In a repeat of the historic 2012 Champions League semi-final, Chelsea and Barcelona faced off in this last 16 encounter, with the game evenly poised following a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge. The away side were hoping for a repeat of the semi final 6 years ago, and came into this game confident of a result after dominating the game at Stamford Bridge 3 weeks prior.
Both sides came into this game with contrasting league form however, as Ernesto Valverde’s men remain undefeated in La Liga while Chelsea were fighting to keep their top 4 hopes alive. In stark contrast to the 1st leg, there was only one team that dominated as Barca raced into an early lead through Lionel Messi in the 2nd minute. Chelsea’s overly compact shape and passive approach proved their undoing as Barca grew into the game more and more in the early stages, doubling their lead through Ousmane Dembele in the 20th minute.
Chelsea began to gain a foothold in the game, putting the Barca back line under pressure in the build up and creating attacks through the wide areas. However, the game appeared already to be out of reach and a moment of brilliance from Messi again in the 63rd minute all but ended the contest.
Barcelona (4-3-3/4-4-2): 1. Ter Stegen // 20. Sergi Roberto, 3. Pique, 23. Umtiti, 18. Alba // 5. Busquets (Andre Gomes ’60), 4. Rakitic, 8. Iniesta (Paulinho ’55) // 11. Dembele (Vidal ’66), 9. Suarez, 10. Messi
Chelsea (5-4-1/3-4-2-1): 13. Courtois // 27. Christensen, 2. Rudiger, 28. Azpilicueta // 15. Moses (Zappacosta ’66), 4. Fabregas, 7. Kante, 3. Alonso // 22. Willian, 10. Hazard (Pedro ’81) // 18. Giroud (Morata’66)
Goals: Messi 2’, Dembele 19’, Messi 63’
Chelsea’s deep block allows Barca to dominate
Conte’s side entered this game with a vastly different approach to the first leg, looking to sit deep and protect the centre and half-spaces. They set up very deep in 5-4-1 low block with minimal spacing between the lines.
Here, Barca have the ball in the build up phase but due to Chelsea’s shape have been able to advance very high up the field with minimal pressure on the ball. Umtiti is in possession and has a large amount of space to drive forward with the ball or play a forward pass. However, his forward options are fairly limited as Chelsea’s compact shape is not allowing him to break the line midfield lines with a forward pass. As a result, Barca’s central players are forced to move into the wide areas to circulate possession there.
Chelsea pressing conceding space between lines
Their shape appeared ideal for the most part, however, they came unstuck when initiating pressure on the ball. Typically, when a side’s primary focus is defensive organisation, pressing is minimal as it often hinders the compactness of a side and can lead to their shape becoming rather disorganised.
When Barca had possession in the final third, Chelsea looked to create overloads with their pressing, particularly when key players for Barca such as Messi and Iniesta were in possession. With players of this calibre, a 1v1 situation will more often than not end in their favour, therefore it made sense to double up on them in possession.
However, as can be seen in the scenario above, their pressing in wide areas led to space being created for Barca’s central players. Fabregas and Willian look to press Iniesta, which has created space for Messi to receive possession.
Despite appearing set up in an ideal shape, Chelsea’s compactness proved problematic and ultimately led to the first goal of the game. They appear very compact and well equipped to stop Barca playing through the centre. However, they are exhibiting what is known as pseudo-compactness. The distances between the lines is so minimal that it leads to them conceding space in important areas such as the half-space and creates difficulty in pressing the ball due to lack of access to the ball carrier.
Here, Busquets is in possession and has plenty of time on the ball, due to the Chelsea midfield line being so deep. He is able to find Messi in the right half-space, who has plenty of space due Chelsea’s aforementioned pseudo-compactness. He receives the ball and combines with Suarez to give Barca the lead. Had Chelsea been slightly less compact, they would have been able to press Busquets and Messi and protect the half-space from which he was able to score.
Chelsea change approach, cause Barca problems
After going 2 goals down early on in the game and with Barca in total control of the match, Conte had no choice but to change his approach, starting with their set up and behaviour in the Barca build-up phase.
Chelsea high line and Barca connections in build-up
Here, Umtiti is in possession again but on this occasion with much less time on the ball as Chelsea’s defensive line is much higher in the build up phase. Willian has left the midfield line to press Umtiti, changing their defensive shape to a 5-3-2. We can also see some man-orientation deployed by Chelsea; Moses moves slightly higher in the 5-man defensive line to gain access to Alba, while Willian looks to cover shadow Rakitic and Fabregas and Kante man-mark Iniesta and Rakitic.
