Barcelona 0 – 0 Chelsea : Anti-football thwarts attack

henry-penalty-claimChelsea came and parked their bus in the Nou Camp.  Barcelona dominated possession and the chances on the night, but were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty.  Chelsea did have the luck however, as they should have probably had Michael Ballack sent off for two yellow cards in the second half.

Barcelona now find themselves with a big problem at the centre of their defence for the second leg. With Carlos Puyol now ruled out after picking up a harsh yellow card and Rafa Marquez now ruled out for the season after picking up a heavy knee injury, Chelsea will surely be rubbing their hands at that.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola was frustrated by Chelsea’s tactics in Tuesday’s goalless Champions League draw and believes referees should come down harder on teams who concentrate on breaking up play with tactical fouls.

Like Chelsea, Barcelona finished the semi-final first-leg with two yellow cards – Alex, Michael Ballack, Yaya Toure and Carles Puyol all going into the book – but Chelsea committed more than twice as many fouls and Guardiola believes the visitors should be punished for playing a negative game.

“Chelsea were constantly interrupting play with fouls while we played our normal attacking game,” he said. “One team is playing an attacking game and that should be taken into account.”

“The players complained about the referee, they were upset about that,” he revealed after the match. “I don’t complain about the referees, but I think the referee should see which team is attacking and which team is interrupting the play.

“We play clean; we foul as little as possible. And we have the same amount of cards as them. It’s not normal, it’s not fair.

“We said before the game: ‘no hard tackles, no fouls, it’s not necessary’, but we attacked, attacked and attacked and it’s ridiculous that we should end up with the same amount of cards as them.”

Guardiola believes such decisions could decide games in elite European competition.

“In the Champions League, small details decide games and could be the difference between winning or losing the tournament,” he said.

Nevertheless, Guardiola said he was not unhappy with the result.

“The result is what it is. Chelsea played very defensively, they were very disciplined and very strong with six players defending,” he said. “We will go to London and to the Bernabeu (for Saturday’s Primera Division game against Real Madrid) with the same spirit.”

Although Chelsea will be happy that they did not concede in Barcelona, they will be all too aware that they are more than capable of scoring away goals at Stamford Bridge.  Surely next week Chelsea cannot be so negative?..

It is precisely this negativity that is ruining football, they were scared and afraid of Barca’s attacking superiority…fair play though, their tactics have worked…for now..

As for Messi, he was kept quiet bullishly by the Chelsea back line…but to keep him quiet for a whole 180 minutes of football will be some achievement.. we’ll find out next week!

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Barcelona vs Chelsea Preview

Barcelona vs ChelseaThe semi-finals of the Champions league have arrived. For the second year in a row both Chelsea and Barcelona find themselves back where they were at the same time last season. The big difference this time, is that Chelsea have already dispatched their old foes Liverpool, and Manchester United now find themselves facing the English test in a two legged affair.

Oh how a year makes a difference…

This time last year Chelsea were pushing Manchester United to the very end in the Premier League with interim manager Avram Grant… and to be fair were very unlucky not to end up with the Champions League trophy. Now a year on, Chelsea are with another interim manager in the shape of Guus Hiddink. The Dutchman has been drafted in to steady the ship after Felipe Scolari’s mixed start to the season. Hiddink himself has all but ruled Chelsea out of the Premier league this season and now their main hope for silverware is through the champions league.

Last season Barcelona were struggling in La Liga amidst a “crisis”, yet still pushing Manchester United very close for a spot in the final of the Champions League. With the transfers of Ronaldinho, Deco (ironically to Chelsea) Edmilson etc… slight changes were made at the Nou Camp. In came the expensive Dani Alves and Gerard Pique with playing legend Pep Guardiola now in charge of the team. Barcelona’s form could hardly be any different from last season. Under Guardiola they have found their passion for training  and getting results. They find themselves 6 points clear of Real Madrid at the top of the league, in the final of the Copa Del Rey and now once again find themselves in the semi-finals of the Champions league.

The History

Under Rijkaard, Barcelona met Chelsea in 3 consecutive seasons with mixed results. In 2004/05 Barcelona led in the 1st leg at the Camp Nou 2 goals to 1 playing some scintillating football. The second leg saw Mourinho’s men take a 3-0 home lead after just 20 minutes. Ronaldinho then came into the game and managed to get 2 crucial goals (one of which will be etched in our memories forever), only for JT to come in and kill the tie off in the 2nd half with a headed goal.

