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Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona, Champions League: Tactical Analysis

The almost perfect game from the Blues.

Barcelona with the ball

Barcelona maintained a high amount of possession throughout the match, showing great composure and poise with the ball to not allow too many turnovers. They played through pressure, moved the ball side-to-side to draw pressure and open spaces, and attempted to create through dribbling, passes on the inside of the wing-backs, combinations, and crosses.

Building from the back saw Ter Stegen showing patience and composure to hold onto the ball when being pressed by Pedro, and he would look for short options or play long passes wide and to the frontline when short options were blocked—in which case Chelsea would have fewer players in deep positions as a result of blocking the short options.

Chelsea won the first ball played long on a couple of occasions, where Barcelona would’ve been in good positions to attack if they had won and kept the ball, but most of the time Barcelona were able to recover the ball and build attacks from their half—especially from wide passes. Barcelona would then move the ball from side-to-side, which would result in Chelsea dropping back into their own half to conserve energy.

Iniesta would drop on the left to always receive the ball on the outside of Chelsea’s midfield line, which then presented different options depending on the height which he would move to collect the ball. Wide and ahead of Willian could draw Willian to move forward and press him, which would open space behind for Suarez to move into (for passes to feet ahead of the Chelsea’s backline) or to run behind Azpilicueta. Receiving the ball directly on the outside or behind Willian (in midfield and the final third) would allow Iniesta to find passes inside to Messi between lines, hold the ball to draw opponents towards him, and have options to play passes between and behind Azpilicueta and Moses for Suarez and Alba.

Sergi Roberto on their right didn’t move forward as early as Alba on the left when building at the back (both forward from midfield and in the final third), and could carry the ball inside when he was put under pressure by Alonso, and also play passes up the wing for Paulinho. Messi dropping as a third midfielder or wide (when Paulinho was narrow) allowed Barcelona to draw Chelsea higher up the pitch on the right side, before moving to the left in order to take the ball forward.

Busquets and Rakitic keeping the ball under pressure and finding successful passes were critical to Barcelona’s switches, pushing Chelsea back, and opening spaces through passes. The danger in these moments was the risk of Chelsea counters when they lost the ball, where Barcelona were open and Chelsea’s front three, wing-backs, and Kante were ready to break at speed from midfield.

When Barcelona had the ball in midfield and in the final third, Messi would start increasing his influence on the proceedings, with his dribbling, receiving the ball in space, playing passes which require extreme precision (diagonal to Iniesta between lines, and behind Chelsea’s defence on the inside of the wing-backs), playing 1-2 passes behind Chelsea’s midfield, and collecting the ball on the edge of the box (especially on the left) to play second post chipped crosses—leading to a chance for Paulinho, who was constantly joining the box.

Although Barcelona maintained a high amount of possession and pressure in the final third, Chelsea restricted them to few chances to score. Suarez beating Azpilicueta as well as the earlier chance for Paulinho were the only notable opportunities for them to score ... before quickly taking advantage of the mistake by Christensen.

Chelsea with the ball

Chelsea selected Hazard, Willian, and Pedro as a quick and speedy front three, but endured sustained periods without the ball while defending deep, where they could pressure passes made between lines, outnumber Barcelona in the middle, and play with intensity in moments with and without the ball.

Without Morata and Giroud, Chelsea didn’t have the option to use them to play in the air successfully, but by using Hazard at striker they could give him a free role defensively, and have both Willian and Pedro drop back and press. If Chelsea had maintained the front three with Hazard wide, he would have been required to contribute more defensively, while playing off of Morata with three central midfielders behind (i.e 3-5-2) would have actually provided fewer options for attacks.

When Chelsea recovered the ball at the front, the mobility of the front three to bypass Barcelona’s midfielders was key to their successful counters, which led to chances and free kicks in dangerous positions. Willian’s acceleration and close control allowed him to carry the ball past Barcelona’s central midfielders. In the final third he used his patented quick shift to the right in order to beat Busquets twice, leading to a shot hitting the post and scoring.

Chelsea’s short building was limited due to the amount of possession Barcelona had, so most of their dangerous play came from counters. They could play long up the wings and into the corners for the wingers to chase down, or for Hazard running wide, which would provide space centrally to attack if they won the ball—leading to the second shot to hit the post by Willian.

When Chelsea were able to win the ball and counter, they were often able to build on it by shifting momentum and playing with more intensity. They would then attempt to press high, remain high up the pitch, use switches to the wing-backs, bring Fabregas’ long passes into the game, and attempt combinations between the front three.

Conclusion

With the away goal, Barcelona will go into the next game with the advantage. Chelsea’s defence remained strong throughout this game, but it would be fair to expect any team to concede a goal away to Barcelona, so Chelsea will more than likely need to score two goals. They showed that they are capable of creating more than enough chances to score those goals in this game, but not converting those chances into goals and the mistake leading to Barcelona’s goal cost Chelsea a perfect game.