On paper, FC Barcelona could be the world’s most formidable attacking side. Messi, Henry, Eto’o, Xavi, Alves, Iniesta, Abidal. Some of the most prestigious names in world football and are among the great wealth of talent in Barcelona’s ranks. They have been a dominating force this season with 24 wins, 3 draws and 3 losses, and while they only enjoy a 6 point lead over second place Real Madrid, they have an 18 point lead over third place Sevilla FC. Like Real, Barca remain an absolute giant in Spain.
But when Barca face Chelsea on 4 April and 6 May in the Champions League semi-finals, it will be a clash of league styles. EPL v. La Liga. And the change in context could be all the difference. Just as we saw an in form Real Madrid crumble against Liverpool, FC Barcelona may be in for a thrashing against Chelsea if they can’t stand up to the English pressure.
While Barca have played well throughout the Champions League so far, they have yet to face an English side in the current campaign. Playing Chelsea will be the ultimate test this season. If they get get past the London giants, they can certainly challenge for the trophy against United or Arsenal. But Chelsea could prove to be the hard wall upon which Barca’s European campaign crashes.
Barcelona’s flourishing attacking play relies on a greater allowance of time and space. In La Liga this is available. In the faster paced Premier League it is often scarce.
Chelsea’s players are big and hard and will dominate on and off the ball. There will be less time and room for fancy moves and beautiful footwork. Quick passing, clear vision and strength are keys to breaking down a top English side. Barcelona generally like more time on the ball than Chelsea’s domestic opponents tend to enjoy.
Barcelona also leave a great deal of space in their wake, with midfielders and wide defenders constantly pressing forward, there is a lot of room in the back for Chelsea to exploit with counterattack.
Barca’s best weapons to overcome the Blues are Henry, Puyol, Xavi, Eto’o and Messi.
Henry’s skill is undeniable, but his experience against Chelsea after so many years in the EPL is of the utmost importance as well. He’s used to EPL tactics and he could spot the opportunities and spark a lot of chances.
Defense is probably the weakest aspect of the attack-minded Barcelona’s game, but Puyol has the experience and vision to see problems coming and break them up before they turn into a goal.
Xavi is able to play as a more defensive midfielder while being the consummate playmaker. He’ll play an important role in Barca’s fight for possession while he looks to set convincing attacks in motion.
Eto’o is simply a goal-scoring machine. He’s only put three away in the Champions League so far, but he’s scored 26 in La Liga with eight matches still remaining. One of the world’s finest finishers, he’ll have a keen eye for goal and be eager to cause Chelsea as many headaches as possible.
Messi is one of the most exciting young players in the modern game. His dazzling skills, quick mind and fearlessness all make him an eternal attacking threat. He’s one Barcelona player who may not suffer from the reduced amount of space and freedom that comes with playing against an English side as he’s unafraid of charging into traffic and can create deadly chances under the most intense pressure.
Barca’s best chance will be to maintain decent possession and create as many chances as they can while they have the ball. They certainly have the talent to score goals off the faintest of opportunities.
I fully expect Chelsea to score goals on the Spanish giants, but if Barca can keep Chelsea off-balance with persistent attacking, they may score enough themselves to compensate for their own defensive porousness.