05/06 and revenge was on Barcelona’s minds as they looked to put Chelsea to the sword once and for all. The first leg at Stamford Bridge ended 1-2 to the visitors giving them the advantage of 2 away goals to take home. The second leg proved to be a cagey affair until Ronaldinho once again managed to magically seal the tie in favour of the Spaniards. Barcelona then went on to beat  Arsenal in the final to become champions.

06/07 and this time the group stages played host to these two yet again. This time Chelsea won 1-0 in the home leg, with Didier Drogba earning them a valuable 2-2 draw at the Nou Camp.

Key battles

Physical strength vs Total football

Barcelona play the kind of football you can’t even play on your Playstation if you tried. With such fluid movement from 5 of the best players in the world, its hard to pinpoint which one is most important to the team.

The front 3 in particular however are proving to have too much for La liga defences to cope with. In all competitions they have netted 88 goals between them, Messi with 33, Eto’o 32 and Henry 23. Lionel Messi is the leading scorer in this season’s competition with 8 goals to his name. Add to that the intelligent play of Xavi Hernandez and Iniesta and the never ending runs from right back from Dani Alves. All bolstered in the midfield by either Yaya Toure or Seiydou Keita.

Chelsea however, are strength, strength and even more strength. Their back 4 will be weakened crucially by the loss of Ashley Cole, but they still have Ivanovic, John Terry, Alex, and Jose Bosingwa to form a formidable back line. The midfield is held up by the solid Essien who has a massive role to play. Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack form a threat from midfield and up top they have one of the best strikers on the planet in Didier Drogba. Their mechanical approach is often sighted due to their conventional wingers that often fulfil purpose rather than add flair.

Midfield

In the quarter final first leg, Essien was outstanding in stopping Steven Gerrard getting the ball and dictating play they way he loves to. He simply went man to man with the captain and choked him of any space to do his damage.

Against Barcelona it’s a completely different situation, with Andres Iniesta and Xavi moving around like ping pong balls its hard to keep track of where play is going next. With so many players to track it’s hard to pinpoint one player to stop. Lampard and Ballack will be looking to be the same threat for Chelsea with Yaya Toure getting the nod to do battle. At the Nou Camp Barcelona will look to keep the ball, and are well capable of frustrating Chelsea when they don’t have it. Essiens role in the middle therefore is massive, he will have to make a nuisance of himself whilst trying not to pick up needless bookings.

Defence

Its fair to say that Chelsea have a defence that is superior to Barcelona’s as a unit. JT and Alex appear to have formed a decent partnership at the back and Ivanovic seems to have settled well as a solid right back. The left back position seems to be the query in the first leg with Cole suspended.

Chelsea have not yet faced an attacking force with the kind of all round goal scoring threat as Barcelona. Likewise, Barcelona would not have come up against a tougher defence than Chelsea’s. Barcelona’s defence are quick and nippy but they do not have the height. Thankfully they are welcoming back Eric Abidal to add balance to the back 4. The ethos for their defence is similar for the whole side, attack! Abidal might not go forward as much as Dani Alves but still offers a strong attacking presence when required. The Chelsea wingers will definitely have to be on guard. Interestingly, Barcelona have not conceded a goal in 6 league games.

Attack

Well what can you say about 88 goals in all competitions from 3 players? If they are all performing to their maximum then alarm bells will be ringing in the Chelsea defence all night long. Messi is clearly the best player in the world and has terrorised defences all year, and this should be a big stage to prove himself again. Henry faces familiar opponents  from his Arsenal days and possesses the ability to create or score out of nothing whilst Eto’o is back to his predatory best this season.

Chelsea’s main threat is through Didier Drogba. When in the mood it’s very difficult to stop the big man, strength, power, pace…he has it all in his locker. Certainly he will be very important as Chelsea look to hold the ball up, his aerial presence will be something that will worry Barca all night long. The width that Chelsea have is normally more mechanical than magical, but they can offer the kind of delivery that Drogba pounces on. In particular, Florent Malouda has given key contributions since Hiddink has taken over.

Prediction:

With Barcelona dominating possession and the front 3 rampant I can’t see them not scoring, and I think they’ll score more than just the 1. However I also think Chelsea have too much of an aerial presence to be denied on a set piece

Barcelona 2 – 1 Chelsea

Champions League: Messi has Europe running scared as Kop silenced by Chelsea

1046721_full-prtBarcelona put on a brilliant display of attacking football on Wednesday night as Lionel Messi ran riot against Bayern Munich.  By half time the little magician bagged himself a brace and set up Eto’o whilst having a big say in Thierry Henry’s 50th Champions League goal.  After battering Sporting Lisbon in the last round 12-1 on aggregate, the Bavarians were truly put in their place.  With Lucio and Lahm missing in defence it was always going to be difficult and it proved to be one of their most difficult nights of all.

