Chelsea v Barcelona: Champions League Semi-Final

May 3, 2009 at 5:48 am | Posted in General Football | Leave a comment

I watched the first leg of the Champions League Semi-Final between Chelsea and Barcelona from Camp Nou last Tuesday.   This is by far the more interesting of the two semi-finals, because it features top teams from two very different leagues who play different kinds of football.   Barcelona plays the “beautiful game”, attacking with flair and scoring goals almost at will.   In Spain they enjoy the protection of benevolent referees who practically applaud them as they play.   They enjoy the services of the top player in football right now: Lionel Messi.   

Chelsea is still a team that bears the stamp of Jose Mourinho, who built a team of big, strong, tough, fearless athletes who defend ruthlessly.   The player that most personifies Chelsea is Didier Drogba, who, in addition to having all of the above qualities, has a deadly eye for goal.   Chelsea plays in the English Premier League, a league where, despite more recent controversies surrounding Man U and odd penalties, referees allow the players to play a fair, tough, uncompromising game.  

Chelsea knew they could not out-gun Barca at Camp Nou.   They had to defend in an organized fashion, frustrate Barca, and hope to strike on the break.    Again, Mourinho’s teams are built to defend in an organized, ruthless fashion.   Hiddink took that apparatus and smothered Barca’s attack.  

What was more telling was that Barca played like a team that was afraid.  I don’t blame them when they look up at a team of men who are as tall and strong as oak trees.   Chelsea is a team that fears no one. Barca became frustrated and took their frustrations out on the ref.  This was unjustified because the ref called the game very well, but did not grant Barca the protection they are used to in La Liga.   The ref did not respond to the diving and rolling about on the pitch that Barca do so well either.  

I have to say I was not impressed with the behaviour of Barca, nor am I impressed with the whining in the press afterwards.  What Chelsea achieved in Barcelona was not pretty, but it was a work of art in terms of strategy.  They were unlucky not to come away with a win when Drogba was robbed.  Chelsea came away with a tie fair and square.   We will see what Barca is really made of when they play on the smaller pitch at Stamford Bridge.  

I think it would be better  for the competition if Barca went through, and probably better for football as well. But after Hiddink and the lads pulled off a great result in Barcelona, my heart is with them going into this weeks return leg.

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