What was Guus Hiddink thinking?
Yes, clean sheet at the Camp Nou is a commendable achievement, and I still feel Chelsea are the more likely to go through to the final. But after promising that the Blues would try to score in the away leg, Hiddink’s tactics against FC Barcelona show he had absolutely no intent of doing anything but protect his own net.
The key to containing Barcelona was controlling the midfield, and Hiddink saw this. But he took this tactic so far he didn’t give Didier Drogba any legitimate attacking support whatsoever. Frank Lampard had a decent look at goal and Florent Malouda enjoyed a threatening moment or two. But apart from that, all five of the midfielders played so defensively, one wonders if Barca were facing one of the EPL’s bottom three sides rather than one of the top four.
The best chances Drogba had came from a Barca fumble rather than a Chelsea feed. Rafa Márquez’s bungle put Drogba in on Victor Valdés who blocked his first shot. The ball fell for Drogba again and he looked sure to convert, but the grounded Valdés managed to snap to his feet and get both hands on the second attempt.
Most of Chelsea’s “attempts” on goal consisted of Petr Cech launching the ball up the pitch, hoping it would find Drogba. This allowed Barcelona to maintain a monstrous share of the possession and Chelsea relied on overcrowding them to keep a clean sheet.
The enterprise proved effective, but it would have been far wiser to chase the coveted away goal.
If Chelsea had used their ability to dominate the midfield to put more pressure on Barca, Chelsea could have pushed play into Barca’s half more often, rather than merely keeping the attacker’s in check against their ten-man defensive wall. By playing deep and defensive, Chelsea let Barca’s midfielders stay forward, which is when Barca play their best, traffic or not. And while Barca could not find the finishing touch, they dominated in possession and, apart from Drogba’s double attempt, were the only side to create any convincing chances.
There was one brief period where Chelsea forced the home side’s midfielders to pull back and help defend, and Chelsea looked like they might get something from the shift in pressure. But after Barca cleared the ball and survived the attack, the Blues never made a move to repeat it.
Chelsea will surely attack Barcelona in the London leg, but now, with no away-goal insurance, a single Barca goal would be a devastating blow, forcing Chelsea to score at least two. Two Barca goals could be the match.
The saving grace for Chelsea is Carles Puyol’s yellow card accumulation. With Márquez out injured and Puyol suspended Barca will be improvising with the back line. If Chelsea can capitalize on this, they will prevail. But Chelsea may have to give up more space to the Spanish giants once they commit midfield bodies to attack. The away goal would have allowed them to dictate play and pick their moments. Now they won’t enjoy that security, knowing the slimmest Barca chance can completely shift the balance.
Hiddink should have gone for the goals at Camp Nou. Too much can happen in this sport to rely on home form alone. Had he given Drogba even minimal attacking support and encouraged his players to use their strength and skill to promote the ball up the pitch rather than launch it, Chelsea might have come back to Stamford Bridge with a convincing edge already.
Again, I expect Chelsea to go through. But they should have taken the advantage earlier on. Some are congratulating Hiddink for containing Barcelona, but I think the man should have fielded braver tactics.