Barcelona and Real’s poetry lacked motion

April 26, 2012

By Phil O’Connor

On two nights when every football cliché went out the window, one remained true – in the end the only statistic that matters is the scoreline.

On Tuesday It didn’t matter that Barcelona owned the ball, or that they completed hundreds of passes over the two legs. When Chelsea got hold of it, they used it effectively – if we are to look at one stat other than the score, Chelsea’s four shots on goal and three goals in the tie tell their own story.

If defending champions Barcelona were undone by remarkably poor finishing in the first leg, the second was marred by a failure to penetrate the box.

Many on my Twitter feed compared it to an Olympic handball game, where the ball is passed around an arc in front of goal as an opening is sought for a shot.

Barca’s lack of cutting edge was primarily the result of their static attack; despite regularly having every player in Chelsea’s half, they offered few alternatives when the likes of Lionel Messi and Xavi were in possession – no runs were made, no-one showed for their normally devastating one-twos.

Playing three at the back also meant Pep Guardiola had no fullbacks to overlap.

In 2011 I interviewed Almeria striker Henok Goitom, whose side had been hammered 8-0 by Barcelona last season.

As local kids teased him about that game, he told me it was the pace and movement that was Barcelona’s most potent weapon.

“It was like there were 15 of them on the pitch,” he said.

That was markedly absent in the Camp Nou, as was the lack of physical presence up front. Under normal circumstances, a side losing their two first choice centre-backs in the first half (as Chelsea did with Gary Cahill going off injured and John Terry being sent off) could expect a hail of long balls and crosses into the box.

But with Zlatan Ibrahimovic long gone and David Villa injured, Barca lack a target man and for once Pep Guardiola may have rued his falling-out with the tall Ibra, who would at least have given them that alternative.

With no penetration on the ground and no effort made through the air, Barcelona were always going to find it hard against an ultra-defensive Chelsea. For all the talk of the potency of the Catalan attack, it was the Londoners who made the most of their chances.

it was a similar story on Wednesday with a tired Real Madrid falling to Bayern Munich and wily old Jupp Heynckes.

Both he and Chelsea interim boss Roberto Di Matteo have proved themselves to be master tacticians and an intriguing Champions League final will follow. Guardiola and Real’s Jose Mourinho will take note.

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