Despite scoring 4 in the first half they could have had a penalty from some brilliant Messi play, and continued to create chances and dominate the game right until the final whistle.

In the other game on Wednesday, Chelsea shocked European home kings Liverpool by beating them 3-1 at Anfield.  Torres had given Liverpool an early lead with a cool finish on the half volley, however it was stand-in right back Ivanovic that gave Chelsea an away lead with two goals from corners.  Rafael Benitez and his zonal marking system have once again been bought into question.  Along the way Didier Drogba had missed a hatful of chances but made up for it by scoring Chelseas 3rd on the night courtesy of a terrific Malouda cross.  Liverpool 1 Chelsea 3!

So at the half way point it would appear that the more “difficult” side of the draw seems to have a far clearer outcome than that of the more “straight forward” side.  United face a tricky away day at Porto, at a ground where no English side has ever won, and thats exactly what they’l need to do.  Arsenal against Villareal is delicately poised although the scummy side of North London will be the happier at this stage given their away goal.

As for the other ties, it would take alot to stop yet another Chelsea Barcelona two legged affair.  The thought of it is mouth watering given their previous encounters…with shades of Barcelona’s 06 side, Chelsea in a two legged tie and the possibility of Arsenal in the final could just be their lucky omen?

Voller expects English glory in Rome

voeller_rudi0326Rudi Voller is a former Champions League winner with Olympique de Marseille back when English dominance would not have even been spoken of. Now some 16 years later the German finds himself picking an English side to go the whole distance and lift the trophy again.

He told uefa.com. It’s not just luck that all four clubs from England reached the quarter-finals. They have overtaken even the Italian league in financial terms. That’s why it will be difficult in the future to beat these four. The best players in the world play there and the highest salaries are paid.”

Whilst promoting the financial advantages of the Premier League Voller did not rule out the threat of two other giants, FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Of Barcelona he said. They play the most attractive football in this Champions League. They are favourites”. Speaking of his home nations hopes he thinks “it’s going to be difficult for the English teams to defeat Bayern Munich, that’s for sure.” The odds are certainly in Englands favour with 50% if the draw, but only fate will decide if Vollers prediction is true.

Champions League Draw

Quaterfinals

(Team with home game in first leg listed as seen)

Villareal vs Arsenal

Manchester United vs FC Porto

Liverpool  vs Chelsea

FC Barcelona vs Bayern Munich

Semi-Final draw

Manchester United/Porto vs Villareal/Arsenal

FC Barcelona/Bayern Munich vs Liverpool/Chelsea

Debate: Is the gap between the Premier League and Serie A as big as the Champions League suggests?

1037097_full-lndAs we sit here waiting another year in the UEFA Champions League whereby four of the quarter finalists come from English soil, we cant help but wonder…is the Premier League really THAT good?  Judging by the results this week it would appear so.  English champions Manchester United knocked out the champions of Italy Internazionale, Chelsea knocked out Juventus (who seem to have had the same inconsistent season that they have). Finally Arsenal, so nearly the blemish of the Premier League having to rely on penalties to knock out Roma (who themselves, like Arsenal are having an awful time of it in their domestic competition).

Results alone speak volumes apparently, and that would tell you that Englands elite far outstrips that of the rest of Europe.  Barcelona and Villareal are apparently the best Spain has to offer nowadays. Bayern Munich and Portugals Porto are the sole representatives of their nations in a quarterfinals that is surely another sign of how money is effecting our beautiful game (look out for another debate coming soon discussing this).   Focusing on Serie A vs the EPL and these three ties, could it be said that lady luck is now with England?  You only have to look at the injuries and suspensions to each of the Italian teams in comparison to their English counterparts

Looking first at Chelsea vs Juventus, the blues were welcoming back arguably one of the most underrated midfielders in the world, Michael Essien and one of their mainstays in defence Ricardo Carvalho to their bench.  Juventus on the other hand were without Momo Sissoko, Leggrottaglie, Zanetti,  Camoranesi and were then hit with the early departure of Pavel Nedved in Turin.  Juventus matched Chelsea all the way in terms of pace and strength throughout the encounter and it took a late Drogba goal to truly put the tie to bed.  All of this with their rock in defence Chiellini was sent off by a highly dubious decision from the referee.

