Champions League football is back and there is no football meal as nutritious as Chelsea vrs
Barcelona. The first leg of the much awaited clash came off yesterday, the 20 th of February, 2018.
Chelsea vrs Barcelona games have over the years proved to be a paradigm shift between attacking
football and defensive solidity. After Chelsea’s recent slump in games against Watford and
Bournemouth as well as having a largely inconsistent season, many wrote Conte’s Chelsea off
against a Barcelona side who have been highly impressive this season.
This game largely depended on the tactics Antonio Conte would employ on the night and but for a
largely avoidable goal, Chelsea would have come out tops against the highly fancied Barcelona side. I
have never been a proponent of playing too much passes in your own defensive third especially
when your players are not close enough to you as most often than not, losing the ball spells doom.
After so much effort Chelsea put into the game, they will definitely feel aggrieved after swinging the
tie into Barcelona’s favour. Kudos should be given to Antonio Conte for choosing Rudiger ahead of
the slow and aging Gary Cahill. Rudiger made up for Marcos Alonso’s natural lack of pace and that
combination on the left side of defence ensured that the incredible Lionel Messi had no weakness to
Football is basically about two things thus what you do with the ball and what you do without the
ball. Yesterday, Chelsea was incredibly immaculate till that heart breaking error occurred. Without
the ball, Chelsea basically lined up in a 5-4- 1 formation, leaving Eden Hazard up top. That formation
ensured that even though Brcelona had a lion’s share of the ball possession, Barcelona could not
threaten Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois. Barcelona played like a rocking chair, moving the ball back and
forth but without finding any space to exploit in Chelsea’s defensive third. When Barcelona were to
initiate play from their own half, Chlesea’s front trio of Pedro, Willian and Hazard pressed Barcelona
high up the pitch. The issue about the high pressing system of defending largely hinges on
intelligence. The players must know when to drop off into their defensive shape and when to press
high. Chelsea was just spot on yesterday with their defensive solidity. That performance against
Barcelona from Chelsea kept ringing bells of Antonio Conte’s tactical master classes in the EURO
2016 with Italy against Belgium, Spain and Germany.
With the ball, Chelsea were very direct stretched the play most often. However, due to Hazard’s
position on the field of play, he couldn’t see much of the ball. Willian, a player who most often than
not chooses when to turn up in games decided to show up in this one. Pheew! That display from
Willian was incredible. Many Chelsea fans were left wondering what could have been if his strikes
that came off the post went in.
The only tactical decision that I felt Conte had wrong was playing Hazard in the false nine role. The
strategy did not work. In such big games, you need your best players to have more of the ball.
Hazard’s position on the field of play meant that he couldn’t drop deep as often as he would have
liked to collect the ball and wreak havoc in Barcelona’s defence. We saw the surge in Hazard’s
performance when Morata came in. Morata’s role as a target man shouldn’t be downplayed. Yes, he
has missed big big chances this season but he offers us a lot of attacking dynamics as a reference
point of attack. Obviously, Hazard is not as defensively solid as Pedro and Willian hence Conte’s
decision to use Hazard as a false nine to free Hazard of “burdensome” defensive duties.
Despite, the tie having swung in Barcelona’s favour, advance still has what it takes to advance to the
next stage of the competition. What Chelsea has been able to do is to bring out the weakness in
Barcelona’s game. There will be much anticipation about how Conte will set his team up in the
return leg as he took almost all of us by storm with his formation. Majority expected a 3-5- 2
formation but the “Godfather” had more plans up his sleeves.
All is set for an intriguing and mouth-watering clash at the Camp Nou in a fortnight’s time.