Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Defence vs Attack

A few weeks ago, I did an incredibly boring article about the evolution of football formations. Yes, I am capable of producing samey, over-technical, incredibly dull football pieces without making jokes about Gareth Barry or bumming. I should have provided some kind of link so you can witness my supreme tediousness.
A bit of this could come in handy.

So why did I start talking about formations and shit? It's because tonight, Chelsea travel to the Nou Camp to play Barcelona and "a clash of styles" doesn't quite cover it. Pro-Chelsea people will say "winning is all that matters" while football purists, annoying as they are, will insist that playing football the right way should be the primary goal of any decent team. After defeating Barca at home last week, Chelsea's performance has divided more opinion than Mario Balotelli eating marmite in the middle of a euthanasia case. 

Any excuse to put this picture in really.
Some say that Chelsea were the perfect foil for a hitherto supposedly invincible Barcelona team. Others claim that if Jose Mourinho was still Chelsea manager, his teams performance would have been lauded to have high heaven, but that is thanks in part to the fact that, like Balotelli, the media eat out of Mourinho's perfectly moisturised hands. Yes, Chelsea rode their luck, but they played to their strengths: tiny pitch, massive Afrian bloke up front, players who aren't afraid to beat the crap out of more skillful players. You know what I think? Fair play to Chelsea.

Did they deserve to beat Barcelona? Not a chance, they should have been beaten heavily, but they rode their luck and they played the only way that could have given them a shock victory.

Others say that Chelsea are at best one-dimensional and at worst a disgrace to the English game. And they're not even talking about John Terry and Ashley Cole. Those in this bitter camp would probably rather have had Chelsea try and play Barcelona at their own game. Even at their peak in 2005 and 2006, Chelsea would not have played like this, they have always been a side built on efficiency rather than effervescence. Is it "pretty" to watch? No, but are Bernie Ecclestone or Angela Merkel  "pretty?". They are ugly as sin but my God they get (very controversial) results.

Of course Chelsea should have been battered, their fans acknowledge that as quickly as they acknowledge their technical inferiority. The arrogance and confidence amongst their fans and staff of five years ago has given way to a more lucid and realistic approach, which is serving them well. I'll be honest, I don't like Chelsea much and no amount of persuading (even the below picture) can help me change that, but football is at it's most interesting when there is a clash of styles and although I'll stop short of being partisan in wanting them to win tonight, I will be congratulatory rather than bitter should they succeed. Which I don't think they will.
Needed more of an excuse to put this picture in.
But how could they win?

As I said, rigid and turgid analysis is not my thing, whereas puns and putting little jokes in brackets is. However, putting my boring hat on, I would have to say that to go through tonight, Chelsea have to do more of what they did last week. The Nou Camp is about three times the size of Stamford Bridge and with almost one hundred thousand fans cheering on Barcelona (none of them with mass-produced plastic flags), the task will be difficult. Last week, Ashley Cole was amazing in defence, as were all his team-mates in playing a compact system that made life difficult for Barca. Chelsea have to accept they will see very little of the ball and will have to survive more than a few scares. In fact, Chelsea have to accept that they will concede at some point.

With that in mind, despite having to display the same rigidity and teamwork of last week, there needs to be more of a threat from Chelsea tonight. They have more chance of achieving a 0-0 draw by attacking. That makes more sense than it seems. But trust me, I'm a journalist...kinda. Chelsea have to play on the counter-attack and play with more energy than Park Ji Sung on speed. And speed will be key tonight. As in foot speed. Not drugs. Don't do drugs.

When Barcelona take the lead in games, teams have to attack them, which plays into their hands. By keeping possession of the ball, oppositions teams have to win it back as fast as they can and often commit too many numbers to stopping them, while Barca do the traditional "hold the midget at arms length" trick/ "pass it to Messi and let him destroy people" tactic as Barca hit teams on the break. Trust me, I'm a United fan, I've seen this all before.

A whack to this guy's face may change
my mind about Chelsea.
But Chelsea have a lead to take with them, so Chelsea can be patient. As well as this, a Chelsea away goal would make life very difficult for the Catalans, and thus the home side can't play with their usual abandon from the start. As we saw in the Europa League - Europe's best club competition - despite being totally superior, Man City were knocked out by a decent but average Sporting Lisbon side. How? Lisbon took a 1-0 lead to the Etihad stadium and scored twice on the break, leaving City needing four goals...of which they scored three.

Something similar has to be the goal for Chelsea tonight. Whether their players - tired after a hectic few weeks - can raise their game sufficiently will be tough. This match situation showcases why I feel it is an advantage to play at home first in Europe. If you win and don't concede, or even draw 0-0 at home, you have a great chance of going through, regardless of the opposition. In the first leg, you can almost kill the tie off while, such is the tension involved in first-leg knockout games, a 0-0 draw suits the home team far more than the away team...in my opinion.

This could come in handy as well.
In other words, if Chelsea want to win, they need to do it in a way which will piss off the most people the next day:
Play as ugly as you want, defend with your lives, kick it long (but accurately...somehow) if you can, and hope Drogba has a great game. Play with width, win corners, win throw-ins. Do that, and Chelsea have a chance. Not that I can see it, but good luck to them.

As for ugly success? How can success be ugly? What is beautiful about defeat? Most of the people slating Chelsea are England fans, who play awful, awful football with some (ish) success. Remember the 1-0 friendly win over Spain? Yeah, there we go. I don't like Chelsea, but a win over Barcelona would be a hell of an achievement, one we should all respect. The purists, like Cesc bloody Fabregas, will moan about it, because they feel they have the God given right to play football the "right" way, and all other teams should subscribe to this "right" way, whatever that is.

So, you want an opinion? Here is my recommended Chelsea XI:

Ivanovic    Terry     Cahill    Cole


Lampard Ramires

Mata                                                                                   (anyone but) Kalou


I know, no surprises there, except maybe Essien over Mikel, but I think Mikel is useless. As usual, I have added no new information in an attempt at being analytical. I just can't do it. As he was last week, Ramires will need to be excellent. Yes, those wingers are wide, but they have to be, set-pieces will be crucial.

Crap, I forgot to take change the alignment of my text.

Umm, OK.

Anyway, I can't believe I am saying this. But good luck Chelsea.


  1. Really have to sort out the use of the possessive apostrophe thing Dave. Anal I might be but this is the English (not Scottish) language. Made me smile though....

  2. Unfortunately my name is not Dave, are you Papa Lazarou from League of Gentlemen?!

    However, this is shameful to admit, but you're dead right, my control over possessive apostrophe(')s is pretty crap, bring back the cane I say! But thanks for the constructive criticism, much better than the last guy to give me "advice" on here, who I snapped at haha.

    If nothing else blame:
    My scottishness
    Shocking form from the "editor"