1.70 for Barcelona. 5.50 for Chelsea. Those are the odds. Barcelona are an overwhelming favourite to sweep Chelsea aside, as per the bookmakers. If you want to make some quick money, trust the Blues. Sometimes, it good to go with the ‘underdog’ tag, especially when the first leg is away. I don’t mind when Barcelona are being considered the favourites for this match but it would be a bit naive to say that the gap is as large as 1.70 and 5.50. Absolutely not. If there is one team in Europe that can stop Barcelona at the moment, it’s gotta be Chelsea.
Let’s do a quick SWOT analysis for Chelsea. You know SWOT right? A grid of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This is actually a very balances match up. Chelsea vs Barcelona matches have always been classics and if you look at the SWOT, you’ll see the result could go any which way!
Drogba has been terrific form. He is a big match player. So if the occasion is big and opponents are tough, you get to see the best of Drogba. His power and skill could trouble any defence. His aerial skills are going to be very useful and dangerous. When Chelsea played Barcelona last time, Drogba scored home and away. With Essien settling down, Lampard has got more freedom to go forward and attack. This has made our attack more lethal. He is a big match player as well and the goal he scored at Camp Nou in 06-07 was one of the best champions league goals you would see.
Essien’s tackling, marking and covering will be a big strength. I think he would be marking Xavi or Iniesta, which makes his role even more crucial. In matches like these, Essien is very very dependable. Our back four is much better than the Barca back four. In our defensive line-up, we have experience and maturity like very few other teams. Our defence has handled Barcelona before and knows exactly which traps we should fall into. Our important strength is our ability to play aerial balls and turning them into a real weapon. We should use this every now and then to keep their defence guessing. You never know, that could just be the clincher. Remember that ball from Ashley Cole to Drogba at Stamford Bridge?
The uber-penalty-saver Petr Cech must be brimming with confidence. After a few poor matches, he’s had a couple of good matches at the right time. if you’ve seen Barcelona, they don’t score in such a way that a better effort from goalkeeper could have stopped the goal. They pull the trigger only when they’re fully sure that the shot goes in, which normally leaves very little to do for the keeper. We must force Barca to play unlike them so that they take shots from unlikely spots and situations because we have one of the best shot-stoppers in Petr Cech.
Set pieces? Did anyone else think we’re superior to Barca when it comes to set pieces, especially corners?
With no Ashley Cole, it could be Bosingwa in the left back. I’d put Bosingwa as a weakness even if he is playing right back against Messi in the left wing. With Messi playing in the right wing, anyone other than Ashley Cole would be a compromise and hence a weakness. Guus can play Bosingwa in the right and probably, Ivanovic in the left. Between Bosingwa and Ivanovic, I’m more comfortable with the latter to handle Messi.
The other weakness could be the midfielder who plays alongwith Lampard and Essien. Be it Ballack, be it Belletti or whoever. In order to boss the midfield, we need that third midfielder to match Lampard and Essien. For some matches now, this has been a worry. Lampard has started going more and more forward. When he goes to play behind the strikers or positions himself within the box, if there is a counterattack, the other midfielders must be upto the task. The one thing that Lampard has and the others don’t is his commitment in defence.
So where are the opportunities against this Barcelona team? I don’t think this Barcelona team is mentally very strong. They can be shattered. For some reason, I feel they don’t have a leader in their team. You batter them and then you’ll start seeing them a bit clueless and restless. They don’t have the calm of Chelsea. So does that mean we need attack them relentlessly? Well, yes and no. If we can attack them without weakening our defence, that’s a great opportunity.
Their defence is weak. Drogba is too hot to handle for Puyol and co. They have not faced a Chelsea-type of attack so far this season. Chelsea’s attack is a bit unique because it is completely freestyle. The goals can come from anyone and anywhere. There is no single way of playing football unlike Barcelona. When it comes to the aerial balls, they’ll get beaten.
I feel Daniel Alves could be a weakness too. He is way too attackminded. If Malouda can exploit the space created by Dani Alves, you can put Barcelona under tremendous pressure. Also, I never rated Victor Valdes as a good keeper. I strongly feel he is a weakness too. That’s why we should have Lampard and Ballack try those 30-yarders and keep Valdes’ heart beat at 250 per minute.
Barcelona are a complete team. You can’t keep them quiet by keeping one or two players silent. They have talent and class everywhere on the pitch and they can hurt from anywhere. That’s why I think if we are too obsessed about keeping Messi quiet, we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot. Nevertheless, Barcelona minus Messi is beatable for Chelsea. Messi is one who can produce magical moments. He would be a big threat. But remember, the English teams have always handled Messi rather well – Chelsea, Man Utd and Liverpool. In Messi, Eto and old Henry, they have one of the best attacks in Europe. If they get into their rhythm, it’s going to be very difficult to stop them.
Losing possession cheaply and in wrong areas would be punished by the Barcelona team. We simply can’t lose possession in our half. I don’t want us to try anything tricky or funny in our half. We should just get the ball to the final third and start playing our football.
Chelsea must play 4-3-3 with Malouda and Anelka in the wings. The midfield must be Lampard, Essien and Ballack. I’d put Ivanovic in the left wing and Bosingwa in the right. Barcelona would end up having 65% of the possession. That’s the way they play. We might have to play counterattack. The big question is if Chelsea is going to let Barcelona play their game. Barca are way too accurate for us take risks. You’d see Chelsea trying and succeeding in breaking their rhythm. Chelsea would also play a very physical game to achieve this. Even players like Xavi and Iniesta are light. If it’s a physical contest between Xavi and Essien/Lampard, you know who’d win. We should force them to get into these physical battles as much as possible.
In terms of how Chelsea should play, we can surprise them. Generally teams don’t surprise Barcelona. They always admit and accept that Barcelona are a far superior team and allow them to play their game while they just try to defend all game. Back in 04-05, at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea chose to surprise Barcelona. We attacked them with some force and determination and you know what happened. You can very easily catch them by surprise, if you attack them with quality chances.
I’d like to see most of our attacks come through the wings. There’s no point in trying to playing to Barca’s strengths by playing through the middle. We should use our wing play effectively and deliver crosses in the middle. Lampard and Essien would be in front of the D, just in case they are to be gifted with a sweet loose ball.
Barcelona are on a champions league record running streak of 103 matches without receiving a red card; current coach Josep Guardiola was their last player to be sent off. I truly hope and wish Puyol breaks that record tonight. I’m sure he has it in him to do that.
The one thing Chelsea must do is not to take the initial 20 minutes lightly, as they have done very often. Even a momentary lapse of concentration could prove costly. The whole Chelsea team must be at their best level tonight. There should not be any lacklustre performances. If we see someone to be a serious weakness, we should be subbing them. I’ve seen Guus do that. No back heels, flicks, 360 degree spin and all that in our own half plus no losing possession in our own half.
Finally . . .
I have full faith in Guus. He seems to be someone who studies and understands the opponents strengths and weaknesses to devise the tactics on a match to match basis. I fully believe that he can take us through. That’s why I like Chelsea to be known as the underdogs. I want Barcelona to underestimate Chelsea. That’s one easy route to surprise Barca. I call upon all the big match players at Chelsea to deliver – Drogba, Lampard, Essien, Terry, Cech and Ballack. We don’t even have to win this match. An away goal what we need to put the fear in the minds of the Catalans. I’d happily take a goalless first half. Sometime in the 70th minute or so, we must take the lead. That would force Barca to go for a mad rush for goals and probably we can nick another one through a counterattack.
I’m going against all the odds and other predictions. 1-1 would be the score. Drogba to score. Be there at BC Shout!