Thursday, 4 August 2011

Classic Match - Chelsea 4-2 Barcelona (2005)

The first leg ended 2-1 to Barcelona at the Nou Camp in controversial circumstances which led to referee, Anders Frisk retiring after death threats were received. Didier Drogba had also been sent off and overall the first leg had been an intensely fought match. The second leg was always going to be the same

Chelsea lined up in something approaching a 4-4-1-1 though the formation was fairly adaptable as will be explained later. Barcelona lined up in their 4-3-3 system with World Player of The Year, Ronaldinho, in their line up.

From the kick off, Chelsea were bright and playing at a high tempo. They were pressing Barcelona back in their own half and when they won the ball, were attacking at a quick pace. These type of starts happen all the time and there is a reason for this - from a kick off, particularly when the opponent starts which in this case Barcelona did, the ball generally is passed back to the defence from the kick off and the other team can press high up the pitch.

Chelsea here won the ball not long after the kick off and were able to set their attacking stall clear - straight away, Kezman was drifting around on the flanks, making diagonal runs across the defence, allowing Gudjohnsen and Lampard to make runs from deep down the centre and the wingers, Duff and Cole were also making quick runs forward on the flanks. Less than two minutes in, and Chelsea had their first chance on goal. From a Lampard free kick an under pressure Valdes made a weak punch clear and John Terry, forward from centre back, hit it over the bar with the goal gaping in front of him.

Barcelona slowly started to ease into their possession game. Their full backs were fairly high, allowing Iniesta, generally a central player and Ronaldinho, a right footed player playing on the left, to move inside.
Their possession was relatively untroubled in deep positions. Attacking players like Samuel Eto'o weren't restricted in their positioning and would drift around, sometimes going deep, sometimes going wide. As such they could try and open Chelsea up.

Barcelona's problem was that each Chelsea player was zonally tracking them when it got to around 40 yards out from Petr Cech's goal. When Ronaldinho moved into the centre, Ferreira or the closest player would track him tightly, then the space he created on the left would be covered by another Chelsea player. Each player was working hard, covering the space and players and making it as hard as possible for Barcelona's ball players to be able to play their quick diagonal passes, especially in the centre.

Chelsea were mainly playing a 4-4-1-1 when they didn't have the ball, though they didn't stick tightly to this all the time because Barcelona interchanged a lot, so sometimes it required that Gudjohnsen dropped deep or Lampard had to go out wide etc. Thus it often became a 4-5-1 or a 4-1-4-1

They were extremely compact but their pressing was in general very good. When Barcelona got the ball into wide areas, Chelsea generally tried to crowd out the space in that area and often had 4 or 5 men around to try and win the ball

Chelsea trying to shut Barcelona's attacks down out wide by compacting the space.

Makelele generally sat slightly deeper than the rest of the Chelsea midfield covering the defensive midfield area and tracking anyone who entered his zone. Thus it was very difficult for Barcelona to play any short passes to Eto'o's feet. The space in that area was closed off and once Barcelona's midfield had the ball 40 yards out from goal, they were immediately harried and closed down.

It would be unfair to say Chelsea were solely concentrating on staying deep and compact because they did just what Barcelona forced them to do. They couldn't afford to push to high up when Barcelona had the ball in Chelsea's half because they would have been split open. Yet when Barcelona were passing it deep and Chelsea had players close then they would press them and push them back. Their defence would move higher and they'd look a more positive team. Yet it was all to do with denying Barcelona space in which to work. It just so happened that Barcelona often had the ball in Chelsea's half.

Generally though they were sat back deep and in particular covering the space in the middle very well. Barcelona's short, diagonal passes were therefore limited in that area because there was no space in which to work them. Plus, Barcelona weren't playing someone in a straight trequartista role so the space in that area was generally taken by Chelsea players. Chelsea's formation also, matched that of Barcelona's in midfield so Barcelona didn't have a free man.

Because of this Barcelona only really opened them up or looked like opening them up when they played it long from deep where they were relatively unmarked and not harried. Either that or they opened them up by turning and running at the Chelsea defence or midfield. Most of the time though the Barca players were tracked so well that they never got the space or time to run at Chelsea. On the rare occasions that Samuel Eto'o was played in by a short ball to the middle, it came from out wide and not from deep. On the first occasion it happened he forced a good save off Petr Cech.

