So. Demba Ba's goal. I'm sure the strike itself is fairly well seared into your collective memories (if not, David kindly posted a refresher yesterday), and we've even delved into the financial ramifications of the big Senegalese striker blooping the ball past Salvatore Sirigu and into the roof of the net. What we haven't done is give one of the iconic goals of the season its due via a goal analysis. Let's rectify that.
The buildup is as follows. Chelsea, down a goal on aggregate but set to advance on away goals should they draw level, are playing the sort of shape that would give Tony Pulis wet dreams. Their only midfielder is actually a centre back; ahead of him are Willian, Andre Schurrle, and all three centre forwards at Jose Mourinho's disposal. The strategy is clear -- lump it up to Ba and hope that chaos ensues -- and for a while that was working fairly effectively.
But after two Ba-directed hoofs from John Terry were cleared with a minimum of fuss, it was time to change tack. Enter Gary Cahill.
Of the three strikers, only Fernando Torres is visible here. David Luiz and Demba Ba are pushing towards the right side of the Paris Saint-Germain box, presenting the obvious target, while Samuel Eto'o is moseying about on the left. But instead of going for the obvious option, Cahill hits it towards the left side, seemlingly trusting Eto'o to be able to win the ball in the air against a tangle of PSG defenders.
Emphasis on seemingly, because before the ball is hit, Torres makes a run towards the box. With Eto'o backing the defenders up, Torres has every chance of knocking the pass towards somewhere dangerous.
Which is what happens. Alex is off balance; Torres wins the ball fairly cleanly and drops it back into the space behind him. Bizarrely, this is unguarded -- Marquinhos is for reasons unknown patrolling the top of the box, Yohan Cabaye is too far away and both Christoph Jallet and Thiago Motta are behind Alex. This means Eto'o is free to collect the ball.
Unfortunately for Eto'o, he's not free enough to take a shot, and sees his effort bounce off of Jallet's lunging leg. Note, at this point, the way in which Ba is drifting off Thiago Silva and towards the definitely-more-beatable person of Maxwell. This frees him up for a back post run should the ball bounce favourably for Chelsea.
Which indeed it does. Azpilicueta is perhaps a little over-enthusiastic here -- I'd almost certainly have favoured a dinked ball to the back post -- but his plan of firing into a crowd of legs and hoping for a lucky bounce pays off handsomely. We just need one final touch to set Ba free...
... and it comes via an old friend. But for Alex's attempted intervention, Azpilicueta's shot probably rolls harmlessly into Sirigu's arms and the last few days of posting on this site have been hate letters to the woodwork. But the Brazilian manages to guide the ball across the six yard box, Ba reacts first, and... you know the rest, right?
* * *
It was a scrappy goal, of course, and it tends to be difficult to actually learn anything from last-gasp scrambles. But there are two important elements at play here, I think. The first is the knockdown. Without Eto'o's movement pushing the defenders deeper and Torres' run and header, the space for Eto'o to get the ball -- which caused the PSG defence to panic -- simply doesn't exist. Even had Eto'o won possession against Alex (and there's no reason to think he would have), the visitors are probably faced with an easy clearance. The second is Ba's clever movement as everyone's focus is on the carnage to the left. He knows that he doesn't want to be competing directly with Thiago Silva if he can help it, and sneaks over to the PSG left back instead. That move was rewarded with perhaps the biggest goal of his career.
As for Laurent Blanc's side... well, I'm more than a little baffled by the fact that they responded to Chelsea's move to a three centre forward system by adding a third centre back but only managed to include one of them in the play that ultimately lost them the game. Why was Marquinhos completely uninvolved here? Why was Thiago Silva not man-marking Ba? These are questions that I'm very glad I'm asking.
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