Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Champions League Quarter Finals First Leg - Talking Points

Real Madrid 4 - 0 Tottenham Hotspur

My favourite quote of this week was this from Redknapp, referring to the fact that Lennon withdrew just before kick-off due to an illness (which he had apparently been suffering from since Sunday):

"He went out for a warm-up, I picked the team, put the team-sheet in and he came back in. We were sitting almost waiting to go out and I looked at him and he was sitting there looking like death warmed up."

The part I'm interested in is the "I picked the team" bit. I'd love to know how literally we are to take this. I can't believe any manager could prepare for a game as important as this without informing players of their individual roles etc. some days before hand. Of course, I can only guess, but Spurs didn't look like a team which had been particularly primed to counter Madrid's strengths. They were dominated the whole game, even before the second of Crouch's ridiculous lunges.

Re: the game - it takes something special to get a result against Madrid at the Bernabeu. It's almost impossible to do so with 10 men. And it's definitely impossible to do it with 10 men who haven't been prepared properly. There didn't seem be a specific plan to deal with Alonso in particular, who dominated the game very comfortably. The fact that Jenas was marking Adebayor for the first goal has already been pointed out as a big mistake, but there were other, simpler strategic oversights which aren't satisfactorily mitigated by the excuse of last-minute upheaval.

Also, it is amazing how much power Ronaldo seems to have in the Madrid team. He was, in the main, quite wasteful, and almost every Madrid attack ended at his feet. He must've been instructed to shoot at every opportunity, because he always spurned the simple pass, preferring to aim straight for glory. One (deflected) goal is not a great return for a total of 14 attempts.


Chelsea 0 - 1 Manchester United

Ferguson will have been delighted when he saw how Chelsea had lined up. Their 4-4-2 (however "fluid") made them predictable, and never allowed them to build up sustained pressure. (It is worth noting that their best period - when they should've had at least one, maybe two penalties - was in the final 15 minutes after Malouda and Anelka had taken up wide positions).

Neither Drogba nor Torres enjoys playing as part of a front two - counterintuitively, it actually gives them far less freedom, and it makes them easier to be man marked. As a lone striker at Liverpool, Torres would distract and confuse defenders by moving across the entire back four, but ultimately ending up in a central striking position when attacking moves reached their conclusion. Since signing for Chelsea, Torres has spent too much time lurking at the far post and pulling out to the touchline in search of space.

Chelsea's fluidity was actually something of a problem in this game. Zhirkov, Ramires, Lampard and Essien are all dynamic midfielders who like to make runs, swap positions, and are comfortable defending and attacking. They really lacked a specialist holding midfielder, though, and it was a mistake not to use the substitute Mikel earlier. Chelsea never really asserted any sustained dominance until the Nigerian came on to anchor the midfield, maintaining a deep position to break up United counter attacks and direct the ball back towards their goal.

Also, you'd think it would be taken for granted now that a team fielding three central midfielders (Rooney constantly dropped deep to offer more passing angles for Carrick and Giggs) will dominate one with two. People have noted Carrick's positive performance, but, apart from the pass to Giggs for the goal, he played his usual solid, simple passing game - he just had a lot more space than usual. Despite being the away side, United dominated possession, especially in advanced positions, for most of the first half, and then were happy to sit back in the second.

It is also surprising that, once Malouda had come off and Rafael had been replaced at right back by Antonio Valencia, Chelsea didn't direct the ball down their left-wing more regularly. It seemed like they missed a trick in that sense.

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