Champions League preview: Chelsea focus on the hole behind Alves

ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses the StatsZone app – from FFT & Opta, available now – to preview Tuesday's Champions League semi-final second-leg...

One of Chelsea’s better players last week was Ramires, who was moved across to the left of midfield and told to track Daniel Alves up and down the touchline, before quickly breaking past him when the ball was won. Ramires didn’t do the latter too often – but once was enough, as he set up Didier Drogba’s winner (the yellow arrow indicating the assist).

Ramires also had the energy and positional sense to help out defensively, shown by how often he helped break up a Barcelona attack. But on the other flank was Juan Mata – less energetic, less able defensively, more creative. Although he filled in well on the right, tucking in and making Chelsea narrow in midfield, he didn’t actively do anything in a defensive sense. His contribution was limited to a handful of passes, and one wayward shot.

Mata’s place in the Chelsea side at the Nou Camp is not assured. it’s likely he’ll be picked to give Chelsea some level of attacking threat and help make their passing flow, but Michael Essien performed well at the weekend and would be a stronger defensive option.

Chelsea’s intention to attack into the space behind Alves was also summed up by their passes in the final third at Stamford Bridge. As the graphic on the left below shows, the majority of their passes were down that side, particularly long balls in behind the full-back.

Compared to their weekend performance against Arsenal, it’s a huge difference. At the Emirates they played their more natural game, attacking down each flank equally – albeit with a different set of wingers, Saloman Kalou and Daniel Sturridge.

Chelsea’s attacking route should depend on Barcelona’s formation – if they play a back four and Alves pushes on, then breaking in behind him is the logical option. But if Pep Guardiola chooses a back three, there will be gaps on both flanks, as Real Madrid showed on Saturday night.

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