Barcelona vs Chelsea : Tactical overview


In some ways, there isn’t much to say about this game that can’t be summed up in a couple of simple sentences. Barcelona attacked relentlessly, and Chelsea defended valiantly. Barcelonahad all the possession and territory but could only score two goals, Chelsea hit them twice on the break. Job done?

But there’s more than that to the game. Yes, Chelseawere under siege for all but a few moments of the entire game. This game represented two different approaches to a game of football in the most absolute sense. There was discussion before the game as to how Chelseamight set up, how they might approach the dangerous situation of trying to take a 1-0 lead through the Camp Nou to the final in Munich. Would they try and get an away goal? Would they “park the bus”? In the end, an injury to Gary Cahill and John Terry’s mindless and infantile behaviour meant that a very difficult task became almost impossible – but still they prevailed.

This match gives us an opportunity to illustrate two extremes of football. A veritable siege was laid upon the Chelsea goal, some of the statistics are almost beyond belief. Barcelonaalways dominate possession statistics, and will always have better passing stats – in terms of numbers of passes and percentage completion. This game became almost a parody of a typical Barcelonagame.

Barcelona completed 672 passes compared to Chelsea’s 95. That’s just over seven times as many successful passes. They had 77.3% of the territory – and that meant that passes in the attacking third were even more one sided. Barcelonacompleted 380 in Chelsea’s end, Chelsea only managed 13 out of 36 attempts. Thirteen! Another simple division sum tells us that Barcelona completed almost 30 times as many passes in the opposition third than Chelsea did.

The Siege

A picture of Barcelona’s backwards passes nicely illustrates the pattern of the game. Aside from the fact that Barca made twice as many passes backwards as Chelseamade in the whole game, the distribution of those passes in interesting and tells us a lot about Di Matteo’s instructions: Keep them out of the box! When viewed alongside a graphical representation of the blocks made by Chelsea players, the message in reinforced.

Contrasts in passing

Again, Barcelona typically dominate possession and passing, but the fact that Chelsea were defending a lead, coupled with home advantage, and following England’s Bravest Defender’s dismissal a numerical advantage; the normal patterns for a Barca home game are exaggerated. The images above show passes into the final third. What is extraordinary, apart from the sheer gulf in volume (30 times more as explained above) is that perhaps 6 of Chelsea’s passes into the final third came from within that zone – most attempts came from their own half or just within the Barcelona half; whereas it’s the exact opposite for Barcelona. Very few of the passes come from outside the final third, indicating very well Barca’s patient tiki-taka approach. Yet very few of those passes penetrate the Chelseabox – again displaying the set up of Chelsea’s players.

Terry’s dismissal

John Terry is one of the best defenders in England. He’s successful in the Premiership because of his aerial ability, above average reading of the game, and yes… his bravery. These attributes allow him to physically dominate opposition forwards in England, but Barcelonapresent a very different challenge – one that John Terry isn’t very well suited to. He’s slow to cover ground, he’s not quick with his feet, and he’s not good in possession. He irony is his dismissal is that it brought a player perhaps better suited to deal with the likes of Messi, Fabregas and Sanchez. It’s no surprise that Terry did try to give Sanchez a dig. Graeme Souness – an old master of the dark arts of the game – had it spot on when he suggested that Terry had been trying to give Sanchez a dead leg because he’d been lively. Sanchez is exactly the type of player that Terry struggles against, and that made him angry… he’s not known as one of the philosophers of the game.

Having already lost Gary Cahill to injury very early in the game, Ivanovic and Bosingwa were tasked with manning the battlements, and they did an outstanding job. Ramires moved to right back, and his athleticism and application were an absolute credit to him – especially given that his booking at the end of the first half rules him out of the final.

In truth the whole team battled strongly throughout the game. Didier Drogba was seen in both full-back positions at different stages of the game. He went from lone front man – an outlet for the long punts up the pitch, to utility defender, plugging gaps and breaking up play before running himself into the ground trying to carry the ball out of danger.

No plan B for Barcelona

The problem with having such a devastating plan A is that a team can run out of ideas when that plan doesn’t work. When Barcelona came up against a team playing (After Terry’s red card) what was effectively a 6-3-0 formation, they couldn’t penetrate by usual methods, but had no way of adapting their play. They were so confident in their patient possession based game that it seemed like it didn’t occur to them to try something different. Barcelona’s characteristic passing accuracy is only let down by their crosses. A team like Chelsea with their tall, strong defenders gobbled up crosses into the box.

Of the successful crosse illustrated above, two were corners that both found Carles Puyol, and two were cross-field balls to the opposite flanks – not into the box. So discounting those, only 1 cross out of 21 found its intended target. That’s in stark contrast to their usual passing percentages.

What Barcelona did do towards the end of the 90 minutes was commit absolutely everyone forward, which left them vulnerable to a break, and when Ashley Cole found Torres he charged unchallenged towards the Barcelona goal and Valdes was expertly rounded leaving a simple task of rolling the ball into the net.

Ramires’ goals just before half time was also crucial. It allowed Di Matteo to go into his half time team talk with a simple message of keep doing what you’re doing.

Chelsea efficency

Barcelona were wasteful with their chances. Only 6 shots on target compared to Chelsea’s 3 – and considering the incredible dominance of Barcelona in other statistical categories, that simply isn’t good enough. Consider too that the one shot that was saved by Valdes was the effort by Drogba from within his own half.

It’s quite remarkable that Chelsea scored from their only two real chances, and three over the two legs.

Remarkable too that Raul Meireles was Chelsea’s top passer with 15 out of 22 attempts successful – putting him behind 10 Barcelona outfield players. Gerald Pique – off injured in the 26thminute – completed more passes than every Chelsea player except Meireles.

Chelsea’s efficiency is typified by Ashley Cole’s contribution to the passing. He was one of Chelsea’s best players on the night, but completed fewer passes than he took throw ins – but one of those passes found Torres who ran on to score.

By Tom Nash @breitnersbeard

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