Sunday, April 26, 2009

We Meet Again: Barcelona, Chelsea Play For Champions League Final Spot; Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger Renew Acquaintances

Before I go any further, I beseech you to watch this video. With the volume up. And if you're not pumped up by the end of it, there's something wrong with you.

By the way, Messi was eighteen at the time. No, seriously.

So, this is it. Barcelona and Chelsea. Again. Some of the familiar faces are no longer present (Mourinho, Rijkaard, Ronaldinho), and some of them have switched sides (Deco, Gudjohnsen), but one thing hasn't changed: this is going to be a fucking blast.

Since I don't read Spanish or Catalan, I get all my football coverage in the English press. Doing so, I have come across a few myths recently. I would like to dispel these myths systematically here.

Myth number one: Barcelona's defence is weak

It is true that none of Barcelona's back four would challenge for a World XI, except for Dani Alves, who would do so for reasons other than his defence. It is also true that Victor Valdes is a clumsy keeper, whose positioning is always jittery.


Such an analysis misses a few key points. First, Barcelona take the approach that the best defence is attack. More specifically, Barcelona take the following approach to defence: you can't score if you don't have the ball. They regularly keep possession in excess of 55%, even against top teams (at times against Bayern and Lyon, those numbers reached 70%). When you do finally win the ball off them, they hound you until they get it back, throwing three players at the ball at all times, even (especially?) in the opponent's half.

Second, Pique is no joke. He is now easily Barca's best defender. What Man United were doing when they gave him up is beyond me. But no, you're right: Jonny Evans is an adequate replacement.

Third, Yaya Toure is effectively another defender, sitting deep and snuffing out any and all attacks. There are not many defensive midfielders who have done a better job than him this year; there are fewer still who can get an attack started both with an incisive pass or run.

And if all that isn't enough to convince you, please understand (a) that Barca have the best defensive record in La Liga, and (b) have the same goals-allowed-per-game average as Chelsea and Liverpool, those bastions of organization, in the Champions League,

Myth number two: Barcelona have not been challenged yet, either in Spain or in Europe

This one is especially funny. We heard it before the first run of Sevilla-Valencia-Real-Villareal games (consecutively) in December. That tidy run, featuring two at home and two away, finished with twelve points, and 11-1 on aggregate. Then we heard it before the first knockout stage in Europe. Of course, Lyon were held in France, before being destroyed in about thirty five minutes of orgasmic football at the Camp Nou. Then we were told Lyon did not represent a real test, and that the Bundesliga-leading (at the time) Bayern, who had slotted twelve goals past Sporting, would be more competitive. Well, they weren't saying that by half-time in the first leg, by which time it was 4-0 and really should have been six or seven.

Now we're being told that Bayern were overrated, and that La Liga is a weak league (based on Real losing to Liverpool). Such tortured and twisted logic is not worth considering. It is true that teams 1-4 are probably stronger in England than in Spain. But teams 5-20 are significantly stronger in Spain than in England, and Barca have brushed them all aside.

Dismiss our competition all you want. No skin off our back.

Myth number three: Eto'o, Messi, and Henry have inflated numbers because they are given too much space in La Liga

Laughable. Most of their goals actually come from being given too little space, rather than the opposite. Opponents try to get right up to them, leaving them vulnerable to quick bursts of pace and one-twos in and around the box with each other and guys like Xavi and Iniesta. I would venture to suggest that less than 5% of any of their goals come from outside the penalty area, so the question of being given too much space doesn't even come about.

Myth number four: The story of Barcelona's beautiful and dominant play is an old one, and has a familiar ending -- that of losing to an English side

It is true that Barcelona's last three defeats in the Champions League knockout stages have come to English teams (1-0 on aggregate to Man United in the semis last year, 2-2 on away goals to Liverpool the year before, and 5-4 to Chelsea in 2005). But the only people claiming that this is a similar Barcelona team are people who've not actually watched them play this year. Everything -- the pace of passing, the spacing, the understanding between players, the effort, the work rate, the chasing down of opposition defenders, the relentless wave-after-wave form of attack -- is different. Everything. This is not your elder brother's Barcelona team. It is your father's.