Chelsea were mainly sat back deep waiting for loose passes to go astray and then counter attack Barcelona. Less than three minutes into the game, Chelsea won the ball in the centre outside their own area and Carvalho played it forward to Gudjohnsen, who was generally the out ball. Kezman who spent all night drifting across the defence peeled to the right and was played in by Gudjohnsen but was offside. This should have acted as a warning to Barcelona.

Just 7 minutes into the game, Xavi slipped on the ball in midfield and Lampard played a diagonal ball from midfield towards Kezman on the right. Kezman using his pace got behind the defence played a delightful ball across to Gudjohnsen breaking from midfield and he wrong footed Oleguer and fired it over Victor Valdes into the goal.

Chelsea's speed on the counter attack was lightning. They had Kezman who had good pace and was drifting across the defence causing all sorts of problems. Gudjohnsen and Lampard were breaking well from the centre taking advantage of the space that Kezman left in the middle and Joe Cole and Damien Duff were breaking at lightning pace from out wide though the former was mainly sat deeper to try and help stop Ronaldinho getting into the game.

On the counter attack, Chelsea switched from a 4-4-1-1 to an attacking 4-1-4-1 with Makelele holding and the other four midfielders getting forward at pace. With five players running at them at pace from deep, Barcelona struggled to deal with this throughout the game.

The second Chelsea goal arrived just 9 minutes later. Cole was fed by Ferreira on the right and after turning inside, took a left footed shot on goal that was deflected, wrong footing Valdes who managed to get a hand to it. Lampard, making a late run from deep, was first to the rebound and he tucked it in to the open net. 2-0 and Chelsea were now in front on aggregate.

Damien Duff's positioning was more central than Joe Cole's. While Cole was charged with the task of doubling up on Ronaldinho, Duff was mainly helping out in the middle when the Barcelona midfield had the ball. When Makelele or Lampard left space or a player free, Duff picked them up fairly well. However it was on the counter attack where his more central positioning was shown. On a number of occasions he made runs between Belletti and the centre backs and though not used for most of the counter attacks, his positioning would be key for the third Chelsea goal. Before the game had even reached the 20 minute mark, the ball went loose, Carvalho picked it up and played it forward to Kezman. With one touch he played it back to Lampard who played in Duff who was making a diagonal run into the centre and he played  it past Valdes for three.

Puyol (orange) comes over from the right sided centre back position towards Kezman, leaving space a big space between him and Belletti at right back

Duff makes a diagonal run between the space after being played in by Lampard after Kezman had laid it off to the English midfielder.

Duff hits it past Valdes. Notice the space between Belletti and Puyol.

Barcelona at this stage were in disarray. Chelsea were the only team creating chances and Barcelona, though controlling possession, were struggling to get through Chelsea's hard working, compact defence.

They didn't panic though. Both sides' systems stayed the same and it was through two high balls from the right that Barca got back into the game.

As mentioned already, because of Chelsea trying to keep it compact in the areas where Barcelona had the ball, there was often space elsewhere and this generally happened to be in deeper positions on the pitch. In this case Barcelona worked the ball to the edge of the Chelsea box pushing their midfield back. Eto'o then played it deep to the right hand side where Belletti was positioned. Because Chelsea had tried to fill the space where Barcelona previously had the ball (the edge of the area) Belletti found plenty of space to hit a deep cross in, in which Paulo Ferreira handled in the area. Ronaldinho stepped up to take the penalty and Barcelona had a goal back.

For the second Barcelona goal the tactic was shown again here but it worked for a different reason. Oleguer hit it long aiming just behind the Chelsea defence. Thus the back four moved back and Terry struggled to get his header away from danger. Instead the gap opened up between the midfield and defence and Iniesta and Ronaldinho took advantage of it - Iniesta picked up the knock down, played it to Ronaldinho hit it into the corner.

Oleguer takes hold of the ball and goes to play it long despite being under pressure.

Oleguer's long ball is aiming just behind the Chelsea defence hence they have to drop deeper to clear it away. However this creates a gap between the midfield and defence.

As John Terry goes to head it away, the gap is far too big and there are four Barcelona players in close company in that space.

Terry's weak header is picked up by one of those players in Iniesta who lays it off to Ronaldinho who swivels and sends a stunning, curling, toe poke into the corner.

Second Half

Suddenly Chelsea were going out on away goals. It was up to them to take the initiative and they had to do it against a Barcelona side that were very good at keeping the ball and full of flair.

