Chelsea played well and above expectations at Camp Nou mid-week, but they still were lacking when it came to breaking down Barcelona’s defence and finding the target on their many shots taken — unlike Barça. Thus, let’s jump into the details of what makes this Champions League return leg a sour affair for us.
(NB: Barcelona stats on the left — or orange in graphics — and Chelsea on the right — or blue on graphics. We didn’t choose these colours.)
As mentioned in the match report, Barcelona had 45 touches to Chelsea’s 2 — both bounces on two players from the English side — to open their score from Messi’s shot from a rather tight angle but still converted with the help of Thibaut Courtois’ failure to close his legs on the attempt.
But despite the very early blow the Blues kept on trying. From that point on we saw Chelsea react very well to the fact that staying behind and seeking a goal on the counter would no longer be an option.
Barcelona while still a possession-heavy team have become more pragmatic under the management of Ernesto Valverde, following back-to-back trouncings by Real Madrid in both legs of the Spanish Super Cup at the start of the season. Last Wednesday, they put on a great defensive shift to keep Chelsea at bay and were superior in every defensive statistic including aerial duels, winning 6 of 7 challenges in the first half.
Most importantly, they had loads of blocks especially from centre-backs Gerard Piqué and Samuel Umtiti to cut the workload of goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen. Thus Chelsea in fact had more shots registered than Barça with 6 against 4 from the hosts. But they had 3 of their attempts on goal including 2 goals from Messi and Ousmane Dembélé while we only managed 2 of ours to hit the target.
Barcelona’s two-goal lead in the first half allowed them to focus less on attack and more on protecting the scoreline. So Chelsea went forward and did quite well with creating chances.
The finishing however still faltered. Of course Barcelona were still putting on a great defensive effort but the troubles in shooting that have plagued our season were once again a presence in the second half.
In fact Chelsea dominated possession, with 52% ball retention to Barça’s 48%, as well as shots with 8 versus 4 from Barcelona. Yet Chelsea hit only one shot on goal while Barcelona were right on target with all of their attempts, one of which were Messi’s second goal to make the score 3-0.
It is not everyday that you have an away side “out-shooting” Barcelona 14 to 8. But the conversion rate of those visitors was so bad that they may not even be considered much of a threat when you have by your side someone like Messi in an inspired night who also elevates the level of play of those around him.
Even with Valverde’s pragmatism they are still very classic Barça-esque in style, opting to take most of their shots in the box as shown by the 7 trials they had in the area to only 1 outside of it. Chelsea however are not so attached to these concepts as 5 of their attempts were from long.
Another marked difference is in the type of plays in which shooting opportunities came from. 36% of ours were from set pieces while Barcelona’s were 25%. In absolute numbers, those are 5 shots in 14 Chelsea attempted against 2 in 8 to Barça.
Funnily enough the Expected Goals maps show that neither side created great chances to score as even though Chelsea were in good positions to shoot, they still missed the target due to blocks or straight bad aim. Barça however had Messi whose one of greatest strengths is the ability to make impossible things for normal players to do seem totally possible. Such as the two shots from very tight angles that could only be converted by a player of his silk.
Despite having Messi and Luis Suárez working as a pair of strikers, most of Barcelona’s attacking moves were done at the flank with 79% of those balanced between the left and right sides of the pitch. Much of it was a response to our wing-backs pushing up on their flanks as Barça’s wide midfielders and fullbacks did the same, the former much more than the latter.
Chelsea’s advances were also mainly done on the flanks, most of it on the right side where Willian currently acts — something which has become a common happenstance in our most recent games. 37% of our offensive actions took place there and so Chelsea were a little bit more balanced thanks to our wide attackers taking their path and cutting inside, and/or the long passes in search of striker Olivier Giroud acting as a target man/option to bring ourselves forward.
