Out-of-form Chelsea have what it takes to beat Barcelona

1 / 2
Willian (above) was Chelsea’s star man in the first leg against Barcelona. (REUTERS)
2 / 2
Chelsea's Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard will be key for the English side. (AFP)
Updated 13 March 2018
0

Out-of-form Chelsea have what it takes to beat Barcelona

LONDON: In the memory of Ramires chipping the ball over Victor Valdes lies the knowledge that none of this makes much sense.
The rivalry between Chelsea and Barcelona has produced a remarkable sequence of matches over the past 18 years, matches that have occasionally pushed at the parameters of what is acceptable, and frequently challenged the boundaries of what is possible.
Chelsea should have no chance. Their manager is almost certainly leaving in the summer. Recent performances have been inconsistent and occasionally limp. They have lost four of their past six Premier League fixtures and have won only five of their last 16 matches in all competitions. They are fifth in the league, four points off fourth.
Barcelona, meanwhile, are still unbeaten in la Liga, eight points clear of second. They have dropped only four points at home this season and won all three of their home Champions League group games.
Everything says this should be a comfortable Barcelona win, and another step toward the exit for Antonio Conte.
And yet the history of the fixture and the nature of the first leg offers reason for pause. Chelsea should have won at Stamford Bridge. They led 1-0 and seemed in control when a sloppy pass from Andreas Christensen, a lapse in concentration from Cesc Fabregas and a panicky lunge from Cesar Azpilicueta handed Barca an equalizer.
But it was more than that. What was clear from that first leg was that this Barcelona are not the Barcelona of 2011 or even 2015. They are slower. They do not mesmerise teams with the pace of their passing. They play a more cautious game and frailties in their defending make them vulnerable, whatever results in Spain may suggest.
Willian scored but he also hit the post twice in the first leg. Again and again he surged through unchallenged on the counter.

The space he found should alarm the Catalans. Their switch to 4-4-2 should have added protection in front of the back four, but there was little sign of that at Stamford Bridge. Rather Sergio Busquets, the little pace he had having seemingly deserted him entirely, was overwhelmed, just as he had been in the 4-0 defeat away to Paris St.Germain at this stage last season. That tie, of course, should keep any Chelsea optimism in check — Barca have frequently redeemed a disappointing away performance in Europe with an emphatic display at home — but the lesson of that first leg was that Ernesto Valverde’s side is far from impregnable.
The biggest systemic issue for Chelsea in the first leg was that by deploying Eden Hazard as a false nine they occasionally lacked an obvious outlet when they needed to relieve pressure. Although it could be argued that Hazard’s movement created space for Willian, the Belgian made clear after the defeat at Manchester City that he does not enjoy the role and, with Conte insisting he will consult players on tactics before tonight’s game, it seems likely Hazard will revert to his preferred inside-forward role with Olivier Giroud offering a more physical target at center-forward.
At the end of September, Chelsea produced probably the best performance by an English side in this season’s Champions League to win at Atletico Madrid. That feels a long time ago, but if a return to Spain ignites something similar, Conte could have a glorious farewell yet.


Juan Antonio Pizzi is still the right man to lead Saudi Arabia, says former Green Falcons boss

Updated 49 min 37 sec ago
0

Juan Antonio Pizzi is still the right man to lead Saudi Arabia, says former Green Falcons boss

  • Saudi Arabia's 1996 Asian Cup-winning coach Nelo Vingada backs Pizzi to lead side into next year's Asian Cup.
  • Green Falcons face Egypt on Monday with both looking to land their first point in Russia.

MOSCOW: Saudi Arabia’s 1996 Asian Cup-winning boss Nelo Vingada has called on the country’s football authorities to keep faith with head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi despite a disappointing showing in Russia.
The Green Falcons still have to face Egypt in the final match of Group A, but have already been eliminated following a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Russia in the opening game on June 14 in Moscow and a 1-0 loss to Uruguay five days later in Rostov.
 “I was expecting a little more from Saudi Arabia to be honest,” Vingada told Arab News.
“In the first game they were disappointing but a first game of the World Cup is always hard and especially when it is the first game and everyone is watching. Plenty of teams at the World Cup did not play well in the first game.
“But playing Russia in Russia and to lose is what you would normally expect from Saudi Arabia and while it was far from positive, people should not get carried away.
“The game with Uruguay was much improved in terms of organization and defense and it showed more of the character of the Saudi Arabia team.”
In the past, coaches have been axed following disappointing World Cup campaigns but with the 2019 Asian Cup just seven months away, the Portuguese tactician would prefer to see some stability rather than yet another new man in the dugout.
 “The Asian Cup is in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia will be one of the contenders,” Vingada said. “It is better to stay with the same coach. He has a vision of how he wants the team to play and he now knows the players and the players know him.”
Constant changing has not helped Saudi Arabia in the past and Pizzi himself has been in the job just seven months.
“The problem is not the coach. He should not be changed, that has happened before but results did not improve, but the mentality has to change.”
Despite that Vingada, who has coached 
Egyptian club giants Zamalek and the country’s Under-23 team, believes that the Pharaohs, also eliminated, will prevail when the two regional rivals meet on Monday in Volgograd.
 “This is an important game for pride, the players and the countries. It is still the World Cup. Egypt have a little more quality I think and have Mohamed Salah too.” 
The Liverpool striker has been recovering from a shoulder injury sustained in the Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid in late May and missed the opening game 1-0 loss to Uruguay. He played in the second game, a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Russia, scoring from the spot late in the match to earn a consolation.
“Any coach would take Salah because he can win you games but overall Egypt have been a little disappointing and a little unlucky.”
The bad luck came when conceding a last-minute goal to Uruguay and a fluke own goal to get Russia off the mark. “Uruguay are a tough team and it is no shame to lose 3-1 to a Russia team at home who are playing to qualify for the next round. It showed that European and South American teams still have a little more quality.”
 “Egypt just made some mistakes at the wrong time but this is football and without mistakes there are no goals.”
Ahead of the clash against Egypt Pizzi confirmed his intention to stay as Saudi Arabia boss, looking to build on the seven months he has had to imprint his ideas on the team ahead of the Asian Cup.