The dismissing of these myths does not necessarily mean that Barcelona will win. Far from it. But it is important to note how Chelsea might win. Chelsea will not win banking on the fact that Barca are overrated, or that their defence is terrible, or anything ludicrous like that. But here's how they can win:

1. Make it an alley-fight

A common mistake that teams have made this year against Barca is to sit back and hope to play on the counter. This is the most obvious and traditional of strategies against attacking opponents, but it fails miserably because you never actually get the ball playing this way. I'm not exaggerating -- you simply don't see the ball outside your own half this way.

The only teams that have given Barca trouble all year are ones that get in their face, that make it a physical contest, that are not afraid of picking up a multitude of yellows, and that try to rough up the midfield. Fortunately for Chelsea, they have the personnel to do just that, especially in Essien and Ballack. They make this a boxing or rugby match, and they become the favorites, because Barcelona, for all their versatility, cannot play that style.

2. Take Xavi out of the game

Messi is the best player in the world, Iniesta is the man most in form, Eto'o is the top goal-scorer in La Liga, Puyol is the heart and soul, Yaya Toure is the rock, but Xavi...Xavi is the fulcrum. It is actually quite astonishing to watch Barcelona play either without Xavi or with a Xavi who's been neutralized (for example, against Valencia today). They simply look a different side. If Hiddink has a brain, which he does, he will use Essien to man-mark Xavi a la Steven Gerrard at Anfield a few weeks ago, and hope the rest of the midfield can keep up with the rest. Xavi is that important.

3. Set pieces, set pieces, set pieces

Chelsea are very good in the air. Barca are quite terrible. The thought of Drogba attacking a cross with Valdes coming out to punch makes me shiver in my seat. In fact, I'm willing to wage that more than half of Chelsea's goals in this tie will come from free kicks or corners. And that's a pretty safe bet.

4. Hope the schedule catches up with Barcelona

Again, Barcelona are playing something like eight games in twenty days, all of them deathly crucial. Sandwiched in between the Chelsea games is a visit to the Bernabeu. Today, Barcelona visited the Mestalla and were quite lucky to walk away with a 2-2 draw with Valencia. Last week, they played twice in La Liga, both difficult games. At some point, these games are going to catch up with the squad, which doesn't have the depth of the English squads. Barca have a top-class XI, and two or three decent (not spectacular) replacements for their midfield. Bojan is the only guy who can adequately sub for anyone up front, and Guardiola simply doesn't trust him as much as Rijkaard did. And that's it. Barca effectively have a squad of 15, not 22 the way the English teams do.

I will say this though: while it is true that Barcelona have not played a team quite like Chelsea this year (physically dominant, set piece experts), it is also true that Chelsea have not played a team quite like Barcelona. You know how Champions League ties are meant to be played over 180 minutes? Well Barca's last two have basically been decided in 45 -- and if you don't believe me, you can ask Franck Ribery, who was quite literally reduced to tears after the Camp Nou demolition. At times, it looks like Barca simply switch a gear, and kill a game before the opponent even knows what's happened. And the quality of football they have played this year is something that Italian poets and Chinese philosophers will write pages upon pages about for posterity's sake.

My head wants to go with Chelsea, but my heart (and not just the Barca-fan part of my heart) says Barcelona. You just get the feeling watching them that they are a team of destiny; where things have fallen in place for one transient period; when the stars and planets have aligned, when Messi has remained fit, and Deco and Ronaldinho aren't around to wreak havoc in the dressing room; when Guardiola has worked magic beyond anyone's expectations in his first year; where each game has represented a tribute to the footballing gods, each an aesthetic and sporting symphony in its own right, each player partaking in this wonderful experience that we shall all remember for the rest of our lives, so that we can all tell our grandchildren: I was there when Messi and Xavi and Iniesta and Eto'o reduced opponents to tears and brought untold joy to the world, and indeed changed it in their own indomitable way; I was there when all excellence -- and not just the concept of excellence, but the very form of excellence, the way Plato meant the term -- found itself embodied in the Blaugrana; and perfection, that ever unattainable of goals for humankind, was just once flirted with, and brought within touching distance of us all, close enough so that we actually felt its presence, the same way Abelard and Heloise felt the other's presence, even if it was only in their imagination. You just get the feeling.

Prediction: Barcelona to go through 4-2 on aggregate.

