Just after the release of the strikerless line-up of Chelsea, everyone expected them to play for a tie – a goalless tie in fact since it wasn’t carrying any finisher in form of Morata or Giroud. But thanks to Willian who brilliantly edged out Barcelona’s defensive attempts. With him, Chelsea had even chances to score at least one more. But there is always a role of luck to play. Barcelona, on the other hand, were mostly boring except making the record with Messi’s first goal against Chelsea in the nine clashes played so far.
Chelsea’s horizontal and vertical compactness
Chelsea F.C, with their low block defence, maintained their horizontal compactness throughout the game. Messi, Suarez, and Iniesta dropped in between Chelsea’s lines many times but couldn’t make any threatening attacking move in the first period. In fact, they were not only compact horizontally but vertically as well causing the Catalan giants to struggle in penetrating and holding possession in their final third for the first half of the game.
To get their way to Chelsea’s end, Barcelona players kept switching planes to shift the play vertically but Conte’s men were more than willing to shift their pressing structure accordingly and block the opponents. This pushed Blaugrana’s build-up back many times. It was due to their compact pressing structure that the Blues didn’t concede till the last quarter of the game.
In the third quarter, Barcelona were able to find spaces out of Chelsea’s now-less-compact press structure. This allowed more frequent penetration in to the Blues’ half by the away team who have also now started playing longer balls to open up Chelsea’s defence. Though, after conceding the equaliser, Chelsea restored their coherent pressing shape.
Chelsea’s counter threats
Chelsea, with their maximum possession not went more than 30 percent at any stage of the game, could rely on counters only in the open play – otherwise set pieces. They did initiate some really good, potentially-goal-leading counters.
The home team made interceptions and tackles whenever they could – especially Kante, Willian, and Fabregas – followed by quick dribbling runs up the pitch. Hazard and Willian even hold the ball on foot in the final third at multiple instances until they would find a chance to pass safely to a teammate. In the second quarter, the two forwards remained at front, following their team’s saved or nullified attacking runs, to look for chances to intercept high up the pitch and re-initiate shorter counters. Although none of their counters got them any goal as they got always outnumbered by Barcelona’s defenders, it did set up for the same. That’s by winning them a goal-leading corner in the second period.
Due to their limited retention in the final third and strikerless formation, Chelsea were less likely to create effective chances within the opponent box. They could attempt long shots only and that’s what they did – including Willian’s too unlucky off-the-post shots and one nice hit at the back of the net.
However, although Chelsea were compact defensively, they couldn’t remain so offensively. This is because they couldn’t get enough bodies forward instantly when won possession, due to mostly being in their defensive zone. This gave Barcelona more time in their build up from the back. Overall, it was also a battle of numbers by both teams, won by each in their respective half.
Blaugrana’s high press and possession game
Barcelona played with high press from the start while holding possession in Chelsea’s half. This allowed them to capitalise almost every single loose ball or wrong pass of Chelsea. It was their high press and possession which had Barcelona retained in the final third even though they didn’t give any significant threat and their attacking moves got nullified by Chelsea’s low block, horizontally compact defence.
Their press was not close or tight enough though. Instead, it became more cautious when Chelsea showed glimpses of their sudden counters following their interceptions and tackles. Other than the high press, Barcelona’s backline was not that impressive and could be exposed if Chelsea were even slightly better in their passing structure. Pique’s ineffective clearances were the most illustrative of this, which also led to one of the Willian’s shots on post.
Chelsea’s one-off build-up mistake
Willian’s brilliant lead cancelled out soon as the opponent equalised with an away goal, thanks to Chelsea’s build-up mistake in a very dangerous area.
After winning back the possession Christensen, being crowded, passed to Fabregas in open space which the later missed as the pass was slightly far. The Spaniard didn’t even bother to track it quickly considering it would be caught by nearby Moses or Azpilicueta. But Iniesta got there in no time to intercept that loose ball. Even though Azpilicueta attempted to tackle the opponent midfielder but the later was fast enough to catch the opportunity which ultimately converted by Messi’s comfortable finish.
With their most defenders already outside the box to take part in the usual build-up, Chelsea’s goal was under the guard of only the midfielders at that time who couldn’t organise to block the goal mouth. They should have been defensively aware in the back zone too just like they were in their midfield zone.
That was not just a defensive mistake indeed. It was more of a build-up error which cost them defensively. Chelsea had been just this moment of negligence away from exposing their defensive weaknesses and that too with the likes of Iniesta and Messi on the other side. They should have been consistently careful in passing in their own half especially when the opponents hadn’t cleared the region yet.
Contentedly, Chelsea showed a really exciting game unlike Barcelona, by way of their threatening counters and stubborn press. But during the third quarter they declined their consistency for a while which led to more frequent penetration of the opponents towards their penalty area than before. In a way, the same caused the Blues to concede the equaliser. That consistency is the key to balance their transitions between defence and attack, either they play on counters or possession. And the upcoming fixtures might demand such transitions more intensely, including the return leg against the Catalan football giants.