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Slipperduke

The Camden Cad
Joined
Aug 24, 2004
Messages
4,333
Location
North London
Barcelona 0-0 Chelsea

So was it Guus Hiddink's tactics or Petr Cech's saves? Was it the referee and his failure to spot a late tug on Theirry Henry or was it Barcelona's inability to take their chances? Chelsea fans won't give two hoots. The net result of this rather grim affair was a scoreless stalemate and that will suit Hiddink just fine.

Faced with the most attacking force in the world, the Dutchman wisely reneged on his pre-match comments about wanting to match them for expansive, expressive football and decided to fight fire with water. He hauled John Obi Mikel and Michael Ballack into withdrawn midfield positions, left Michael Essien as a defensive right winger to protect Branislav Ivanovic and, as expected, put the right-footed Jose Bosingwa at left-back to deal with Lionel Messi. It worked a treat. With his acceleration neutralised by the equally swift Portuguese full-back, the young Argentine cut inside to try and find room, but suffocated between the yellow lines. It might have been different had Wolfgang Stark booked Bosingwa for his early foul on Messi, but the German referee was no friend to the Catalans.

Amongst numerous fouls and trips that may have warranted a harsher punishment, Barcelona should certainly have had a penalty when Bosingwa tugged down Henry in the box. The howls and wolf-whistles from the Camp Nou faithful reached fever pitch as Stark took a long look and then turned his back on it all. In the Premier League, that would have been a spot-kick.

But while Stark's capabilities were constantly called into question by the home fans, even the most ardent Catalan would have to admit that Petr Cech was in inspired form. Uncertain in the opening exchanges, he went on to make a number of vital saves, including one superb block with his feet from Samuel Eto'o. For all of their possession, and they controlled more than two-thirds of it, Barcelona made very few cast iron chances. Hiddink's wall of yellow shirts kept them at bay, not quite comfortably, for John Terry and Alex were forced to work as hard as they will have done all year. but comprehensively,. This was the first time all season that Barcelona had failed to score in front of their own fans. The early promise of the first half hour, when Andres Iniesta and Henry had both looked magnificent, gradually ebbed away and huge swathes of the second half were practically unwatchable. Containment may be a pragmatic doctrine, but it certainly isn't an entertaining one.

When teenage substitute Bojan edged Daniel Alves' late cross over the bar, Barcelona's suspicions were confirmed. They could have stayed out there all night and they still wouldn't have breached Chelsea's defence. As the ball flew off into the lower tier, Bojan buried his head in his shirt. He knew that he'd just wasted the best opportunity of the night.

Purists will be disappointed that beauty was held at bay by the beast, but there's little point in moaning about overly-cautious teams. It's down to the attacking side to take their chances and Barcelona just couldn't do that. Hiddink's reputation as a tactical mastermind has been further enhanced, and deservedly so given that he was without Ashley Cole. Barcelona may need just one goal to turn everything around, but if Chelsea can hold their lines in the Camp Nou with almost 100,000 fans against them, who's to say that they can't do the same at Stamford Bridge?

MISS OF THE MATCH - Chelsea were always going to get one golden chance to score and how Guus Hiddink must wish that Didier Drogba had taken it better. Breaking into the penalty area, he crashed in a powerful enough shot, but it was straight at Victor Valdez. The contact on the rebound wasn't good enough and Barcelona survived. How expensive a miss could that be?

TANTRUM - Daniel Alves is the best right-back on the planet, but does he have to whinge and whine so much? Watching him hurling himself around the pitch, clutching himself and screaming brought back harrowing memories of a two year old's birthday party I attended recently. Perhaps Alves, like the banshee-children there, had been guzzling the fizzy pop and eating too many sweets?

BRAINS OF THE OPERATION - Pity whoever it is that gets the Chelsea job in the summer. Replacing Hiddink is going to be as much of a poisoned chalice as replacing Jose Mourinho. The players love him, the fans love him and his ability to find a solution to any tactical scenario makes him irreplaceable

PUNTER'S RANT - There's were only three certainties in life. Death, taxes and Barcelona scoring at home. Well, now there's only two. You'd have put the house on Barcelona scoring at least one goal, especially given Chelsea's weaknesses at the back.

MAN OF THE MATCH - John Terry was a colossus at the back for Chelsea. Over land or through the sky, he had everything covered. More than that, he was an inspirational figure to his team-mates, who needed to keep their wits about them while under constant pressure from Barcelona.

MATCH STATS

Crowd - 95,000
Yellow Cards - Toure, Puyol (Barcelona) Alex, Ballack (Chelsea)
Red Cards - None
Barcelona -
Victor Valdes 7, Daniel Alves 7, Eric Abidal 7, Gerard Pique 7, Rafael Marquez 6 (Carlos Puyol 6, 52nd), Yaya Toure 6, Andres Iniesta 7, Xavi 7, Thierry Henry 7 (Aleksandr Hleb 6, 87th), Samuel Eto'o 6 (Bojan 6, 82nd), Lionel Messi 6
Chelsea -
Petr Cech 8, Branislav Ivanovic 7, Jose Bosingwa 7, John Terry 8, Alex 7, John Obi Mikel 7, Frank Lampard 6 (Juliano Belletti 6, 71st), Michael Ballack 6 (Nicolas Anelka 6, 90th), Michael Essien 6, Florent Malouda 6, Didier Drogba 6
 
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