Oh, yeah, the other one. Well, I'll leave it to our loyal Arse and United fans to fill up the comments section with their thoughts and prognostications. Without pretending to know a whole hell of a lot about this tie, I just have a few questions:

1. Exactly how many first-choice Arsenal players are actually going to be fit? Isn't, like, half their team injured or something?
2. Is that lazy-30-million-pound-waste-of-space actually going to play in a tie that will be as fast paced as this one will invariably be?
3. How long before Wenger and Ferguson make us all be thankful this is no longer 2003?
4. If United go out, is this the last time we see Ronaldo and Tevez in United colors in Europe?
5. Don't you feel like it's written in the stars that Arsenal and Barcelona advance to the final, and Henry scores in a 1-0 win?

Prediction: Arsenal to go through on away goals, after tie is drawn 3-3.

UPDATE: Some additional reading material for you guys, starting with this piece on the Arsenal-United rivalry:
Vieira called United his ­"favourite enemy". In his first season in ­England he witnessed Ian Wright having to be restrained from thumping Peter ­Schmeichel by police and a subsequent ding-dong in the tunnel. His most maddening flare-up occurred in 2003 when he was sent off at Old Trafford for aiming a retaliatory kick at Ruud van Nistelrooy, who had stamped on him. Despite the lack of contact the Dutchman writhed around until the red card was ­flourished. "Personally, I can't stand the sight of Van Nistelrooy," wrote Vieira in his auto­biography. "Everything about him annoys me. He's always ­complaining, whingeing. The man is a cheat and a coward. Everyone thinks he's a nice guy but in fact he's a son of a bitch."

Indeed. Meanwhile, a number of ejaculatory pieces on Barca from the English press. Sid Lowe, as always, is brilliant. This piece in the Times is an awesome profile of Lionel Messi. And here's a piece on how Chelsea might try to stop him.


Ananth Krishnan said...

Your five questions about the second ties:

1. As far as I can see, pretty much just Gallas and Van Persie. And Arshavin's of course cup-tied. So it's not as bad as people made it out to be a week ago as Djourou and Adebayor are fit. I cld be wrong.

2. Think its grossly unfair to say Berbatov's a waste of space. As a few articles have pointed out (see and, a lot of its based on his strange style and is unfair. Having said that, wld prefer to see Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo start on Wednesday haha.

3. What's wrong with 2003 lol. Prefer Wenger to that FSW (Fat Spanish Waiter).

4. Think even if United win that wld be the case with Ronaldo. Think Tevez might end up staying as cant see anyone paying 32 mill and think his team will settle for less than the 22 mill theyre asking for

5. NO.

PS. When ppl say Barca are being given too much space in England they usually mean getting in their face... I dont watch the Spanish league a lot but I dont know if there are teams who play the Liverpool/Chelsea way - now I guess even the United way *at least of earlier in the season. As I love to point out to you take the semis of last year lol... Yea yea I know Pep is Mr Fantastic and youre a lot better this year etc etc but you still havent beaten an English side! Hope Chelsea do it so we can beat them again *Tho Id rather lose a final to Barca

Augustus Fink-Nottle said...

Lot of pretty words about Barcelona. Well worth it if they win all, crock of shit if they lose all. I guess the league can be settled if a draw is eked out at the Bernabeu.

You're right about Xavi being the metronome for Barca and how Essien handles him will be crucial. The mismatch on Chelsea's left wing with Bosingwa playing out of position against Messi could prove an easy outlet though.

As for Pique, yes I saw him as inheriting Ferdinand's mantle as a ball playing defender. He wanted more first team football, would not have got it at United if the center-halves remained injury free and he's from Barca. Fair play to him and I enjoyed watching him in red whenever possible. Your baiting of Evans I feel is unfair. If Pique had Ferdinandesque qualities, Evans is picking up traits from both Ferdinand and Vidic. About a year behind Pique in terms of maturity, I think he will be a world beater.

As for the United-Arsenal prediction, 3-3 sounds about right. Missing Van Persie will make them more blunt especially as their recent talisman Arshavin is ineligible. Someone (probably Fletcher or Anderson) has to man-mark Fabregas and that could make the difference.

Augustus Fink-Nottle said...

By the by, its a bit difficult to be pumped by the end when Don't Cry is playing. Paradise City might do a better job of keeping the tempo up.

Nabeel said...

