Thursday, October 19, 2006

Early points to Mourinho and his blue brick wall

Tactical review, champions league match-day three, Chelsea 1 v Barcelona 0

CHELSEA v Barcelona in the champions league has become one of the most enthralling tactical contests over the past couple of seasons, and while Barca and Rijkaard had the better moments last season, this morning's clash at Stamford Bridge was all about Mourinho and his master tactics.

There is no doubt that this season is all about Europe for Mourinho and his galaxy of highly paid individuals. While they have run away with the EPL the past couple of seasons, it was clear from the moment they signed Shevchenko, Ballack and Cole that this season is all about going after their holy grail, 'the trophy with big ears'.

Yes, they want to make it a hat-trick of EPL titles, but you sense Mourinho and his men would happily trade a third title for success in the ultimate club comp, despite what they might say, and after being ripped about by the likes of Messi, Eto'o and Ronaldinho last season, this return bout would be an early test of their legitimacy for the title.

Pass they did, and with flying colours. While the first half was probably shaded by the visitors, with Messi giving Cole the odd headache, soon enough Chelsea took control, grabbing the first through a classic turn and finish from the edge of the box from the hot-to-trot Drogba, who took Cole's ball and mesmerised Puyol, sending him the wrong way. Breathtaking work.

Chelsea had clearly come out in the second half in up-tempo mode, and the goal allowed them to defend deep and press Barca into submission. For a while they threatened to run wild, but some wastefulness from Shevchenko and Essien kept Barca alive.

Mourinho's work at shutting down the flanks was masterful stuff. Pushing Dutch right back Bouhlarouz high up on Ronaldino and Cole high up on Messi, it shut down the Barca flanks, where they get most of their penetration. Clearly he'd seen enough at the world cup to learn that if you deny Ronnie time to turn and face, force him back, you go a fair way to shutting him and his team down.

Last season they were guilty of allowing him and Messi too much space, and it is hard to shake off the memory of Messi toying with three fullbacks in the first leg at Stamford Bridge, destroying first Del Horno, then Ferreira, then Geremi. None featured on this night, proving the champs league often sorts out the men from the boys.

Now, with Bouhlarouz and Cole pressing high and wide, Essien (right) and Lampard (left) tucked in alongside Makelele, denying Ronnie, Messi, Deco and Xavi any opportunity to hit Gudjohnsen and roll off him.

With Ballack and Drogba also dropping back to help, the blue brick wall was up, and the third choice keeper had a comfortable debut.

Essien and Bouhlarouz (such a hack against Portugal at the Cup) were simply brilliant on the right, doubling up on Ronaldinho. It was a mystery why Rijkaard allowed the Brazilian to stay left, particularly after being so successful at moving his front-line around last season.

No doubt he was missing the power, adaptability and ability to create something from nothing of Eto'o. His central defence, such a high-point last season, also looked shaky, but this was as much about numbers as anything else.

Last season Chelsea essentially only had Drogba or Crespo up top, with support from the flanks in Cole and Robben or Duff, making it easier for Puyol and Marquez. This year their were two strikers to deal with, and with Ballack lurking from midfield, often there were three up front, forcing Edmilson to drop deep.

Indeed, when Cole's ball came in for the goal, it was three v three at the back for Barca, danger in anyone's language.

Playing the formation he does suits every single player on the field for Chelsea, with Lampard and Essien able to drive in support of the front threeand then drop in and help Makelele. It is narrow, but powerful.

Clearly Chelsea have worked on things, and while this competition never promises anything, it seems they are in a better position than ever to mount a threat. They won't have it all their own way, with Barca sure to bounce back, Lyon continuing to build, Roma and Valencia looking sharp and Man U seemingly cruising.

In any case, we are only in October, with the real action taking place after the group stage, but round one in the psychological stakes to Mourinho and his blue brick wall.


Blogger Hamish said...

The real shock to come: Celtic to conquer Europe. Go the shamrock.

Fri. Oct. 20, 06:24:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Settle settle Hamish...

No doubt Celtic for me looked a very good chance of getting through the group stage at the start of the season.

Why? I thought they recruited really well through the likes of Gravesen and Vengoor of Hesselink.

With Benfica losing Ronald Koeman, I felt they might struggle to replicate the impressive form of last year

With Strachan pulling the strings and Nakamura, Maloney and Miller doing well, they're looking good to get through the group, but the real test in Europe is to do it consistently, especially in the cut-throat knock-outs where you need cool heads, good tactics and a dose of luck in the draw.

But encouraging stuff indeed

Sat. Oct. 21, 08:48:00 am AEST  

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