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A Defining Moment For Tactics?


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Now that we can breathe again, it is interesting to think about the impact the Barca game might have on the tactics of top-level teams.

Somewhere around minute 60 of the game, I almost began to relax (well sort of).

Seems strange, because if someone had told me at the start of the game that Barca would have 70+ percent possesion and that the game would be played almost entirely between our penalty box and the half-way line - well,I would have been very worried and almost resigned to a defeat.

From Barca, we saw a constant stream of sillfully accurate passes, from left-to-right and right-to-left.

But yet, there were no shots and no good crosses, It almost became monotonous (like Arsenal on steroids).

I can understand their reluctance to cross - because we had the height advantage. Also, shooting from 20 yards out against Petr is not a good poker play for their perspective.

Plus, I think a lot of their goals come from Messi collecting in the 25-yard rangeand then making a penetrating pass to a runner in the penalty area who goes on to side-foot in past the goalie. So I can see that that's the way they hope to win and why they tried to do that. But we seemed to precude that option through sheer numbers - if not by the technical defending talent of our team (which was actually very good) .

Does all this mean that the Barca model has reached the end? That Chelsea has cracked the code (as well as Real Madrid) and now others will as well?

But Barca have a fabulous record over the last few years by doing what they do.

So maybe what happeneed against us was a one-off? Perhaps it was nerves?

Or was it "luck "- i.e. for 99% of similar games, given the shot totals, the ball would have gone in at least a couple of times for Barca?

Will this change how other La Liga teams play them?

Is this how we should play QPR on Sunday? (!!!)

And what has Jose been thinking as he watches all of this?

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For me, it has been frustrating the past couple of years, as those who pay attention can clearly see the methods you need to deploy to beat them. Since our tie with them with Guus in charge, its been obvious (to only a few apparently) that the key to beating them is keeping your structure, and inviting them to your outside, and around the outside of the box.

It frustrated me when United lost to them in the final last year, as Ferguson had set up perfectly to win that game - hit them with the Rooney counter attack goal, and it was only the individual stupidity on a few United midfielders and defenders that broke the good structure of their team, and with a passing team like Barca as opposition, that is all they need.

They have a very talented team yes - but unfathomable footballing geniuses they are not. I just hope that the rest of the world wakes up from their Barca-gasm now they're been shown up on two major stages within a week.

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Or was it "luck "- i.e. for 99% of similar games, given the shot totals, the ball would have gone in at least a couple of times for Barca?


Of the course of the season they will destroy pretty much any team they face. It's not just Barcelona but teams such as Lille, Monchengladbach and Swansea that use similar tactics to punch well above their weight that shows its effectiveness.

As I've written elsewhere, that game showed the frailties in Barcelona the team, but not their philosophy or system. As a system it has no flaws: maintain possession, pass, move, track your man and close them down; these are the basics of football taught to every kid around every local league game on a Sunday. Barcelona are human though and it's their personnel's strengths and weaknesses that make or break the execution of their tactical system. They don't have players inclined to attack the ball in the air (which is a shame as they have very good crossers) and they don't have great defenders at the back. Nor are they mentally indestructible; they are also prone to losing faith and playing aimlessly rather than with determination.

In my opinion, to say we "cracked the code" diminishes the magnitude of what we did. Truth is, if we were to play Barcelona 10 times we'd probably lose 7 and draw 2. This victory was a statistical aberration, an anomaly, an error in the grand scheme of things. Fabregas and co are right; Chelsea, rationally speaking, should not have won. Fortunately for us, football is as much an art as it is a science. Today we achieved literally against the odds. Each intercepted pass, each shot saved, each clearance was a giant "f**k you!" to probability. Remember, after scoring twice before half-time, Barcelona had their tails up and looked like normal service would resume. Enter Ramires.

Therein lies the art; though on the face of it Barcelona were the better team, they could not suspend their disbelief at what happened. Like Chelsea at the Bridge in 2009, they were the ones that reacted poorly to circumstance. Messi was faltering before he missed his penalty; after that, he was a non-entity, dropping deeper and deeper into midfield and merely feeding the ball to Alves or Iniesta. The net result was that Barcelona shot themselves in the foot, becoming increasingly rash, desperate and bizarrely, non-threatening.

For me, the defining moment wasn't in tactics but emphasizing the point that the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry. Barcelona stayed true to their tactics and their style, but a dominant style is nothing without a dominant attitude. If every hipster pundit and Zonal Marking chump were to be honest they would see the last 20 minutes of that game as a defiant Chelsea versus a desperate Barcelona. Chelsea were the dominant ones, forcing Barcelona to react to their defensive moves. A fascinating game of chess, but played out with emotion, not on the field as some pundits have you believe.

Edited by SydneyChelsea
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I disagree that it has no flaws SC.

It is certainly an incredible system. But it is the personnel that make it so difficult to break down.

No doubt Lille and Dortmund are making headway using the system, but it is Messi, Xavi and Iniesta that make the Barca system so hard to beat over 90 minutes, and indeed over a season.

I think as long as those players remain at Barca they will still be the most formidable team in the world. Last night changes nothing in that regard. But there is no doubt that the way we played is the way to beat them over two legs.

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