This time round Liverpool dealt much more efficiently with the long balls to Drogba. Agger with Carragher’s assistance, when he could, was much better prepared to counter Drogba’s strength. And with Chelsea playing with only one man in front and Lampard surprisingly playing more destructively than looking to go forward, did not have a plan B!
Chelsea’s tactics were predictable and unsophisticated. Pumping long balls to Drogba may have worked in the first leg but when Liverpool had an answer for it Mourinho did not adjust the tactics early enough to pose any real threat to Liverpool’s defence. Robben and Philips did not come on till late in the game. Surprisingly so since Jose has shown that he is not averse to making tactical adjustments and substitutions even during the first half of games. Maybe he decided to be more conservative, save what he had, and wait for penalties.
The referee called them as he saw them which is not much of a help if you are relying on one man to do most of the damage. And most of the time Drogba’s leaning backwards into the defender is really a foul. As is usually Kevin Davies’of Bolton. He does the same thing. Instead of jumping for the ball he first leans into the defender and then he goes for the header. And the comparison with Bolton doesn’t stop here. We thought that long balls to a lone forward is what Bolton do, not a club who have spent close to 300m in only three years in building a team!
Injuries to key players cost Chelsea. The absence of Carvalho in particular meant that Chelsea’s midfield was weakened missing the power and drive of Essien who was otherwise engaged in defence to deal with Crouch’s threat. Why they did not enter the transfer market in the last window to bolster their defensive back up is mystifying for a club who theoretically do not have a budget constraint!
And lastly Benitez played a more attacking line up than in the first leg. This time he played Gerrard in the middle rather than Alonso who was sitting deep at Stamford Bridge. And by selecting Pennant and Zenden on the flanks helped stretch Chelsea (even if Zenden was not as effective as required). What was more important is that Pennant’s threat on the right restricted Ashley Cole from venturing forward as often as in the first game or of placing those long diagonal balls to Drogba.
The conclusion? Benitez tactically outsmarted Mourinho.
AC Milan Vs Manchester United
We do not believe Fergie when he says that they will have a go at the San Siro! It sounds like a smokescreen intended to lull the opposing coach and players into a false sense of security. He is more likely to adopt a more cautious approach of not playing too negatively but looking to go forward when the opportunities arise especially on the counter attack.
If one of the two main central defenders starts the game for United then they should at least avoid those dreadful errors in the first leg. But getting close to Kaka and nullifying his threat will go a long way towards getting a result and allowing us to enjoy two English teams in the Champion’s League Cup Final under the Acropolis!