Champions League: Chelsea and Man Utd Win First Leg Tactical Battles

Yahya RisasCorrespondent IMay 1, 2009

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 28:  Lionel Messi of Barcelona holds off Michael Essien of Chelsea (L) during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final First Leg match between Barcelona and Chelsea at the Nou Camp Stadium on April 28, 2009 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

The first leg semifinals promised to be thrilling ties of attacking football before a ball was kicked, but the neutrals would have been disappointed as the games were so much bordering on tactics rather than ingenuity and artistry.

In all honesty, the scoreless draw at the Camp Nou is a good result for Chelsea. Guus Hiddink set up his team to absorb the beautiful and scintillating passing play of a Barcelona team that had scored in all its home games since the start of the season.

The game that had a thrilling attacking prospect for the neutrals, almost degenerated into “beauty against the beast” with Chelsea more concerned about defending and stifling Barcelona than attacking, to at least get an away goal and make the game very interesting

The deployment of Obi Mikel, supported by Michael Essien, Ballack, Lampard, and Malouda in midfield ripped dividends for Chelsea.

They stifled, out muscled and tackled Barcelona players with authority, never giving space to Xavi and especially Messi to wreck havoc every time he drifted in to the middle.

Jose Bosingwa did a very good job of containing Messi at the left, a feat that many have tried and failed miserably at this season.

And Petr Cech was back to his old self, pulling off fantastic saves to deny Henry, Eto’o, and Hleb.

It would have been even better for Chelsea, had Drogba put away their only chance in the game.

But the tie is still open, and it will be interesting to see which tactics Hiddink employs at the Bridge, because you can bet on Barcelona scoring at least a goal.

The positives for Barcelona were the performance of Gerard Pique, who I thought was colossal against Drogba, and the performance of Andres Iniesta who was brilliant in the middle of the pack.

In England, tables were turned as Man Utd put Arsenal to the sword at their own passing game.

So was United’s dominance, that a narrow one goal win ended up as a disappointment for Ferguson’s troops and relief for Wenger’s boys as they left Old Trafford knowing that it could have been worse had it not been for excellent goal keeping from Manuel Almunia together with profligate finishing from Tevez and company.

It’s hard to single out a bad performance from a United player on the night, as they attacked and defended well, pressing Arsenal in the midfield and forcing them into making errors.

But so bad, was Arsenals performance that only Almunia, Gibbs, and Silvestre stood up to be counted. The rest didn’t turn up, it’s like they never even left the team bus, as far as I am concerned.

Preferring Tevez to Berbatov, Ferguson put the ailing Arsenal defense and midfield under pressure as Tevez’s work rate and commitment is unquestioned, with Rooney and Ronaldo supporting from the flanks.

But it was in the middle of the pack, that Ferguson nailed it, with Carrick, Anderson, and Fletcher, Arsenal struggled to control the game. Anderson overpowered and ran rings around the Arsenal midfielders while Carrick passed them off the pack and Fletcher closed them down often.

Rooney helped out Evra in closing down Walcott and, eventually, the kid had to be taken off after enduring a frustrating evening.

Fabregas and Adebayor struggled to exert their influence onto the game and must improve in the return leg to give Arsenal a chance at qualification.

The tie is still delicately poised, but Man Utd have the advantage, knowing that a goal at the Emirates will more or less put them through to their second consecutive final.