For some reason I'm not so confident about the Chelsea tie...I'm starting to have my doubts...the schedule IS catching up...I was worried before the Valencia game, and I'm even more worried now...because Barcelona cannot afford to drop any of Henry, Messi, Eto'o, Xavi, Iniesta, Yaya, Alves, or Abidal for the Chelsea game OR for El Clasico. And only Henry and Messi rotated for the Sevilla and Valencia games. Even if we play all of them in Nou Camp, they'll be tired in the Bernabeu..which absolutely sucks. Yes, I know Pepe and Robben aren't playing, but Higuain, Raul, and Lassana Diarra are. Possibly Sneijder too, who I believe is quite possibly Real Madrid's best attacking midfielder.

Chelsea WILL overpower us. We have to be fast enough to escape the tackles. I'm hoping the ref isn't English. They tolerate more bad tackles than continental refs. I can't figure out how our players will handle Drogba. He can outmuscle anyone - he's rarely had problems handling Vidic and Ferdinand, the best central defensive pairing since Carvalho and Terry two years ago. It's only the midfield really where I'm worried. Which unfortunately is the key to Barcelona's game. The midfield is absolutely key. But you have Lampard, Ballack, Essien, and they're among the top players of this generation. Xavi and Iniesta are liable to get harried and outmuscled, and even a Yaya stare won't send these guys scurrying. The fourth midfielder for Chelsea will be pretty important, and I'm just relieved it won't be Joe Cole, who scares me as much as Sneijder.

And let's not get to the height and headers issue. We conceded another goal off a corner last night. I'm willing to bet that Chelsea will prefer getting corners instead of trying to slot Drogba through and we're going to have more than one scary moment off the corners. Whatever happened against Valencia - be it a communication cockup or a flapping goalie - cannot happen against Chelsea, for it will be fatal. They've been leaking goals, but that was two weeks ago and in the last two weeks they've conceded none (against Everton and West Ham, admittedly). They've also been struggling to score but they've been saving themselves for Nou Camp as well.

Why couldn't we have rested some big players and still won at Valencia?! :(

Sid said...

Due, This is going to be one heel of a tie for sure. And this time, maybe we can do what Milan mangaged to do 2 yrs ago against 3 EPL teams.

Another thing, We lost 5-4 not 5-3. Its not like they had the game in their pockets. Another goal wud have seen us through ( Or If Terry hadnt scored the header), but thats football. We lost out to one of the best teams that year.

Ali Ahmed said...

I disagree.. i think ManU will win the cup this term... They have much better players and a better manager.. N to all those who think tht ManU have bought their success need to read the article below.. It Shows how clubs like Liverpool and Chelsea have spent way more than ManU, yet it still rulz

Ahsan said...


Haha I love how you claim Berbatov isn't a waste of space, and then say you don't want him to play in the biggest game of your season thus far. No contradiction there, right?


Fair comments, all.


You are thinking rationally. The key to understand our team this season, as I hoped to make clear in the last paragraph of my preview, is that thinking rationally is not worth it with this team. To quote Slumdog Millionaire, "it is written". Sit back and enjoy.

Also, on a rational note, if we get off to the type of start at the Camp Nou that we did against Lyon and Bayern, then everything will settle down. Messi and Iniesta have to play out of their minds, especially against an iffy back-line of Chelsea.


Yeah, my mistake. I knew it was 5-4, just a typo. I've corrected it.


We shall see. That's why we play the games, don't we?

Asfandyar said...

Berbatov is actually very important against Arsenal. Unlike Tevez (and to an extent Rooney), he's great at keeping the ball and bringing others into play, ironically, via his 'lazy' playing. Him and Carrick were the reason we were so wanktastic against Inter at the San Siro. Against Arsenal we need lots of possession - and Berbatov brings us that. Tevez doesn't - though his harrying may be useful if we're down or something.

Plus if you factor in the fact that Tevez's finishing isn't exactly the greatest (and neither is his first touch), and you've got a better case for Berbatov's inclusion in the starting line-up. It all depends on how Fergie wants to go out and play really.

I'd want Berbatov to start anyway.

oh, and something tells me the Chelsea v Barca tie will be more exciting....

Augustus Fink-Nottle said...


Berba's play doesn't really keep possession. He plays beautiful through balls and nice little one touch passes for others running forward. He also mis-lays a lot of passes trying to get these beauties through. With Tevez you win possession thanks to the harrying you mention.