Barca’s attacking structure was effective in evading pressure, with the positioning of individual players allowing them to form triangles and play between the lines. As can be seen above, each Barca player has at least 2 forward passing options due to the high connectivity of the attacking structure. In this instance, Barca were able to play out but began to find it much more difficult as a result of Chelsea’s increased pressure.
Chelsea pressing forcing Barca long
Chelsea began to press higher as the game went on, looking to force Barca to play longer passes, which would play into Chelsea’s hands as they had a clear advantage over Barca in height and aerial prowess. Here, Giroud presses Ter Stegen in the build up while cover shadowing Rakitic. Alba’s passing lane is blocked by Hazard while Willian maintains access to Pique. Ter Stegen is forced to play long, forcing a turnover, which saw Chelsea regain possession several times during the game.
Barca passive in Chelsea build-up
In possession, Chelsea took advantage of Barca’s passive approach after going 2 goals ahead. The home side began to sit deeper in a 4-4-2, which allowed Chelsea to move higher up the pitch with the ball. Rudiger is in possession here and is able to drive forward, as there is little to no pressure on the ball being applied by the Barca forwards. As they had the overload at the back, with 3 centre backs deployed, the danger of being exposed in defensive transition was not too great. With more time to pick out forward passes, Chelsea began to threaten Barca’s goal more, particularly down the left hand side through combinations between Willian and Marcos Alonso.
Barca defensive shape
The narrow positioning of Sergi Roberto at right back, who is naturally a central midfielder, proved advantageous for Chelsea as it created space for the overlapping runs of Marcos Alonso. Here, Roberto is being dragged centrally by the movement of Fabregas between the lines, which creates space potentially for a penetrative run from deep by Marcos Alonso.
Switch of play to Alonso out wide
Chelsea would occasionally switch the play out wide to Alonso, as when the ball was on the right, the entire defensive block of Barca would shift, creating space on the far side for Alonso. The ball is switched in this scenario by Willian, after which Alonso plays a first-time ball which very nearly finds Giroud.
Barca regain dominance
Chelsea began to gain control as the game progressed and looked like finding a way back into the game. They reverted to the approach they had at the start of the game, looking to win the ball as high up the pitch as possible and playing short passes between the lines despite Chelsea pressure. Key to this, more so in linking the midfield and attack was Messi, who played in a hybrid role as forward and a 10, as we have seen very often from him over the past couple of seasons.
Messi dropping to create overload
Here, Messi has dropped from the 10 space to create a 3v2 overload with Rakitic and Roberto. His movement here was very intelligent as it created space between the lines for him move back into once Roberto received possession. As he moved deeper both Hazard and Kante tracked his movement, leaving space in front of the Chelsea defensive line. Kante and Hazard are both still reacting to the pass played to Roberto, therefore they are unable to track Messi’s movement back into the 10 space.
Their pressing greatly improved also in the 2nd half as they showed the same intensity they displayed in the early stages of the game. Instead of dropping off into the 4-4-2 medium block, they pressed the Chelsea back line in possession and deployed a much higher defensive line.
Barca press leading to third goal
Azpilicueta is in possession for Chelsea with Messi leaving the Barca defensive block to press. Similarly to Chelsea, Barca man marked potential receivers of possession, forcing the Chelsea players to play aimless long passes forward. Here, Alba pushes up very high to stop Moses from receiving the short pass while Willian and Fabregas who look to come short, are man marked by Paulinho and Suarez. In addition, the long pass over the top to Giroud has also been accounted for as Pique stays tight to Giroud.
With no viable options, Azpilicueta opts for the short pass into Moses which is intercepted by Alba, allowing Barca to launch a counter attack. The ball eventually falls to Messi who brilliantly beats 3 Chelsea players before slotting through the legs of Courtois once again. After conceding the third goal, the game was more or less over with Barcelona seeing out the game to progress to the quarter finals.
A routine win for Barca, despite the occasional threat from Chelsea and a place in the last eight once again for La Blaugrana who will be desperate to add a 6th Champions League crown along with what will surely be a 3rd league title in 4 years. With Messi in the form of his life and the defence looking as sturdy as ever, Barca will be quite a test for Roma, whom they have drawn in the Quarterfinals.
It was yet another disappointment in the Champions League for Chelsea, who looked second best, which seemed rather surprising considering their brilliant showing in the first leg. A gameplan which will most certainly draw plenty of criticism for Antonio Conte, who showed that his side can cause Barca serious problems with a more bold, attacking approach.