Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea analysis: Chelsea through to the final

Chelsea's players acheived an incredible result to book their place in the final.

Pep Guardiola decided against starting Dani Alves, instead playing a back three of Puyol, Pique and Mascherano. Cuenca started on the right of the frontline, Iniesta on the left with Alexis in the middle and Messi just behind in a 3-4-3 formation, with a diamond in midfield.

Chelsea started as predicted in the preview of the game, with a 4-5-1 shape defensively. Mata and Ramires played on either side but dropped in to make it compact in the middle and Drogba played up front.



First Half

Barcelona, as usual, dominated possession and moved the ball from side to side, looking to penetrate either with Iniesta or Cuenca in the wide areas or with rapid link up play between the lines. Chelsea were dropping very deep to defend but lacked pressure on the ball at times which allowed Barcelona to play passes between the lines to either Fabregas, Messi or Alexis dropping off from the centre. The later created the first chance of the game for Messi with a first time pass into space in the area but the Argentine hit it into the side netting.

With Chelsea so deep, it was up to Barcelona to stretch them laterally. Iniesta had quite a bit of success individually with his ball control and skill, first against Ivanovic then when Cahill went off injured, Bosingwa. Cuenca however on the other side had less success because of some poor touches and Ashley Cole was winning the battle on that side.

Chelsea's attack

When Chelsea did win the ball, they looked to counter attack quickly with Drogba, Ramires and Mata moving forward though Barcelona's aggressive pressing with three or four players at the front was limiting the away side's transitions. Ramires had much less success on the left than in the first leg, largely because Mascherano was sat deeper than Alves had done and was also able to match him for pace

Other than that Chelsea generally looked for long balls to Drogba and then looking behind for Ramires or Mata from the second ball.

Barcelona however were the ones dominating the play, looking for wall passes behind the full backs and quick one-twos in front of the defenders to get in behind. The first goal came after Chelsea didn't get out of their area from a corner quickly enough and left space on the left for Cuenca, who played it across to Busquets for an easy finish

John Terry's sending off soon after the goal brought a slight reshuffle for Di Matteo, who moved Ramires across to the right back and Bosingwa to centre back. Strangely when they went down to ten men, Chelsea suddenly pressed higher for a few minutes which left gaps in midfield and Barcelona's second came from a quick transition, where Messi found space to run into and play Iniesta in.

However poor defending from Mascherano (coming out to close down) and Busquets (failing to cover quickly enough) allowed Ramires the space behind on a well executed counter attack, though it was a great chipped finish over Valdes.

Second half

Chelsea were going through at half time but Barcelona were still massive favourites because of their numerical superiority. Guardiola moved Cuenca across to the left and Iniesta towards the right for the second period while Di Matteo put Drogba on the left of midfield to try and stave off the Barca attacks.

At this stage, Chelsea's sole aim was to defend their goal. Barcelona moved the ball around quickly at the start of the second period, with good lay offs in the middle and created overloads out wide. Two minutes in they won a penalty but Messi surprisingly hit the bar from the spot.

Barcelona were stretching the play fairly well laterally, with Dani Alves moving very high on the right and one cross created a chance for Alexis, who had got between defenders, but he headed wide.

Di Matteo then switched Drogba and Mata, with the Spaniard on the left and the Ivorian on the right. Kalou came on for Mata a few minutes later and Drogba switched back to the left.

Still Barcelona were having success in the wide areas and an overload on the left created a chance for Cuenca who's shot was saved by Cech.

What was interesting at this stage was that while Didier Drogba was solely tracking Alves on Chelsea's left, Kalou's responsibilities were different on the right. Instead of tracking Cuenca he was often having to defend inside and this meant that if he got caught out of position, which he did notably on three occasions, Iniesta and Cuenca were able to link up and stretch Ramires by bringing him out of the middle, even though on the left, Cole was able to tuck in because Drogba was tracking Alves.

However, around 65 minutes in, Di Matteo made a crucial change, just after Cristian Tello came on for Cuenca. Knowing that Barcelona were having success on Chelsea's right and that Ramires was being stretched, he gave Kalou the full responsibility of tracking whoever played wide left for Barcelona - initially Iniesta, then Tello.

What this meant was that the back four could concentrate on keeping it compact in the middle with the three midfielders ahead of them, while Kalou and Drogba (and later on Torres on the left) could track Alves and Tello.

Defensive responsibilities in the final 25 minutes

Barcelona suddenly looked short of ideas. They couldn't play it through the middle because they were faced with seven bodies in the way with little gap between them and Alves and Tello were being tracked well out wide by Kalou and Drogba. Guardiola brought on Keita for Fabregas, presumably for an extra physical threat and for his ability to hold the ball up for quick lay offs, but even when Iniesta ran off him, Chelsea managed to halt this link up.

What this led to was Barcelona passing it from side to side without any real threat. The only time they created situations was either from second balls, or when they looked to create numerical superiority to play in Alves or Tello out wide. Alexis had a goal ruled out when precisely this happened - Alves getting behind the substitute Torres on the right and pulling it back for the forward but the linesman ruled that the Brazilian had been in an offside position when he had initially been played through.

It was surprising that Barcelona didn't try to link up more in these wide areas and stretch the back four better laterally. Instead, with only one player moving on each flank, Tello on the left and Alves on the right, Chelsea found it easier to defend against. Even with 1v1 out wide, it was surprising that very few chances were created for lay offs to shoot from outside the area either.

The only point they looked like they might score in the last twenty minutes, other than the disallowed goal, was when Messi hit the post after he found space for a left foot shot from outside the area. But Chelsea were clearly stopping Barcelona and the home side were losing momentum, slow on the ball and starting to lose possession poorly which slowed attacks down even more.

Torres, playing an unfamiliar position on the left had a couple of problems tracking Alves on that side, notably for the disallowed goal, but like Drogba earlier on, he was able to relieve pressure, even for a few moments, when he ran out of defence with the ball.

And then with the minutes slowly fading away for Barca, he found massive space behind Barcelona's defence after a long clearance and calmly went past Valdes and passed it into the net to make sure Chelsea were through to the final.

Conclusion

For the first 60 minutes, Barcelona looked the more likely to go through to the final and at 2-0 up, it could quite easily have ended up a rout. However Di Matteo's small change in defensive organisation and the fantastic work from the ten men of Chelsea to keep it compact andstop Barcelona scoring meant that they are the ones who will go through to the final. Barcelona will be desperately disappointed with the way they went out, in part down to the defensive work of the away side and in part down to the lack of tempo and penetration in the last half an hour from Guardiola's men, and they will finish the season without either of the two major honours they crave.

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