While Chelsea are massive underdogs going into the tie, there are a number reasons why they could still progress against Barca. Chelsea’s chances have been written off by their previous manager Jose Mourinho and their previous opponent’s manager Benfica’s Jorge Jesus. However in the past few weeks Roberto Di Matteo has shown he knows how to get the best out of his group of players.
In last year’s Champions League final Alex Ferguson tried to let his team play as close to their usual game as possible against Barca and he selected a very attack minded side with Carrick and Giggs starting in the centre of midfield. However, they were badly overrun in the centre of the pitch. Against this Barcelona side an opposing team has to change their tactics because they’re going to be playing the majority of the game without the ball. The following are some tactics Di Matteo could implement for the tie.
Replicating Milan’s formation
In their quarter final clash most people expected Barca to brush aside a Milan side that were missing a number of key players and that are nowhere near as good as some of their previous sides. However Milan were able to shut Barca out in the first leg and gave them a scare in the second. To concede only one goal from play over the tie meant that Milan must have been doing something right.
Milan manager Max Allegri set out his side in their usual formation of 4 – 3 – 1 – 2. He packed the midfield and kept the defence very narrow. This reduced the space in the centre of the pitch that the Barcelona players thrive in. This narrowness meant that Milan were vulnerable out wide, however Barca played Andres Iniesta in an unfamiliar wide left role in Milan and he had little impact on the game.
While Isaac Cuenca who is a more natural winger moved into the left wing position for the second leg, he wouldn’t cause the same problems for the Chelsea defence as the injured David Villa or Pedro who is unlikely to start due to a lack of form. If Chlesea employed this tactic of packing the centre and having a narrow defence they would give up a lot of space to the Barca wide men, but the Chelsea defence would be confident of dealing with any crosses that come into the box.
Dealing with Messi
There is no real way a team can stop the little Argentinean, but Chelsea will be hoping to reduce his impact on the tie. In the previous round Milan were able to keep Messi relatively quiet in open play. They achieved this by packing the centre of midfield and keeping their defence extremely narrow. This had the effect of reducing the space for Messi to operate in, between the centre backs and the midfield.
If Chelsea do manage to lessen Messi’s impact then Barca might struggle to find another source of goals. Predictably when you have a player as good as Messi Barca have become very reliant on him and he has scored almost half their goals this season. This reliance has increased due to the injury to Villa and the lack of form of Pedro.
When teams come up against Barcelona’s possession game they are faced with a dilemma. Should they sit back and invite Barca on to them or press them high up the pitch and run the risk of getting carved apart. The suitable approach might be a mixture of the two tactics. In the previous Classico encounter last December Real Madrid pressed Barca very aggressively high up the pitch in the early stages of the game. This pressure led to a mistake from Victor Valdes and allowed Karim Benzema to score within the first minute of the game.
Similarly in the first leg of the previous round, Milan pressed Barca high up the pitch early on and a mistake from Sergio Busquets gave Robinho an excellent chance to score. It’s evident that a side can pressurise Barca into mistakes in the early stages of a game before they get into their passing rhythm. Once Barca do get into their stride it would be dangerous for a team to continue with this high pressing tactic and Chelsea should revert to a deeper position for most of the game.
Another approach that could reap dividends against Barca is to press them from goal kicks and force them to kick the ball long. While this could be seen as a risky tactic as it would require Chelsea committing a lot of players into very advanced positions, they would be almost guaranteed to win back possession if Valdes had to kick long to one of the small Barca forwards.
Chelsea’s strength at set-pieces
It’s clear from the height difference between the two sides that Chelsea could have an advantage at set pieces. Chelsea will need quality deliveries from corners and free kicks to maximise the aerial prowess of John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic. Chelsea are also very adept at blocking off defenders in the box to give one of their players a free header from a corner.
Barcelona’s tactic of pushing their fullbacks high up the pitch means that there is a lot of space left in behind them for opposing teams to attack. Milan tried to expose this space especially behind Dani Alves by leaving Robinho high up the pitch. Ramires has done well in his recent role on the right wing for Chelsea, and his pace could exploit the spaces on Barca’s left side. While Carles Puyol played at left back against Milan, Guardiola might select a more attacking fullback such as Adriano against Chelsea especially for the Camp Nou game. This would leave a lot of space on the left hand side of the Barca defence.
Recently teams have had success against Barca by counter attacking on the right hand side of their defence behind Dani Alves. Valencia have used this tactic to good effect by overloading Barca’s right side, with their left back Jordi Alba and left midfielder Jeremy Mathieu causing significant problems for Alves. Di Matteo could play Daniel Sturridge on the left wing and he would cause problems for Alves especially if he’s supported by Ashley Cole.
Despite being one of the best club football sides Barcelona still have some weaknesses that Chelsea can exploit. Recent games have outlined a number of approaches that Di Matteo could use to frustrate Barca.
John Paul O'Donovan writes at http://thetrueball.com/
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