After two fairly underwhelming first legs in both the Barcelona-Chelsea tie and Manchester United-Arsenal tie, this week should see a tense and exciting finish conclusion of the semi finals. It is still all up for grabs. Here are my thoughts about how the first legs panned out and what to expect from the sides involved in the second.
Chelsea vs Barcelona
Guus Hiddink and his team were heralded in the media for their tactical outmaneuvering of Barcelona at the Nou Camp. The stats tend to agree – not only did Barca not score but they failed to create that many good chances, with the best falling to the youngling Bojan Krkic. Credit where credit is due, Chelsea played to their strengths – very literally. The combination of Essien, Ballack and Mikel in the middle denied the engine room players Xavi and Iniesta the space to operate, while Messi was often forced inside by a unusually defensive-minded performance from Bosingwa.
Nevertheless, it was such an unambitious showing from Chelsea that I am not quite sure why anyone is confident they can beat Barca at Stamford Bridge. Failing to score an away goal puts them in the unenviable position of needing 2 should Barca score one. Guardiola’s men have scored 140 in all competitions this season, who wants to put money on them failing to score one in 180 minutes against Chelsea?
The Blues have players who have the quality to maintain possession and distribute accurately but instead they put all their eggs in the lump-up-to-Drogba basket. If he had scored the chance gifted to him by Rafael Marquez then Drogba may have vindicated the strategy. Lampard was a spectator and thus was unsurprisingly withdrawn before the 90 were up. The reality was that Chelsea did not even attempt to play any football and I think more likely than not it will be the same case in the return leg.
Barca were at their devastatingly best going forward in their 6-2 drubbing of Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Saturday night. Although it is pretty clear they won’t get that kind of joy against Chelsea at the Bridge, I expect Las Blaugranas to dominate proceedings yet again. Hiddink will rely on the same tactic of frustrating Barca and hope to provoke them into a mistake by frustrating and aggravating their players, as they did in the first leg.
If Henry is injured it is a massive blow but I think this Barca team is playing with such confidence and quality that regardless of who comes into replace him, Chelsea won’t see much of the ball and ultimately the class will show.
Arsenal vs Manchester United
While Arsenal, unlike Chelsea in the other semi, attempted to play the game against Manchester United, their lineup was completely non-conducive to getting a result at Old Trafford once they conceded the early goal. Wenger tried to contain United with a five man midfield but in the end was lucky to come away with a 1-0 defeat. Ultimately, I think that Arsenal’s failure to score an away goal will come back and bite them on the Arse.
Wenger’s choice to deploy Fabregas in the advanced position, Diaby on the left and Nasri as a holding midfield was based on success against a poor Boro side the weekend before. What happened against United was that Fabregas was forced to come deep to see any of the ball, meaning Arsenal’s last third was congested and Adebayor was isolated figure struggling against the formidable duo of Vidic and Ferdinand. The threat of Walcott was made redundant through lack of distribution and space in behind Evra, while both Gibbs (who had a good game) and Sagna (who was poor) were pinned back by United’s wide forwards.
At the Emirates Wenger will go back to 4-4-2 (thank fuck), although the success of that working depends on Van Persie being fully fit to play (he was passed fit today but who knows what that means for chocolate leg). A forward line of Bendtner and Adebay plays into the hand of United’s aerially astute centre backs. Fabregas will go back to the middle and Nasri return to the left. The problem for Arsene is that United will press the Gooners the same way they did at Old Trafford, safe in the knowledge that if they go out to score early doors, Arsenal will be forced to go gung-ho in search of the 3 goals needed to overturn the away goal.
Nevertheless, the important factor for Arsenal is that they return to playing in the way they feel comfortable (4-4-2) and enjoy. Wenger’s two big matches of tactical experimentation (Chelsea FA Cup semi final and United first leg) were largely failures. Arsneal have got good results against the big sides playing their own game.
United showed why they are European champs at Old Trafford. I expect Arsenal to show that they can play on a par at the Emirates. But when it comes to the crunch, United have the confidence and experience to score when it matters. For my sanity’s sake, I hope it doesn’t come after Arsenal outplay United, leading 2-0 until the 93rd minute. If you are gonna kill my boys Fergie, make it quick and painless.