Clearly, taking too many risks against Barcelona was not any good. The exact gaps that Chelsea had shut off for much of the first half would just open up and with players like Iniesta, Eto'o and Ronaldinho in those areas, Chelsea would just be killed off.

Instead, Chelsea played roughly the same way in the second half. They would find chances on the counter attack, they would find space. If Barcelona dropped deeper and didn't maintain the pressure then Chelsea could just push up and press them. It was well played by Chelsea. Barcelona couldn't play defensive or drop deeper. That would favour Chelsea. Instead they had to push up and take the risk of leaving gaps for a possible counter attack.

Sylvinho came on for Van Bronckhorst and five minutes into the second half, Glen Johnson came on for Paulo Ferreira at right back. Chelsea's wingers played slightly narrower in the second half on the counter attack, allowing space for the full backs to get forward if Barcelona got men back. For about 5 minutes Duff and Cole swapped positions and briefly played as inverted wingers for five minutes but other than that the first 15 minutes of the second half continued with not much change from the first half.

Chances were still being created. Belletti forced Cech to save down to his right when he found space 25 yards out from goal after Chelsea had tried to squeeze play out on the left hand side. Joe Cole forced a save when he cut in from the left and his shot was deflected forcing Valdes to save. They had other openings as well while Puyol forced a great save off Cech from a corner.

However from this period on, Barcelona slowly started to ease the pressure on Chelsea. Their midfield dropped back a bit. Chelsea pushed up a bit and it slowly started to change. It was still fairly even and you couldn't predict which team would be on top next but Chelsea were slowly starting to look more dangerous. Lampard had a free kick that curled wide. Gudjohnsen had a shot blocked from 8 yards out. The shapes hadn't changed but Barcelona, seemingly trying to make the defence more solid, made it more vulnerable to Chelsea's compact pressing and quick attacks.

Joe Cole and Damien Duff started to push up more, making it more into a 4-3-3 formation in attack. The defence moved higher and though they appeared more vulnerable to balls played in behind and runs at the defence (one in which resulted in Iniesta hit the post), their overall play was more dangerous for Barcelona.

Then 15 minutes before the end of the game, John Terry poked up from a corner, controversially heading it past Valdes who felt he had been obstructed by Carvalho.

Now it was Barcelona who were chasing a goal. Tiago came on for Gudjohnsen a couple of minutes after the goal and he, being a more natural centre midfielder, made the centre of midfield a more solid three so there attacking formation was a definite 4-3-3 instead of an attacking 4-1-4-1 or a 4-2-3-1. In defence it was a 4-1-4-1.

Barcelona responded with a couple of substitutions of there own bringing on Ludovic Giuly and Maxi Lopez to reinforce the front line. Meanwhile Robert Huth came on for Chelsea at the back.

After 4 substitutions in 6 minutes, the shapes were going to be fairly different. The only conclusion at the end was that Mourinho had got his substitutions right.

First of all with the Tiago substitution, he was clearly going to be better defensively than Gudjohnsen in midfield. He sat deeper and Chelsea were able to tighten up that area because of it. Bringing on Robert Huth for Duff meant Chelsea switched to a back five and also meant they had an extra aerial presence for Barcelona's long balls forward that they played in desperation.

With Barcelona's substitutions, Giuly and Maxi Lopez, while positive able to give a fresh attacking approach led to a feeling of last chance tactics. Barcelona for the last few minutes had 4 or 5 men on the edge of the box waiting for the long ball forward. With Chelsea's aerial dominance and considering they were sat deep, they were the obvious winners of that area. Then add to that fact that Barcelona now had a gap between midfield and attack at that point meaning Chelsea generally won the second ball. It's something teams looking for a goal in the last few minutes often fall into the trap of. Throwing plenty of men forward against the edge of the box but leaving hardly any presence in midfield. This meant that Barca were forced to knock it long and when they didn't win it up front, Chelsea had the advantage in the midfield area. When Barcelona did look to get players in the midfield area, Chelsea had it covered with their three centre midfielders and they still looked comfortable.

As such Barcelona created virtually nothing of note in the last 15 minutes which was in a way, a disappointment. They had some of the best attacking flair in Europe at the time, but Chelsea were just tactically spot on for the last quarter of the game and held on comfortably to secure a memorable win.

Overall highlights


Classic Match Series:

2005 Champions League Final - Liverpool 3-3 AC Milan

1999 Champions League Final - Man United 2-1 Bayern Munich

1994 Champions League Final - AC Milan 4-0 Barcelona

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