Further illustrating the attack sides map we have the dribbling maps above which shows how Barcelona rarely attempted dribbling through the middle, perhaps as a result of Chelsea having N’Golo Kanté constantly sweeping the area for tackles, interceptions and whatever else he could do to remove the hosts’ possession. Meanwhile Chelsea attempts were more spread and more successful.
There is no way to draw attentions to anyone but Messi in the individual stats analysis. The Argentinian hit all of his 3 shots, scoring 2 goals. Also, his single key pass was converted into a goal by Dembélé in the first half.
And it does not stop here as he was also very effective with his dribbling, helping Barcelona breakthroughs by completing 6 dribbles in 8 trials. He however had 4 dispossessions and 2 unstable touches... is it a sign of decline?
Chelsea’s collective stats are not that bad either if you ignore the “Shots OT” column on the table. Even our best shooter of the night in Marcos Alonso hit only one of his 4 attempts on Ter Stegen’s goal.
And no surprises shown as Willian was for who knows how many games our main “exhaust”, with 7 out of 10 dribbles completed. His partner on the opposite flank Eden Hazard was not nearly as good, going 3 in 5.
Other highlights are Cesc Fàbregas with 5 key passes, although this is not much of a “highlight” as it is his main task in this team with his ever-declining skills everywhere else in the game; and N’Golo Kanté completing 100% of his dribbles. If only he manages to improve his shooting skills...
In goalkeeping tasks Ter Stegen, despite having his opponents registering 14 shots to his side’s 8, did not have to work as much as Courtois since the German’s backline were having an English Premier League-esque night in blocking oncoming shots on target. Whereas the Belgian faced 7 shots, including one from a chance he created out of a wrong pass to Suárez, and saved 4 of them.
Despite that Courtois did well in his distribution, with a 60% success with his long punts versus 27% from Ter Stegen. Still, on the skills that matter the most our goalkeeper faltered. Sad, sad affair.
It was a night against Barcelona and as expected they dominated every passing chart in volume but one: passes headed to their attacking third. Which is not much of a surprise considering their attitude towards putting themselves at risk going forward once the 1-0 lead was built.
No wonder most of the actions that took place in Wednesday’s night were in the middle of the pitch, which concentrated 47% of those. In second came the home third — as in the side Chelsea were attacking but not being very effective in doing so — with 32%.
Left-back Jordi Alba had the most touches on the ball in the game with 77, while midfielder Ivan Rakitic was the champion in the volume of passes with 70 completions and 74 attempts.
Andrés Iniesta, whose miraculous recovery from a hamstring injury had him returning more than a week earlier than first expected just so he could face Chelsea in the first leg, was Barcelona’s most effective passer by misplacing just one of 35 passes in the 56 minutes he stayed on the pitch. No wonder Valverde risked his early return to the pitch, although not having immediate Philippe Coutinho backup available to the tie also played a huge role in the decision.
Passing maps have arrows which shows the combination of passes made between players, and the thicker the arrow the most passes happened in those interchanges. As we can see the left side of Barcelona did not connect much with their attack, with passes ticking between Alba and Sergio Busquets and then with Alba and Iniesta. The right flank though was much busier as links were made from right-back Sergi Roberto, Rakitic and Dembélé to Messi — and vice-versa.
On the touches’ ranking, there was a tie in Chelsea’s camp between Willian and Cesc. Both players had 77 touches on the ball in the Camp Nou trip, although Willian had only 48 passes to Cesc’s 69.
Defender Andreas Christensen remains as the most accurate passer of our group with a 97.2% success in 36 attempts, meaning he only made one wrong pass in the entire game. Also this time around it was not the youngster who made a mistake in possession. This fell instead on veteran César Azpilicueta, whose long attempt looking for Willian was intercepted by Jordi Alba who then initiated the play for Barcelona’s third score.
And it was a good night for Cesc in terms of displaying his passing skills. His 84.1% accuracy may not be that great but at the very least he found his target on all of his 7 long passes attempted. Even if many of those went to waste with the final pass provided by our attackers, or the shooting attempts going awry for whichever reasons.