With a team like Arsenal there is no point outplaying them on possession. You will chase shadows and that is pointless. They need to be stifled and a player such as Tevez is excellent to close them down from the front much as Ahsan describes Barca have been doing this season (if Ahsan didn't say it I'm quite certain the Guardian or Telegraph did).

I would hope that Fabregas is man-marked and that Rooney is assigned left wing duties to track back on Walcott especially as Evra has been a bit weak recently. If Berba is playing then Park should start, if Tevez is playing then Giggs should start. The closing down though will be all important.

Asfandyar said...

I disagree AFN. Tevez might 'get' you possession, but then he'll promptly lose it either with a shit touch or a misplaced pass. Berba's control means he rarely gets pick-pocketed, and rarely does he hand away possession because of a poor touch. We play a lot of balls out to him because he's such a great outlet. Tevez just doesn't offer that. What happens next is different - whether Berba loses it because he's trying to play a through ball or something. He's able to maintain possession longer than Tevez.

At Old Trafford definitely I don't see Tevez starting. We might line-up against them the way we did in the second half against lolspurs, but without Tevez. Fergie might play Ronaldo up top if Rooney's on the wing, but I sincerely hope that doesn't happen. Ronaldo just isn't good as a striker - despite all his finishing and heading abilities, he doesn't have the brain of a striker. Would rather he start on the right but with freedom to do as he pleases.

Ahsan said...

From a non-United fan's perspective, I'm actually curious why you would want to play either Tevez or Berbatov. Again, not following the team week-in, week-out, so I can't say much about form and injuries, but isn't this your best team?






Ok, you have no width in midfield, but that's where Evra and Rafael come in. Am I missing something very glaring here?

lala pathan said...

i think otherwise ahsan...u think the old myth is dat barca loses to an english side ..i c it as barca the only team besides milan who beats english sides...this barcelona side is much better then the one that played in the corresponding video and this chelsea side is much older...and abt arsenal and manutd...we have all seen what has happened to manutd on number of occasions this year...i can c arsenal kicking their ass easily ...manutd is shaky right now and i for once wouldn't be as happy if they lose cause i can see it happening already...:)just wanted 2 c barca kick some manu ass but oh well arsenal will do :)

Nabeel said...

Yes, Ahsan. For starters, Giggs and Scholes rarely start games together - that's the way it's been for several seasons. And more importantly,that's just not the formation Man U plays. They play 4 in a line in midfield, with two central midfielders and two wingers, so scholes and carrick usually line up with giggs and ronaldo on the wings, interchanging mid-game.

they also play a supporting striker who drops a little deep with a traditional forward. that's the big reason they bought berba. without ronaldo's 42 goals last season,the absence of solskjaer or even larsson on loan would have hurt them dearly. tevez and rooney are very similar players,which is why people had doubts about their ability to play together. but they're so intelligent and skillful, and CR7 was in such great form, that it hardly made a difference last season.

and, well, i can argue that thinking rational does work with barcelona. after all, guardiola's success has been based on paying attention to details, order, discipline, and hard work. not luck and magic (although some of that has been in evidence this season, like messi vs osasuna). it's just that barcelona hasn't met a tougher team than chelsea this season. i really do believe that chelsea, in this form, is a formidable competitor. not a few months ago. but now, yes. drogba, essien, lampard, and terry are the big names.

Ahsan said...

No doubt about Guardiola's attention to detail, and combining science and art. And I also agree that Barca have not played a team as tough as Chelsea this year, and frankly, I would've been considerably happier with Liverpool.

That said...

I think you're forgetting that just as Barca are going to have their hands full with Chelsea, Chelsea will have their hands full with us. I think tiredness matters less in games like this (and the Real game next week) because players get up for big games, and the adrenaline keeps you going even if your limbs are tired.

And while I have enormous respect for Chelsea's midfield, I have less respect for their back four. I'd like to see them try to stop Messi, Henry, Eto'o, Xavi, Iniesta and Dani Alves two games in a row. No one else has done it yet this season. If they manage to, more power to them, and congratulations. But no one's done it yet this year.

Asfandyar said...

