Friday, May 8, 2009

Far Too Defensive

With the advent of the offside law, catenaccio in its classical form, if I may be pardoned to call it that, may have become redundant, but tactics involving systems which are organised to spoil rather than create continue to play an important part in modern-day football. Although defence minded systems may be commonplace in today’s football, it was not until the 1950s that an arrangement shaped merely to spoil attained prominence. Nereo Rocco’s tactics with Triestina first and later with AC Milan was designed to ruin the attacking play of the opposition and was adopted with great success by Helenio Herrera at Inter Milan. The system involved a libero who helped sweep any loose balls that escaped the clutches of the centre-backs and hence the system was christened ‘catenaccio’ which literally means ‘door bolt’ in Italian. Chelsea’ tactics may not have been catenaccio in its famed form, but it certainly involved an exceedingly rigid defensive structure which gave little freedom to the midfielders to dictate play.

Chelsea’s approach over the two legs of their semi-final tie against Barcelona smacked of defensive diffidence and in the end brought about their own downfall. No doubt refereeing decisions in the second leg were more than merely questionable, but a better approach to the game could have well ensured Chelsea’s place in Rome, especially considering the problems that the Catalans had in the centre of their defence. Whilst it may well have been acceptable to play in the manner in which they did at the Camp Nou, the tactical ploy employed certainly acted as the prime cause for Chelsea’s demise at Stamford Bridge. Many have argued that playing in a flamboyant attacking manner is the correct and respectable way to play football, but one needs to look no further than the manner in which Arsenal capitulated to Manchester United to understand the need for pragmatism, especially at the European stage.

Chelsea’s approach at the Camp Nou in trying to quell Barcelona and deprive them of space was certainly prudent and ensured that they gave themselves a glorious opportunity to take another crack at the champions league final. Their downfall in my opinion stemmed almost entirely from their decision to adopt a similar tactical structure at Stamford Bridge. I don’t wish to maintain some sort of moral high ground by stating that Chelsea’s approach amounted to ‘anti-football’, but viewing from a pure tactical standpoint, they were unquestionably wrong in implementing an exceedingly defensive formation. At the European stage, there is nothing more important than maintaining possession. By playing Ballack and Lampard deeper than they are used to, Chelsea were never in a position to keep hold of the ball for consistent periods of time and in the end it ensured that they couldn’t take advantage even against a ten man Barcelona outfit.

Barcelona were at times worse than a sitting duck, waiting to be put to the sword. Chelsea though were unable to string passes together, which would have certainly knocked the wind out of Barcelona’s sails. Michael Essien after scoring the most wonderful goal hardly ventured into Barcelona’s half of the pitch. Ballack and Lampard were likewise keener on ensuring that Chelsea maintain their defensive discipline rather than taking advantage of Abidal’s sending off. There is no questioning the superb defensive display from Chelsea, but more than just that was required from the Londoners to wrap up the tie. Hiddink’s very rare tactical mistake has cost Chelsea a place in the finals and has provided the world with the most mouth-watering of football contests to look forward to. 


Sroyon said...

Despite the diffidence of their attacking play, you have to admit, Chelsea almost pulled it off, though. Holding out for two whole legs (minus 2 minutes) against a team like Barca is no joke. And they managed to score too. Might even have scored a few more if Drogba had been more alert and a few decisions had gone their way.

But I'm still wondering why the Barca forwards did not take more shots from outside the box, where they were occasionally getting space, instead of trying to short-pass their way through the crowded Chelsea defence.

A Couch-side View said...

Chelsea were fantastic defensively, I don't think there is any question about that. I just felt that they should have tried a little harder to strike a good balance and put a few more passes together. The moment they got the ball, they tried launching it to Drogba, which almost worked fantastically for them, but had they put a little more emphasis on retaining possession of the ball, I think they'd have been getting ready to play in Rome.

Barca always seem to be looking for the perfect goal. Perhaps they could have taken a few on from distance, but I thought Chelsea were quite good at closing down spaces.

Rahul Saha said...

Allt his talk and analysis is redundant.Barca will thrash ManU. That's all that matters.