Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Are you Jose Mourinho in Disguise?

Four years ago, newly wealthy Chelsea came to the Camp Nou for the first leg of a Champions League knock-out tie and parked the bus in front of goal. Chelsea were aided by a Barca own goal totally against the run of play before losing 2-1. After the game, the Catalan press were incensed that Chelsea could spend hundreds of millions of pounds and then play as if they were Sheffield United when they went on the road. If a team is full of elite talent, then it ought to play like it.

The song remains the same. Chelsea's manager is different and many of their players are different, but the result is the same. The Blues came to Barcelona and deployed the most expensive ten-man defensive wall since...Manchester United did the same thing last year. I expected more from Guus Hiddink. If Chelsea took a risk tonight, I must have missed it. Instead, they deployed Frank Lampard and Michael Essien, two of the best midfielders in the world, as auxiliary defenders. Their ostensible second forward Florent Malouda was charged with retreating to help defend against Leo Messi and Dani Alves. Didier Drogba was completely isolated up front. The only chance that he had in the match was handed to him on a silver platter by Rafa Marquez.

Although I am happy to heap plenty of scorn on Chelsea for playing gutless football, Barca deserve some blame for the 0-0 scoreline. The Blaugrana looked a little tentative, almost like they were spooked by the occasion. Leo Messi was certainly off of his normal form. Chelsea were able to clog the normal passing lanes through the middle, so Barca were forced to shoot from outside or face a sea of yellow jerseys in the box. Earlier in the season, the Blaugrana were able to thwart such tactics by being more effective at scoring from corners and Dani Alves' crosses. Today, Chelsea snuffed out Barca's corners completely and Bojan missed the one great chance to score off of an Alves cross, heading over from four yards out. True to his reputation as an attacker who cannot score, Alexandr Hleb then followed Bojan's miss with one of his own when he was one-on-one with Petr Cech.

The worst aspect of the game tonight is that Chelsea now stand a great chance of being rewarded for anti-football. They made no effort to play, but now they take a draw back to London and know that Barca will have no idea who to play a center back with Puyol suspended and Marquez injured. The next man in line is Martin Caceres, but he is hardly ready for prime time. Also, Chelsea will likely get the breaks from the ref that Barca didn't get tonight when Wolfgang Stark refused to hand out yellow cards for cynical challenges and then didn't award a penalty for an obvious pull on Thierry Henry's shoulder in a scoring position.

I'm very frustrated right now, if you can't tell. All of the negative feelings about Chelsea that have ebbed away after Mourinho took his dog and pony show to Milan have come rushing back. If you're going to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on a team, then you might consider playing football as opposed to recreating the Great Wall of China.


Anonymous said...

boo-hoo, crybaby

Michael said...

Everyone hates you.

Fritz Upchuckles said...

I hope Chelsea plays a different game on Wednesday. But with that said, they are never going to play Barca at their own game. That's just not smart football. Discipline is going to key to Chelsea advancing. That and a few long balls to Drogs. Hiddick can save the artistry for ManU in the final - if they make it that far.

All the crying in the Spanish press is embarassing. Save some manhood for the Real match.

Anonymous said...

Yes Fritz, crying in the press is much more embarassing than playing like a bunch of vaginas.

The only thing Chelsea deserve from their display of football is a heaping pile of scorn.

Fritz Unchuckles said...

Anony - Playing like vaginas?! If anything, Chelsea played the role of the strong-armed bully.

Hiddink would have been an idiot to send a team to Camp Nou to trade goals and see who gets the most. No one remembers losing semi-finalists, or even the manner in which they lose. Just get through it and avoid elimination.

Michael said...

No, playing with ten behind the ball is playing like a puss. It broadcasts "we don't think that we can compete, so we're going to go into a shell for 90 minutes and hope that Barca miss their chances."

Everyone who takes the "what else did you expect Chelsea to do?" line is acting as if there is no happy medium between playing 3-2-5 like '54 Hungary and doing a bad imitation of '94 Norway and Ireland, which is what Chelsea did. It's apparently too much to ask that a team with internationals at every position would commit more than one player to attack.

Anonymous said...

It didn't have the feel of strong-armed bully to me, nothing like watching the Pistons or Knicks thugging up the NBA in the late 80's and early 90's. There was nothing intimidating about their style of play, it was a simple case of 10 guys holding hands in front of goal because they have the home leg coming up.

I will give gruding kudos for having MESSI! well-marked, but it was a cowardly display that I had hoped we were done with in top-flight competition.

Fritz Upchuckles said...

If Barca are as ethereally-gifted as we all agree they are, is there any disgrace in going into the game with spoiling tactics? Get over it. It’s a shame that in trying to advance, Hiddink forgot to entertain you as well.

As to the match itself, regardless of Chelsea’s tactics, Barca did a poor job of exploiting Chelsea’s weaknesses. Chelsea has shown time and time again that they struggle defending set-pieces in the air but Barca refused to throw the ball into the box. Had Chelsea been playing ManU, Arsenal or, hell even Hull City, they would be throwing the ball right under Cech’s crossbar. They were stubborn and didn’t adapt. Pep has to come up with a system to break Chelsea down. He hasn’t proven yet that he can do that.

I think Barca is the best team in the world and they’re still heavy favorites to advance. But all this crying at Chelsea’s tactics and the referee has really made me question Barca’s mental strength.

Who’s left to play center-defense for Barca at the Bridge? That’s the real concern (aside from this weekend’s match with Real) not with that Chelsea did.

Michael said...

Chelsea struggled to defend set pieces under Scolari. They've been better under Hiddink. Their players are all taller than Barca's. Barca lobbed a number of corners into the box and Chelsea dealt with them fairly well. How much more adapting did they need to do? Change their entire style of play to have Messi lobbing in crosses to Yaya Toure?

Barca rarely complain about refs. Pep has avoided it this year. When you have an obvious penalty claim denied and the opponent can foul you all game and only get two cards, then you have grounds to complain.

Martin Caceres is probably going to play center back. He's fifth choice after Puyol, Milito, Pique, and Marquez. You can probably guess how good he is. (Not very.) The other option would be to play Abidal at center back and put Sylvinho in a left back.

Fritz Upchuckles said...

Funny, I'm having this discussion while sitting in my office and to the left of me is a picture of me and my son and I'm wearing a Barca jersey.

I support Barca against anyone in the world, except Chelsea.

Chelsea has been better defending set pieces under Hiddink. I certainly agree with you there. But it still seems to be the way to attack them. Maybe it's still the memory of zonal marking from earlier in the year, but I'm terrified on any corner.

Hiddink will open it up slightly at the Bridge. Having Ashley Cole back will strengthen the back line and now with a weakness in Barca center defense, Hiddink seemingly has the opportunity to be more forward in his attack. Still I expect our opportunities to come on counter attacks.

Michael, you've following this longer than I have, what's the best place to watch a Wednesday afternoon match in Atlanta?

Michael said...

Brewhouse Cafe. It's the epicenter for watching footie in Atlanta. I watched the second legs against Chelsea, Benfica, and Milan at Brewhouse in '06, so I might need to go next Wednesday for good luck.

Fado is Buckhead is also good.