Ahsan, both Scholes and Giggs have been mediocre this season. Sometimes they've pulled out astonishing performances (Giggs v Chelsea, Scholes v Fulham), but more often than not they've not been important (especially Scholes).

Rafael is probably the best RB we have overall, but O'Shea is a better defender. Fletcher has been rather brilliant this season too, so he's definitely been staking a claim to a first team berth throughout - and add to that the fact that he's a big game player; seriously.

Ronaldo needs to be out on the wing, but with freedom. Up front he's too toothless, and if you stick him on the wing and tell him to stay there, a lot of his talent and drive is wasted.

Rooney on the wing isn't that bad anymore, especially if he has more of a Messi-esque role. So maybe we'll see more of that happening, with Ronaldo and Rooney playing similar to Messi and Henry. Berba would however not play as Eto'o, but would play more as a deep-lying centreforward, creating for the diagonal runs of Rooney and Ronaldo. Or maybe I'm thinking too much as if I'm playing Football Manager :\

Oh, and I don't think even Fergie knows our best team this season :D

Ananth Krishnan said...

Ahsan -- haha well for *this* game where we are home and cld do with pace up front against arsenal (not the most mobile back four) id start with tevez, but tht doesnt mean i think hes a 'waste of space'. think you'll see him do a lot better next season.

regarding the team selection - yes part of the reason is he feels scholes and giggs in the same XI wld mean too much of a burden on the other players in midfield. also, he feels giggs doesnt have the pace to start wide and prefers to use him thro the middle.

without doubt our best XI is the one that started the champions league final subst. berba for tevez (how we miss owen hargreaves)

i think this is our best XI rt now, and will prob see this wed wit 1/2 changes *when berbatov's in form, otherwise tevez, and if brown's fit (also missed hugely)


Augustus Fink-Nottle said...

Haha yeah Ahsan I think Asfandyar has nailed it for the front three. Berba sits deeper while Ronaldo and Rooney run in from both directions.

Scholes and Giggs like they've said above is simple - both over 33, both lacking the legs now.

The midfield structure also doesn't have a clear man to sit deep as you've shown Anderson there. The central midfield lines up together and if one makes a run forward the other usually sits back a bit then. Fletcher is usually the more box to box out of the midfielders we have currently although Carrick does try to get back. Anderson doesn't play as much as those two and has been inconsistent for much of the season.

Rafael is the best right sided wingback we have but the kid is horrific at defending. Too many fouls and often out of position. Oh my kingdom for a Wes Brown.

zeyd said...

It's on indeed.

First time I saw these two clash was in 2000 when Barca won 6-4 on aggregate (3-1 at the Bridge, a crazy 5-1 at the Camp). The class of Zola stood out for me then, still does.

Pep will remember the second leg, he played, he orchestrated things. It's a different orchestration now.

The only surviving members from that clash are both from Barca (Puyol and Xavi) and have become even more vital to the their cause over the years.

I don't know what to make of this one. It's a comnpletely different backline for Chelsea:


Alex and Terry, for all their strength, determination, and aerial ability, aren't exactly gazelles and will find it unbelievably diffcult to stay ahead of their men whilst sensing and intercepting through-balls and quick one-two's. This is where Makelele was brilliant; he read the game as well as anyone I've seen.

Bowingwa, poor guy, only has the duty to mark the best player in the world and that too out of position. It'll probably be the biggest challenge of his life. On a sporting note, he's a good, honest bloke and won't resort to the thuggery that Del Horno did. And don't worry Ahsan, Guus won't tell his players to hack and break legs like The Special One did.

Back to Bosingwa and I think it's a pretty good choice. He's got pace (probably the quickest we have) decent strength, and is actually pretty good on his left foot. With Messi constatly cutting infield, he'll be coming onto Bosingwa's stronger side which could even it up a little (very little) bit. Of course it's not just Bosingwa that Messi will have to deal with; Malouda will be close by ever ready to double up while keeping an eye on Alves as well.

I'm a little bit more confident on the other side of the pitch. Ivanovich, finally given a run, has been a sensation. He has pace, power, aerial ability, and desire. Henry won't find things easy, I promise you that.

The big question, and this is the only selection undecided, is who'll be playing on the right wing. It's between Anelka and Kalou:

1) Anelka is a safer offensive option; he keeps the ball well, generally makes the right pass, and his experience is an asset.

