It was called a victory for football. With the free-flowing, attack minded Barca defeating the dour hard-nosed boys from West London, with their stifling, aggressive and negative tactics.
But it wasn’t total football that won Barca the game last Wednesday night, it was one moment of brilliance from Iniesta in the last minute – Barca’s only shot on target.
The Catalan giants were very close to falling at the semi-final stage in identical circumstances to last year, when, after a goalless first game at the Nou Camp, an early second leg goal from Paul Scholes gave Man United the narrowest of victories.
All this shows that as beautiful as Barca are, they need to come up with a plan B if they want to consistently overcome sides who employ the tactics that Chelsea did on Wednesday. In both games against the Blues Barca tried to score the perfect goal. But with Guus Hiddink’s side lined up like they were it was always going to be difficult. It was tight, stifling and attritional but for 180 minutes, it was effective.
Barcelona looked awful for most of the match with their free kicks and shots at goal poor – Dani Alves’ delivery in particular was sloppy. Lionel Messi, much hyped before both games, with up to three players marking him, looked lost, frustrated and ineffective.
Chelsea received a lot of flack for their tactics, with people labelling it anti-football, but can you blame them?
Barca have one of the most potent attacks in Europe, if not the world. Their 6-2 demolition of Madrid in El Clasico was a joy to behold (unless you’re a Madrid fan of course). After watching that match it would have been foolish for Chelsea to play open against them, as many teams seem to do in La Liga, where any defensive deficiencies are ruthlessly exposed. It was very nearly job done, and perhaps should have been if referee Tom Ovrebo had awarded at least one of Chelsea’s four penalty shouts.
The greatest teams are the ones who can adapt their style of play to an individual match, opponent or game situation. It became apparent that when one door was closed the Barca continued to try and barge it down, without looking for an alternative route round, which played into Chelsea’s hands.
I am not saying Barca are a poor team, they are clearly not. But they need to be a bit more imaginative against smothering tactics like those of Chelsea. The thing is I don’t know if they have the players to do so. They are similar to Arsenal in the Premier League, who when they are on form are beautiful to watch. But when they were up against defensive organisation and aggression are often out muscled and out-fought.
It will be interesting to see what tactics Sir Alex Ferguson employs against them in the final. Will he be conservative and look to shut down the Barca threat? Or will he choose to attack? If he does, with the likes of Rooney, Ronaldo and Berbatov at one end and Henry, Messi and Eto’o at the other, it could be an all time classic.