Barcelona vs Chelsea : A victory for Barcelona or for football as a whole?

Iniesta HeroIn 1894 Charles Miller arrived in Brazil with a ball and a set of rules for a game, the intention being to score a goal. Barcelona on Wednesday night demonstrated their intent to play the way that the beautiful game was intended to be played, and to set about a task as only they knew how. Miller took to the streets of Brazil where they now commonly state “the English created it, we perfected it.

It is with this sentiment in mind we can look at the Champions League tie midweek. FC Barcelona, the fruition of Catalonia and their philosophy of being separate from the rest. With significant Catalan nationalist sentiment present in a part of the population of Catalonia, a sense of independence is massively important. This is something that is expressed in their football team…to be independent, to be ‘different’ from the rest. Barcelona are ‘Mes Que Un Club’ – More than a club.

You only have to look at the Primera Division this season to see the stark difference in Barcelona to the rest of the teams in the league. Their front 3 alone have scored over 100 goals in all competitions, playing to entertain and mesmerise their Camp Nou faithful… and with some success with their bitter rivals humbled 6-2 in a demolition job. They have used a philosophy to play with purpose and creativity to achieve the goal that Miller intended; to get the ball in the back of the net. Now, just as the Brazilians claim to have perfected it, at club level, Barcelona is looking to do that same thing with a side made up from talent (that they themselves have seeded and watered). They had no fewer than 7 products of their famous ‘La Masia’ (the cottage) youth development program in their squad on Wednesday night. In the first leg they came out with the intent to get a goal, to WIN the game. Only to be stopped by means they were unfamiliar with, a 10 man wall that never relented.

Their opponents, West London side Chelsea FC, could not have proved to have been a bigger contrast to their own style. The side was bought and is looked after by their super rich owner Roman Abramovic, who dreams of the kind of history their Spanish rivals have had. Chelsea, are the club with a foreign owner, a foreign manager and only 3 of their squad members of the England national team. Their approach to the game was not to win, but to simply stop the most potent strike force in world football, a complete difference in philosophy to that of their rivals.

Maybe that’s Chelsea’s problem, a lack of a philosophy or image? Owner Abramovic wants to play beautiful football, but he doesn’t have the necessary players to do it.

The second leg continued much like the first, although Chelsea did at least make an attempt to come forward a little. Their early wonder goal from Michael Essien proved to be the catalyst to send them back to what they knew best, defending. The game was ending with Barcelona having above 70% possession of the ball, passing and probing. Lionel Messi, the best player in the world, was bullied off the ball (legally mind!) and countered by no less than 3 players assigned to stop him. However, he gave the most vital contribution, a simple square ball to the legend in the making… Andres Iniesta. The epitome of professionalism, the “choir boy” took one swing of his gifted right foot and guided the ball into the top corner of the net, Barcelona got what they needed, that away goal! As he almost cried in celebration his team mobbed their new hero!

Chelsea’s naivety in not going for the away goal when in Barcelona is what has ultimately cost them. Barcelona came to play and score, only for Chelsea to “park their bus”…AGAIN, but this time releasing the odd ball forward when allowed to. To their credit, tactically it was almost perfect; it got them so close to Rome… the ugly way. Yet through their brilliance and determination, the Barcelona team managed to carve out ‘that’ chance with all the attacking verve and desire that they have been ordered to demonstrate since their youth team days.

Drogba madmanFootball is about getting a goal, not stopping it. It depends on your own views on how the game should be played, but over the two legs, the more professional, game playing team went through. The “Dream team II” managed to keep their cool after their own first leg frustrations with the ref. Chelsea, without philosophy, a confused club not sure of their identity, erupted. The words “disgrace” and “shame” have been used to describe the teams’ actions after the game. Such a lack of professionalism should not be rewarded.

Iniesta, Messi and Co. deserve their place in the final…they along with Manchester United will go with the intention to play the game, to score goals…at least we hope! Either way it should be a great final.

Is football the winner? You decide.