2) Kalou is much more mindful of his defensive duties; he snuffs out overlapping runs from fullbacks, he works hard whether it be in attack in defense, and he gives an x-factor in attack - I don't think he even knows what he'll do next.

I think Guus will go with Kalou as I'd imagine he'll want to keep things tight and organised. Anelka, for all his worth, just isn't a defensive minded player and it takes a certain instinct to smell out runs and opposition attacks.

Ahhh the midfield. Yes Essien will be vital. Yes Ballack has a huge part to play. But man, it's all going to be about Lampard.

Stop Lamps and you stop little one-two's in the middle. Stop Lamps and you stop balls being spread wide. Stop Lamps and you stop service to Drogba. Stop Lamps and you stop his constant runs into the box. Stop Lamps and you stop him taking shots (and terrifying Valdes) from anywhere upto 35 yards. Stop Lamps and you stop Chelsea.

What I'm most interested in is how Guus, and Chelsea will approach the game. Damage control or fight fire with fire? Guus will want an away goal, no doubt about that, so I don't see us sitting back. The first half hour or so will be crucial; if Barca go 2-3 up in no time then the tie could be deicided fairly permaturely. If it's even or just a goal in it, then it's anyones game.

Should be a cracker.

Ahsan said...

Thanks for the Chelsea update Zeyd. Three questions:

1. If Anelka plays, will it be part of a 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1 (or even a 4-4-1-1)?

2. Do you think Hiddink will use Essien to man-mark Xavi?

3. What is the yellow card situation for Ballack, Lampard and Essien?

zeyd said...


1) If Anelka plays it'll be on the right of a 4-3-3, though it'll shape up as more of a 4-5-1. Guus tends to play one of the wide players slightly higher up than the one on the other side. Which one depends on the side of the pitch play is occurring,so that players can make defensive adjustments. Hence positioning of the wide players will be quite dynamic.

2) The Essien question is such a difficult one. In the past month or so, Essien has played CM, CDM, RM, RW, and RB. In the past few games he's played further up the pitch with Ballack dropping back to a more defensive position. To be honest I have no idea what sort of tactics Guus will employ, but if I had to guess, I'd say he'd place Essien in front of the CB'S and have him cover the space in between defense and midfield (paying special attention to Iniesta). I don't think Guus would have 3 slow coaches in Ballack, Alex, and Terry shoulder the defensive responsibilities.

3)I have no idea but will let you know when I do.

Btw apparently Wolfgang Stark has been appointed ref for the first leg. The dude has a history for showing reds...hopefully he won't be the one who decides the outcome.

zeyd said...

Anelka's the only one on a yellow for Chelsea whilst Busquets, Alves, and Puyol are on a yellow for Barca.

zeyd said...

Here's a good article detailing some of Hiddink's thoughts. Below the link are a few quotes:

"We know we are facing maybe the best team in the world at the moment, and a team with a very attractive style, but we've got to put the brakes on them and take the initiative," said Hiddink. "If we just wait and get scared by the actions of whoever – their strikers, or one or two of their midfield players – we lose this game. We have to take the initiative and try, as we did in Liverpool, to score our own goals.''

"My team have to show they have the guts to try to play and not just wait until they are beaten. We've said that in our team meeting. We have to have the courage to play. Chelsea are not a side who can sit back and wait to play on the counter. We are a team that must play courageously."

"You can focus on Messi when he's on the ball, and you have to defend against him well, but it is even better if you can prevent a lot of balls coming [to him] and he can have less involvement," said Hiddink. "That means that the other ones in front of him on our side have to defend really well. Also, if we can bring players from their side into areas where they don't like to play, it will be even better."

Asfandyar said...


For your prediction's sake, I hope the game at Stamford Bridge is a cracker :D

My thoughts:

Barca really need to be able to crack open a good 10-men-behind-the-ball defense. Maybe it's because it doesn't happen that often in La Liga, but they really need to learn how to do that - by being largely direct. Their best play (aside from the opening 20 odd minutes when Chelsea seemed a bit shakey) came during the last 7-8 minutes when urgency became a factor.

Alves and Drogba are the biggest cunts in football today. Ronaldo may be a bastard meglomaniac, but he can only dream of reaching the cuntishness levels of these two. Every single tackle resulted in gratituitious rolling around. And that's if the tackle made any contact even.