners of your own, beware of Carlos Puyol's blindside runs. They're often deadly.)
Back to the point in hand.
Spot kicks, yes. Make them count.
But more importantly, take every opportunity to interrupt the rhythm of the match by falling down and rolling at every opportunity. Again, I'm in earnest.
Scream at the slightest of touches then roll on the ground three yards.
Be warned though that Barcelona themselves know how to play this game.
5. Don't Be Obsessed with Messi
I believe this is my smartest advice. Barcelona will hurt you as a result. There's just enough quality on the pitch to hurt you even if you manage to stifle Messi. Concentrate on closing down spaces.
6. If you Press, You'll Press in Vain
The best bet is to concentrate on narrowing the space around your penalty area—parking the bus, in other words—then hope that somehow no final pass becomes final.
Good luck, Chelsea.
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