Bernabeu Massacre as Barca batter Real Madrid!

messi-real-madridBarcelona humiliated Real Madrid at the Bernabeu this evening to move seven points at the top of La Liga with four games to play.

In a frenetic encounter, featuring eight goals, the Catalans outclassed their opponents in a terrific display of attacking football and could easily have had more goals than the six they scored.

After going behind early to a Gonzalo Higuain header they responded well and within seven minutes found themselves in front.

First Thierry Henry passed the ball around Iker Casillas and then with twenty minutes on the clock, Carles Puyol found himself unmarked from a free-kick to head into the net.

The Catalans were not about to stop at 2-1 either and they continued to push forward, forcing Casillas to make a few more saves before a Lassana Diarra mistake saw Lionel Messi add a third.

Madrid hit back soon after the break as yet another free-kick resulted in a goal, this time with Sergio Ramos heading home at the back post.

Henry scored his second nearly immediately after though to secure the win and then Messi added another with a superb goal later, before Gerard Pique got on the scoresheet after tapping from close range.

The win puts Barcelona within touching distance of the Primera title and means that Madrid’s season is all but over with four games left.

With both coaches deciding to go for their strongest teams from the start, it was little surprise that the match started at a frantic pace. Within the first minute Sergio Ramos had clumsily passed straight to Messi, who found Xavi, only for Iker Casillas to save his shot from outside the box. That chance set the tone for the early stages though as Arjen Robben darted through the Barcelona defence a couple of times and Messi set up Eto’o for the striker to disappointingly shoot straight at the ‘keeper.

The visitors looked the more likely to score but it was Madrid who sent the Bernabeu wild by taking the lead, as Ramos shook off Eric Abidal to cross straight to Higuain who, completley unmarked, headed past Victor Valdes. It was the perfect start for the home team but, within seven minutes of the goal, they found themselves behind.

First, Messi chipped a delightful ball over the top of Ramos to Henry, who slotted past Casillas with his right foot, and then, with on the 20 minute mark, Fabio Cannavaro conceded a needless free-kick on the left flank, which was subsequently whipped in for Puyol to head home.

It was a frantic start to the match and the pace was unrelenting as Robben’s shot was saved by Valdes and then Daniel Alves forced his ‘keeper to make another block as he nearly scored an own goal. It was Barcelona who looked the more dangerous though as Casillas had to save from Messi from close range and then watch as the Argentine struck a shot just wide of the post.

The space allowed to Barcelona had to tell soon and just after the half hour mark it did, as Xavi stole the ball from Lassana Diarra and passed in Messi, who finished past the ‘keeper to make it three. Even Alves nearly got in on the act as he hit a free-kick on target for once and forced Casillas to palm away, just before the interval.

After the break it was the same story too, as Barcelona continued to look threatening; Henry beating Ramos with ease on the left before winning a corner that was eventually cleared. Only Robben looked dangerous for the home side but he resorted to going to ground easily rather than try to beat Puyol on the flank.

Yet again though, Madrid scored against the run of play and, yet again, it was thanks to some poor marking from Barcelona. A free-kick on the right was whipped in by Robben and at the back post Ramos headed home past Valdes, to give the Bernabeu some hope with 35 minutes to go.

henry-etoo-real-madridNot long after Madrid thought they were back in the match though, Barcelona responded to score their fourth of the game. A delightful chip over the top from Xavi found Henry, who beat the on-rushing Casillas to the ball and tapped around him from the edge of the box to spark wild celebrations from the Catalans.

With a two goal lead, Barcelona began to slow the pace down, sending on Seydou Keita to replace Henry, but even without the Frenchman they grabbed a fifth. Some superb link-up play between Xavi and Messi resulted in the Spaniard fooling three defenders on the edge of the box and playing in his team-mate, who dummied before tapping past Casillas’ near post.

The humiliation didn’t stop there either, as Pique started a move on the half-way line by playing in Eto’o, and then was found in the box by the striker to tap home at the second attempt. The goal sparked a mass exodus in the Camp Nou and even the referee took pity on Madrid as he called full-time on the game with nearly no injury-time.

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!

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?