Chelsea vs. Barcelona: Tactical Analysis of the Blues' Champions League Win
Luck was on Chelsea’s side as they secured a 1-0 win over Barcelona in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-finals.
Chelsea were dogged in defence and whilst they conceded 24 shots, they managed to keep a clean sheet.
Alexis Sánchez and Pedro were denied by the woodwork whilst Cesc Fàbregas and Sergio Busquets should have scored.
Here's a tactical analysis of Chelsea's performance.
5. Should Chelsea Abandon the Offside Trap?
Cesc Fàbregas’ angled pass found Andrés Iniesta, who played a 1-2 with Lionel Messi and then dinked the ball over Chelsea’s back four to Alexis Sánchez—who hit the crossbar.
Three Chelsea players are at fault for this play: Frank Lampard, Juan Mata and Ashley Cole.
Lampard passed the ball straight to Fàbregas after Cole had intercepted Dani Alves’ pass. Mata should have been marking Iniesta. Cole played the offside trap a few seconds too late, allowing Alexis to latch onto Iniesta’s brilliant pass—but fortune favoured Chelsea.
The lesson learned from this play is that you live and die by the offside trap.
So why play it?
Chelsea needs to sit deep, stay on their feet and let Barça pass the ball sideways 300 times.
However the Blues cannot give Barça a window of opportunity to split their defence open.
Roberto Di Matteo’s men need to respect the vision and passing ability of Xavi, Messi, Iniesta and Fàbregas.
4. Attacking Dani Alves
Lionel Messi completed 92 percent of his passes last night, but he turned straight into Frank Lampard, who tore Barcelona’s defence open with a brilliant diagonal ball to Ramires.
Two issues for Pep Guardiola to ponder: 1) Where was Dani Alves? 2) Why was Javier Mascherano marking air?
Ramires squared the ball up to Didier Drogba, whose goal cemented his starting position in the second leg.
Drogba took advantage of Adriano being caught out of position and Mascherano being in la la land.
Guardiola needs to weigh up the pros and cons of Alves playing as an auxiliary wide forward.
In several El Clásicos, Alves proved to the world that when he wants to defend, he can be world class by shutting down Cristiano Ronaldo.
Though I suspect Guardiola instructed Alves to stay back because Xabi Alonso kept playing diagonal long balls attacking the vacant space left by Alves.
If Alves continues to disregard his defensive positioning, Chelsea have a way out by sending long balls behind him to Ramires.
3. Chelsea's Achilles' Heel: José Bosingwa
Chelsea wasted £16.2 million on José Bosingwa, whose defending is atrocious.
Branislav Ivanović shifted toward the centre because Sergio Busquets’ back heel cut open Chelsea’s defence.
It should be common sense for Bosingwa to move to the right to fill Ivanović’s spot—regardless if there is a Barcelona player in sight.
The fact that Pedro was there and Bosingwa failed to get anywhere near him is an indictment on the Portuguese’s low football IQ.
Thankfully for Chelsea, Pedro hit the post instead of scoring a pivotal away goal—a la Andrés Iniesta two years ago.
Moral of the story: leave Bosingwa on the bench.
2. David Luiz or Gary Cahill?
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Readers who are familiar with my articles know my abrasive stance against Gary Cahill, but he was excellent last night.
Cahill’s tackling is his major weakness—he only averages 0.7 tackles per game—but it’s an advantage by default against Barcelona.
It’s imperative that he stays on his feet until a Barça player shoots, because if he goes to ground too early and gets burned, Chelsea will probably concede—unless Barça continue to squander gilt-edged opportunities.
Last night, he read Lionel Messi like a book and blocked two of the Argentine's shots.
David Luiz would have hacked Messi, but Cahill was disciplined and flung his body at Messi's shots with great timing.
He made three crucial blocks and cleared the ball six times.
Roberto Di Matteo should start Cahill over Luiz in the second leg.
1. Should Juan Mata Start in the Second Leg?
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Chelsea only had 21 percent of possession and made 605 fewer passes than Barcelona.
Roberto Di Matteo's instructions were clear: park the bus in front of goals, remain disciplined in the tackle (Meireles must have been in the toilet when Di Matteo said that) and keep the defensive shape for the entire game.
Why wasn't Mata marking Andrés Iniesta when Chelsea didn't have possession?
Iniesta received the ball, played a 1-2 with Lionel Messi and, if not for the crossbar, would have provided an assist for Alexis Sánchez.
Di Matteo has no desire to play possession football in the second leg, so it makes sense to start Michael Essien over Mata.
Please read 8 Players Who Could Move to Bigger Clubs After Euros.
Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com.