Passes initiated from Courtois would usually go to Azpilicueta, who could move it forward to Victor Moses or Cesc on the right, or switch it sideways to Christensen who would sweep it to the left of our pitch towards Antonio Rüdiger.
Cesc as anticipated was the “beacon” of our attacks, although Kanté carried a lot of weight on these as well. Passes from the midfield most times would come in search of our forwards, with Kanté at times looking to engage Alonso down the left flank. And from deep, we would look often towards our wing-backs with the Spaniard being very effective going on the offence, unlike his counterpart Moses.
Evidence of Barcelona’s great defensive effort is the number of clearances and blocks made by the Catalans along with the positions in which they took place. They held a strong fortress at their backs while Chelsea were much more fragile, which is not what most people were expecting from such a draw.
Barcelona were also relentless, but not quite effective in their tackling. The maps already show that they were not very successful in this regard but to put it in numbers, they made 24 tackles in 44 attempts.
Another interesting point to raise is the distribution of fouls on the pitch. Chelsea recorded 17 fouls to Barcelona’s 11 and 10 of those from the Blues were done on the hosts’ half. While in our half, we did well not to give Messi direct hits at our goal even if those were not necessary for him to dismantle us.
Barcelona, on the barrage of attacks they had to endure during the times in which we had the ball in our grasp, had at times to stop us with fouling. From these came some of our shots including Alonso’s direct hit at their goalpost that could have been his personal Ramires moment. If only it went in...
Compared to the Premier League games we covered at these parts we had much less work to do in the air, as Barcelona are a team that likes to keep the ball on the ground and are usually not very good in aerial duels. But on Wednesday they had a great day in this part of the game, even if they allowed Chelsea to win two of four aerial challenges in their 18-yard box — both of which won by Rüdiger.
Most of Barcelona’s “dirty work” was done by their defenders, although the midfield with Rakitic and then Paulinho were also quite effective in the tackling department. In any case, it is hard not to draw our eyes into the stats of Umtiti who made 7 interceptions, 3 clearances and got 3 shots blocked in his mission to keep Chelsea quiet.
N’Golo Kanté is a (tackling) god amongst men.
In terms of average positions, Barcelona kept a block of 6 players behind the half-line of the pitch with their fullbacks drawn backwards to handle Chelsea’s threats on wide areas, along with a pair of midfielders in Rakitic and Busquets stuck in the middle. The wide midfielders thus moved forward, Dembélé giving more width on their right and Iniesta dropping further inside with the attacking line of Messi and Suárez.
Chelsea advanced their lines thanks to Barça’s early goal which also got the hosts to drop themselves deep into their own areas. Our wing-backs pushed up as high as they could, staying wide as the wide attackers dropped into central areas looking for plays to string together and positions to take shots. No wonder Giroud is showed with his average position behind both Willian and Eden as he often dropped back to fight for balls with Barcelona’s players and do the pivot to the rest of the team in their advances.
The scoreline makes the whole affair much uglier than it really looks. And it would not be a stretch to say that we should be proud of what Chelsea managed to amount at Camp Nou mid-week.
It is not every day that you will see a side, even the best in the world, pinning Barcelona down like we did at their home stadium. We also had some very bad luck with our shots although this has been a recurrent theme that has already been discussed at length in these parts, but may need a further look in the future.
At the end of it all, the biggest difference-makers were Messi’s end on his Chelsea curse and the amazing work done by Barcelona’s defence, especially during the second half of the game when Chelsea were completely dominating the hosts on every aspect but defence. And in a night where our own difference-maker was not up for the occasion, the gap between the two teams only widened even if all thanks to just one player.
It goes without saying that if we keep up this kind of effort on every performance we have until the end of the season and beyond, we can still finish it all on a pretty good note to carry onto the new term. But this hinges on the team being keen on regularly putting these displays in the games left on our schedule.
Hopefully, they are.