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UEFA Champions League: FC Barcelona vs Chelsea FC: Tactical Preview

All of you are playing defense OK?
All of you are playing defense OK?

As Gabe mentioned in the match preview, this is, without a doubt Barcelona’s most important game of the season. While the idea of reverting to a four-man defense would bring defensive stability, Barcelona simply need to win this match. I’ve had the opportunity to browse the internet and something stuck out, besides the Culés nobody really wants Barça to win. It’s the small things you know? At least for me. In fact to take a leaf out Pep’s book "in the big games, it always comes down to the small details."

So here goes,

First off Chelsea. Maybe it’s an English view of football but it seems they like the idea of "when in doubt, revert to long balls to the forward" but in this case there should be no doubt about how Chelsea will approach the game. I’m going to guess at a 4-5-1 formation with every attempt to make Didier Drogba the sole focus of their attack. That said, I guess I should mention that of all the big teams in England, this is a strategy that only Chelsea can play. Manchester United were expected to play a game like that in the Champions League final last year but thankfully fans saw both teams being proactive. Chelsea, however, are set up in such a way that they don’t really have many choices.

Their squad is ageing. The experience counts, but only for so much, and – despite what Roberto Di Matteo says – they seem to have conceded that actually playing the game is not an option. So it’s safe to say that they will hope to defend like mad and send hopeful lobs over our midfield to Didier Drogba. The only real threat besides the Ivory Coast international are in the form of Juan Mata and Ramires. The Brazilian especially was used as a winger who had more defensive responsibilities than offensive. Mata didn’t count for much in the 1st leg.

Fact is, this isn’t a game where two coaches are going to be fighting it out tactically. Pep Guardiola will have to come with a plan to break through Chelsea’s parked bus while keeping Drogba quiet (and hopefully on his feet). I think the starting lineup will stay the same. The only possible change is if Torres were to play instead of Drogba but it seems nobody is seriously considering that option.

Cech; Ivanovic, Terry, Cahill, Cole; Mikel, Meireles, Lampard, Ramires, Mata; Drogba

Chelsea’s backline will stay narrow and compact (something they showed they are good at) while the five in midfield will provide width in attack and will also cover for wide players that Barca will use.

Barcelona, however, do have some problems. For one, Drogba is a serious threat. The 34 year old has not lost his touch one bit, while maintaining that strength to literally bully defenders. Worse, he is motivated because it’s Barca he’s playing. Expect Drogba to continue to use a burst of pace over a short distance to surprise defenders. Despite Pique sounding a little naïve in his presser where he said "he believes in Drogba’s honesty and hopes to see the same during this game", the Ivorian has become infamous for his theatrics. So even the slightest of contact (or that might not be needed), he will hit the turf with the intention to regain possession via a free kick or make Barcelona stop and play the ball out of touch so that the flow of the game is slowed down.

I think the main threats from midfield will be Ramires, Mata and Lampard. Ramires will try to use his pace down the wings and hope to square a pass to Drogba, like in the first leg. Mata, will use creativity if the pass is available and Lampard will hope for chances to make late runs into Barca’s area.

Like I said above, there is just the one tactic and if Chelsea surprise me by pressing and attacking, well that’s when Pedro, Alexis and Messi will take advantage.

Unlike Gabe, I expect Barcelona will go for the 3-4-3 but with some key changes. All the reports suggest that Gerard Pique is fit and will start the game. Pique will have to stick to Drogba all day long. It’s as simple as that really because just the height alone will make a difference in our game. Pique and Busquets in particular will have to deal with those long throw-ins that Chelsea use as well as with any set pieces.

Now, this is where Arron and I disagree. I think that Pep Guardiola will play Cesc Fabregas as the tip of the midfield diamond. Arron thinks that Pep will go for Dani Alves to provide width in midfield, therefore allowing Alexis Sanchez to cut in. The reason I believe that Fabregas is the man for this game is because of pure tactics. Fact is, Alves playing wide and providing crosses isn’t a very viable option. Chelsea’s defense has the height advantage over pretty much all our players and since they will probably go for 10 players behind the ball, their penalty area will be packed tight.

For all the nay-sayers to possession football (and you really wouldn’t believe some of the reasons), Pep will focus on possession more than ever. We need to make sure that the team is planted in Chelsea’s half and that’s where Cesc Fabregas comes into the picture. Cesc will probably play as the number ‘10’ and exchange roles with Messi. In fact, it is in this formation that Fabregas is most dangerous. It is the only formation where he can revert to his Arsenal days and have a free role while also having the support of the best player in the world.

The reason this can work is because Fabregas is something like a red herring. His late runs into the box forces Chelsea to go deeper (yes, that is actually possible) while also giving Messi space. Xavi and Iniesta will have specific roles as well. They will be expected to pass the ball out wide to Pedro and Alexis. Moreover, it isn’t just the width but they will have to pass the ball wide extremely quickly and get a return pass just as fast. If there was one problem with Barca’s tactics in the 1st leg as well as against Madrid, it was that those vital passes outside the box were not executed fast enough.

The idea is to pass the ball wide, force Chelsea’s full back’s to cover Pedro and Alexis (hence breaking the line) so that the return pass to the centre of the field is made before Chelsea have the time to get back into formation.

Like I said, the small details, Xavi makes a cross-field pass to Pedro who uses his pace down the wings, Chelsea’s fullback runs to cover, Pedro returns the pass to Messi or Iniesta, who play a quick one-two with Fabregas to score.

Starting line-up: Valdes; Pique, Mascherano, Puyol; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc; Pedro, Messi, Alexis.

Now, with the tactics done I must admit I expect a very difficult game. The key to the whole 90 minutes is Barça opening the scoring early in the game. Keep in mind that if Chelsea score first, Barcelona will have to score 3 goals to qualify and despite the negative tactics, one simply must admit that Drogba is the perfect player for the Blues to beat us.

However, Barca would probably have won that 1st leg 9 out of ten times. It came down to sheer luck, that they didn’t score a goal (or five) and as difficult as I expect it to be, I get the feeling (it’s all about hunches and gut feeling for me) that the team are really irritated. Annoyed that the last two games have not gone their way, which is why I opted for Pedro and Alexis out wide. Pep will go for his best finishers to support Messi and from the interviews I’ve read after the Clasico, seems like everybody is baying for blood.

Really I hope I’m proven right and we qualify.

More so than ever before,

Visça Barça!!

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