Glorious Failure: Individual Mistakes End Chelsea's European Campaign
Well, that was not an unexpected outcome. But Chelsea’s performance, despite going down 3-0, did deserve better. Once again, Chelsea’s familiar failings came to the fore and frittered away any hope of getting a result from the game.
Let’s wash down our sorrows with a pint of beer and have a look at the talking points from the game.
#1 Attack! Attack! Attack!
As expected, Conte handed a start to Olivier Giroud instead of going for the false nine setup from the home leg against Barcelona. This theoretically meant Eden Hazard would play in his preferred position on the left, allowing him ample space to influence proceedings. Willian started on the right of the front three, while it was Kante and Fabregas in the middle. The defence was manned by Azpilicueta, Christensen and Rudiger, with Moses and Alonso operating as wing backs. So far, so good. And then it all turned to sh*t. Antonio Conte has made many mistakes over the course of this season, but if anyone tries to pin this one on him, they should – to borrow a colloquial phrase – get in the sea.
#2 And Another
Chelsea started the match on the front foot and took the game to Barcelona, in one of the better performances of recent times. The hosts looked a bit shaken by the attacking intent shown by their visitors. But despite Chelsea’s best efforts to get in their faces, the Barcelona goalkeeper remained untroubled and their goal remained untouched. Except for shots that kept rattling the posts right until the end without ever ending up inside the net, Chelsea did not get anywhere near the home team’s goal. They just could not manage to get enough shots on target despite shooting more than their opponents. In what is becoming an increasingly frustrating theme this season, Chelsea were left to rue their missed chances yet again.
#3 When Mistakes Become Piss-takes
After finally breaking his duck against the Blues, Lionel Messi notched two more goals and set up another against them in the next game. London buses, et cetera. You know the drill. But he had plenty of help on the inside. Before Chelsea close the deal on his new contract, they must make sure Thibaut Courtois learns to close his legs when faced with an opponent. Especially if that opponent is one Lionel Messi. Two shockingly stupid pieces of goalkeeping meant he was nutmegged twice and the ball ended up in the back of the net each time. If that was not enough, Cesc Fabregas gifted the ball to his childhood friend from Argentina, who promptly beat three Chelsea players and set up Dembele for his strike. When players make individual mistakes such as this, there’s no point berating the manager. If it were up to Conte and if he had better options on the bench, he would have replaced at least half the players on the pitch. That would include a certain Eden Hazard.
#4 Missing: One Belgian
Useless. A passenger for the entire game except for one instance when he made a run and then crossed it into the Barcelona box, expecting someone in a Chelsea shirt to be there. There were none, presumably because they had already given up on expecting anything from Hazard in this game. It was a surprise that he lasted as long as he did, before being replaced by Pedro. If Hazard wanted a stage big enough to strut his stuff, he got it in one of the ties of the round. And then he tripped over the microphone wire, fell off the stage and was not heard from again.
#5 Silver Linings
Out of the eleven that started the game only Kante, Alonso and Willian came out with any sort of credit. Willian continued his good form and looked like the only Chelsea player capable of causing damage to Barcelona. Kante was a monster in midfield, frequently let down by his partner. Alonso, despite his own culpability in one of the goals, was up and down his flank, making more attacking contributions than some of his more illustrious teammates. The rest of them were either poor or did not seem to be bothered enough to make an effort. And that is what hurts the most. Barcelona were there for the taking and we managed to make enough mistakes to lose the game by three clear goals.
But there’s no time to cry over spilt milk. Chelsea face Leicester City in the FA Cup quarter-finals this weekend, with one more opportunity to claim a trophy this season. Onwards and upwards!