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Chelsea Aren't The "New Barcelona"…

Chelsea Aren’t The “New Barcelona”…

Chelsea’s recent results (barring the loss to Shakhtar in the Champions League) have been impressive. But most pundits and tabloids can’t seem to get enough of Chelsea’s new attacking, dynamic style of play. They have been praising (yes, you read that right) Roberto Di Matteo and his mini-revolution at Stamford Bridge. Some have gone and dubbed Chelsea the “new Barcelona”. The Daily Mail ran a whole story on the issue!

 Here’s an excerpt from that particular article:

“Chelsea are bringing in small, exciting players whom they hope can ape Barcelona’s tiki-taka passing style. Roman Abramovich and Roberto Di Matteo want pretty football – being efficient but unattractive to watch is no longer an option.”

This quote makes me laugh because 1) Chelsea aren’t trying to ape Barcelona, 2) The only reason we were “efficient but unattractive” last season is because that was the ONLY option we had. Let’s be real: if we had Mata-Oscar-Hazard at Chelsea last season, playing at the peak of their powers, do you really think we would have “parked the bus” against Barcelona? Of course not!

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. At a glance, it does look like Chelsea are trying to emulate the tiki-taka style perfected by the Catalans. If you look carefully though, there are 3 major differences between Chelsea’s and Barcelona’s style of play that make one thing extremely clear: Chelsea are not trying to become the “new Barcelona”.

The first difference between the teams: formation. It doesn’t seem like a massive difference, but it is. Barcelona play a 4-3-3 formation that uses 3 men in the middle of the park and attacking wingers. While the wingers are an important feature of Barca’s formation, the majority of the creative work is handled by the midfield duo of Xavi and Iniesta. Chelsea play a 4-2-3-1 formation that utilizes 2 men in the middle of the park and 3 players (2 attacking wingers and 1 proper attacking midfielder). While the double pivot features importantly for Chelsea, the creative work is handled mainly by the attacking trio of Mata-Oscar-Hazard. Also, Chelsea’s formation is a lot more fluid. Due to the fact that Mata, Oscar and Hazard are essentially 3 proper attacking midfielders, there is no fixed position for them. It’s not uncommon to see Mata and Hazard interchange wings or even move into the central position with Oscar slotting on either wing. This makes the team all the more threatening. That’s not the case with Barcelona. Xavi and Iniesta have fixed roles and are expected to stick to their job.

Secondly, Chelsea can sit back and defend if they must. Even though it’s not something that most tabloids allude to, Barca are slightly weak at the back. Puyol and Pique are decent defenders, but Barcelona’s attacking philosophy often leaves them no time to think about the defensive aspect of their game. This is almost a sin in modern football, and it’s something that can be exploited by stronger teams. Throw in the fact that the man who guards Barca’s goal, Victor Valdes, is one of the most over-rated goalkeepers in world football and you can see why Barca struggle at times when they come up against a quality attack such as the one possessed by Real Madrid. Chelsea, on the other hand, can sit deep and defend for their lives if they have to (then again, you already knew that).

Thirdly, Chelsea’s game isn’t a possession-based game. Barcelona’s style of play may be technically perfect and can be fun to watch if you are a fan of possession-based football, but it can be a royal snooze-fest if you aren’t a fan of watching a team string together 30-odd passes before they decide to feed the ball to their striker. Chelsea may have had the lions share of possession in most of the matches they played recently, but their aim is to find the striker with that killer ball. And if the killer ball isn’t available, the creative trio of Mata-Oscar-Hazard will try and beat defenders in order to create that half a yard of space to thread that killer ball through to Torres or anyone else making that searching run. Whereas Barcelona are always ready to take their time in order to find that killer pass, Chelsea’s style is faster and more direct.

Chelsea may not be the new Barcelona. But the accolades that Chelsea are already garnering means that in the future, Chelsea’s attacking, exciting and dynamic style may well ape Barcelona’s tiki-taka style.

Shayne Dias

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