Tonight’s match between Barcelona and Chelsea at the Camp Nou represents a real chance for Chelsea to reach the final of the Champions League. Logic tells you they should lose a game against the best side in world football based on their league position. Then again Chelsea were expected to lose the first leg and despite Barcelona declaring war on their 18 yard box, they managed to hold out and nick that 1-0 win.
Tonight’s game will be different as Barcelona are at home in familiar surroundings on a pitch where they have only lost once this season. The conditions will be primed to suit their short passing game, the grass will be watered and cut to its optimum length and the home crowd will play their part. Barcelona will again be favourites for this game, so I decided to investigate just how Chelsea can beat them.
Play narrow and sit deep when defending
The biggest myth about tonight’s game is about the size of the Camp Nou pitch giving an advantage to Barcelona – rumours that the pitch is wider are a load of rubbish as it is 115 x 74 yards with the Stamford Bridge pitch measuring 113 x 74 yards…I measured them myself. So let’s put that one to bed as Chelsea won’t be any more stretched than they were at home.
It is important that Chelsea play a narrow game and keep the middle areas of the field as congested and scrappy as possible. Barcelona have 67% of their shots from central areas when playing at home and since they score 80% of goals at home from open play, it is vital that the amount of space in the middle of the park is restricted. 61% of Barcelona’s shots are made from within the 18-yard box, they simply cannot be given time and space in the box. It therefore important Chelsea sit deep, they don’t want to be stretched in behind the defense because that is where Barcelona want to play.
Chelsea need to be careful about allowing too much space down the wings – Dani Alves plays in a more advanced position at home and has 9 assists in total on home turf. He also has a habit of picking out Lionel Messi for the majority of his assists, 3 have come from advanced low crosses in to the box, 4 from through balls just to Messi and 2 just in to Messi’s feet and he does the rest. Alves must be forced to cross from deep and Chelsea need to ensure he cannot hit Messi’s feet, they must defend facing the ball at all times.
Don’t let Barcelona play short balls to feet in the final third
Barcelona are the ultimate short passing team, they just play it around you so you cannot get close and this is how they score the majority of their goals – it is total football. 89% of everything Barcelona do with a football is a short pass. Chelsea do not want to allow Barcelona to pass in the final third, let them do what they want in the middle third within reason, but they need to press and stay tight when defending their goal, forcing Barcelona to either play backwards, hit long balls or lose possession.
The less Barcelona are allowed to play, the more frustrated they will become. If outlets in the final third are restricted then the centre-backs may start playing long balls or the full backs will look to switch play giving Chelsea time to close down. By not playing short balls up to the front, Messi will become frustrated and drop deep to affect play, which will only help Chelsea’s chances of getting a result.
Make set pieces count
Chelsea’s physical advantage is one thing they have on Barcelona. Barca know this and will no doubt roll out the big guns like Pique and Busquets to help Puyol defensively as Chelsea will play direct and try to get Drogba involved as much as possible. Height-wise Chelsea out number Barcelona massively and they need to make this count from any set-pieces that they can sling in to the box.
Chelsea score a huge amount of goals from set pieces, 21% in fact which is one of the Premier Leagues best. A goal will be difficult from open play and set-pieces provides a real opportunity for Chelsea to get that important away goal. If they can get one, then Barcelona will open up and we saw what happened to Spurs when they did this against Chelsea in the FA Cup Semi-final.
Foul Foul Foul…especially Messi
Barcelona get fouled a lot, the second most in the whole of La Liga and no one player gets fouled more than Messi. Pedro, Xavi, Messi and Iniesta can all have a moan up about this, which can lead to yellow cards when frustration grows. Barcelona players are also partial to deliberate handballs to break up play and stop chances. 53% of Barcelona’s yellow cards are issued for things other than bad tackles, they don’t get many yellow’s, but when they do you know they are frustrated.
Messi does the majority of damage for Barcelona – he has scored 42% of Barcelona’s 97 league goals and he has also scored 42% of Barcelona’s Champions League goals, he must be stopped anyway possible. Messi has an average of 4.9 successful dribbles per game, to put this in context Ronaldo has 1.8. Messi will always look to dribble, if in wide areas Chelsea should not be afraid to bring him down because they should be able to defend long balls in to the box. Warning, Barcelona score 12% of their overall goals from set pieces, shooting opportunities should not be given from dead ball situations around the box.
So it is nice an easy for Chelsea then! Chelsea’s big 3 centre-midfielders are vital and Ramires will have to have one hell of a game as the physical demands on his role could be more than any other player. Drogba will have to be at his best, winning headers, holding the ball and doing what he can to stop Barca’s momentum. Barcelona are not perfect and a draw will be enough, but it will take a massive effort from Chelsea to make it happen. Chelsea will have to park the bus again like the first leg, but they must stop Messi at all costs. It could be an ugly game – the uglier the better for Chelsea as they would be foolish to try and outplay Barcelona. Good luck to Chelsea, lets hope the Premier League will be repping in the final.