Arsenal went into their encounter with Roma welcoming back two key players in Eduardo and Theo Walcott (ok they were missing Adebayor and Fabregas too, but still!). Roma were without a key influential player in the middle of the park in Danielle De Rossi. Add to that Francesco Totti, had not played since the 1-0 first leg defeat in London, when he was also only around 30 per cent fit, was asked to play 120 minutes of football. Roma on the night probably deserved to go through on chances created and were it not for an absolutely awful miss from Julio Baptista, they would probably be in the hat.

1036871_full-lndInternazionale were the only ones to get a positive result in their first leg and they found themselves struck down  in that central defensive position. First choices are normally always Walter Samuel (who came back from injury to play) and Christian Chivu.  Chivu was definately a big miss, an adequate replacement was found however in Ivan Cordoba. In came Patrick Vieira who even by Mourinho’s admission had not played enough football to be anywhere near his top form, and this proved vital for the opener on wednesday night.  Manchester United on the other hand have had their key players back and chomping at the bit.  Wayne Rooney, recovering for the first leg, was certainly a massive weapon up top for the red devils in the second.

So…granted, the English sides have got more depth in their squads, sure..the divide is there..but its definately alot more narrow than statistics would have you believe.  A popular view is that there is only one side capable of breaking the Premier League domination in this years CL, FC Barcelona.  Having run Manchester United very close last year with a depleted squad and a club in turmoil, surely even a more rejuvinated Barca and a free scoring front 3 of Messi, Henry and Etoo cannot be victims of the ‘statistic’.

Without the injuries and suspensions that the English sides never had, do you think there would have been a few smiling Italians on the back of the British tabloids the following day? Could this English “dominance” that Sky TV have lead us to believe be nothing more than lady luck? Will the Premier League “dominance” continue for many more years?  The facts are there, the games have been played to see how big the gap is…you decide.

Champions League Round-Up: Champions go through as Barcelona thump Lyon

Holders Manchester United soothed a painful old wound for Alex Ferguson by knocking Inter Milan out of the Champions League on Wednesday, as Barcelona mauled Olym1036975_full-lnd1pique Lyon 5-2 in a thrilling return to form.

Arsenal made it four English teams in the quarter-finals for the second successive year, their youngsters showing great composure to see them home 7-6 on penalties away to AS Roma.

The Stadio Olimpico in Rome will be the stage for the final in May and few would bet against at least one English team being back there to play in it.

United and Arsenal joined Liverpool and Chelsea, who scored contrasting wins on Tuesday, when Bayern Munich and Villarreal also came through.

If Tuesday’s games were marked by wrecking-ball performances from Liverpool, who stunned Real Madrid 4-0, and Bayern, who beat Sporting 7-1 to notch up a record 12-1 aggregate victory, Wednesday’s ties provided much more subtlety and tension.

Champions through

United beat Inter Milan 2-0 at Old Trafford thanks to headers early in each half from Nemanja Vidic and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Vidic’s early goal still left Inter needing just one goal to edge ahead and they very nearly got it, with Dejan Stankovic twice going close and Zlatan Ibrahimovic heading against the bar

The result gave United a record of 21 matches unbeaten in major European competitions and made it a satisfying night for Ferguson against his old nemesis Jose Mourinho.

Five years ago Mourinho danced up the Old Trafford touchline after his Porto team pulled off a shock victory on their way to winning the 2004 Champions League.

Mourinho continued to get the better of Ferguson on a regular basis after taking over at Chelsea and there were times on Wednesday when it looked like being a familiar story..

Inter continued to look the better side at the start of the second half before the deftest of chips from England striker Wayne Rooney set up Ronaldo to settle the tie.

“My team was fantastic but they were not lucky,” Mourinho said.

Lyon, you’ve just been Barca’d!

Barcelona led Lyon 4-0 at the Nou Camp after Thierry Henry had struck twice and Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto’o joined in the fun, before conceding two quick goals either side of halftime to the French side.

The Catalans were flirting with disaster but they gradually regained their composure and a late strike from Seydou Keita rounded off a 6-3 aggregate win.

“We had a little fright when they scored their second but we managed to plug the gaps,” said Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola.

So Close!

Arsenal held a 1-0 lead from the first leg against Roma but that was soon cancelled out by Juan, who had time to pick his spot after the visiting defence had inexplicably left him unmarked in the area.

Eduardo’s first penalty for Arsenal was saved but a weak effort from Mirko Vucinic levelled things up and the shootout went on, with inexperienced players like Theo Walcott and Denilson scoring before Max Tonetto blasted over the bar to dash Roma hopes of playing in a home final.

The quarter-final line-up was completed by Porto, who squeezed through on the away goals rule after a 0-0 draw at home to Atletico Madrid.