Champions League preview: Chelsea must keep it tight in the middle and curb Alves threat

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

Chelsea vs Barcelona, Weds 19:45It comes as no surprise that Barcelona created the majority of their chances in their quarterfinal against AC Milan by playing the ball through the centre of the pitch, but the ‘chances created’ graphic from the two legs shows quite how much they rely on this approach.

Milan coped reasonably well because they naturally play very narrow, and their diamond midfield closed Barça out in the centre of the pitch. Barcelona still created chances, of course, but they rarely played sparkling football. Pep Guardiola’s side were actually better when they introduced Cristian Tello at the end of the first leg, and played Isaac Cuenca in the second match – those young wide players stretched the play and created gaps in the Milan defence.

Chelsea naturally play a wider game, with Roberto Di Matteo favouring a 4-2-3-1 system, with the wide players dropping in to form a second bank of four. But this might be a game when he has to play narrow than usual. Ramires is likely to be a key player – he started on the right against Tottenham on Sunday, and though he’s likely to play that position again, he should be able to tuck in very narrow and effectively become another central midfielder. If there’s a zone you can allow Barcelona to have the ball, it ’s in their left-back position.

The right-back zone, however, is somewhere Chelsea will need to keep tight. Daniel Alves’ versatility means he can play anywhere up and down the right flank – right-back, right wing-back, right midfield, right wing, or even as a right-sided forward. It’s worth remembering that at this stage last year, Barcelona were afraid of long diagonal balls being played in behind their full-backs, so Alves played a very defensive role, barely venturing into the attacking half.

This season he’s been more offensive in general, particularly when Barcelona play a 3-4-3 and he moves higher up the pitch into midfield. But Barcelona will pay Chelsea a lot of respect in this game, and won’t be as attack-minded as we’re used to – at least, that’s their usual strategy when playing the first leg away from home. It will be interesting to see who Di Matteo uses on the left – whether he wants to primarily defend against Alves, or look to attack him.

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