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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona: Don't blame the man in the middle; blame the men on the outside

The referee in tonight's Champions League semi-final 2nd leg at Stamford Bridge was Norwegian Tom Ovrebo. The headlines of the English papers tomorrow will metaphorically 'scream' it was his fault why Chelsea went out of the semi-finals, went out of the one chance they had to avenge their defeat last year. As far as I'm concerned, yes, Mr Ovrebo was at fault. But he wasn't the only one.

Mr Ovrebo was at fault for the lack of progress for Chelsea. I can only think of four potential penalty shouts that occurred in the game, I believe there could have been one more. First, Florent Maluda took on Dani Alves (who, for me, was something of a disappointment to say the least tonight) and then turned back on him. Alves clearly impeded the Frenchman and a free-kick was given. Alves was at the time inside his penalty box, Malouda was outside. I don't think that was a penalty.

Drogba took on Yaya Toure in the box, once played in by Frank Lampard. Toure grabbed Drogba's shirt but Drogba went down only after the ball was out of his control. That was a penalty for me. Nicolas Anelka touched the ball near the Barcelona penalty box, Gerard Pique had his right arm raised before Anelka played the ball and the ball comes off Pique's hand. That, to me, was a penalty.

The last Chelsea corner came to Michael Ballack, he swung a shot towards goal and it came off Samuel Eto'o, off his left arm. Eto'o was in position before the ball was struck. That wasn't a penalty and Ballack's disgraceful, ugly harassment over the referee afterwards rightly earned a booking.

Now, aside from those penalty shouts, what did Chelsea do to earn the win? They had Michael Essien aim at the ball and score a superbly taken left-foot volley. It put them ahead 1-0 after the ninth minute. Thirty six minutes later they hardly came at Barcelona, the away side made most of the football. What Chelsea did was play defensively in front of the penalty box, they had numbers in position in spaces to deny Barcelona that space to play their little through balls, their little passes. They defended deep to avoid Barcelona playing the long through balls, and their task was made all the more easier with Thierry Henry withdrawn.

People will say 'what is wrong with that?', but while it was cunning to thwart Eto'o and Lionel Messi from those movements around and through the defence, thwart the passing and breaking by Andres Iniesta and Xavi, it stopped Chelsea from their usual attacking flow, at home. Their usual break from the midfield three, with Lampard threading passes to the flanks and then joining late, was missing, and it left Drogba on his own having to battle with Toure. Toure was fortunate to have escaped twice from possible Drogba-breaks on goal.

I can only think of one moment in the second half when Chelsea came forward, with Anelka drawing defenders to him and then passing to Drogba, who turned Pique and then shot weakly at Victor Valdes, with the rebound gathered and shot by Lampard blocked, and then Malouda hitting the side netting. That was it.

Then Eric Abidal (another defender who failed tonight and who I have never rated for club nor country) was taken to have fouled Anelka on the run and was red-carded, although replays showed Anelka tripped over his own leg with no contact from Abidal. Another bad decision. But that didn't even push Chelsea to surge onto Barcelona's goal. Chelsea seem to have felt comfortable a goal up, a man up, and then simmered. And that led to Barcelona's goal.

That slacking in focus, that same focus that denied Barcelona space last week and tonight, allowed for Barcelona to maintain the ball from a cross, with Messi receiving and playing it to Iniesta, who had the time and space to take a chance first time. Ballack was the nearest player and he ducked or turned away from the shot. It was practically the only effort Petr Cech had to move to. It was the one time Chelsea afforded Barcelona space to do something......and it cost them.

I watched the game with others and I said to them that if Barcelona were to take a chance first time, they could score. That was because whenever Barcelona got within sniffing distance of the penalty edge, they were being snuffed out, and that was because not only did Chelsea deny them space, but also because Barcelona seemed to want to walk the ball into the area as they mostly do in La Liga. Defences open more to them in the Spanish league, whereas here Chelsea's plan was to close up tight. The one moment Barcelona took the opportunity first time they scored, it was the only shot on target from them.

Don't blame the referee entirely. Chelsea still had the majority of the game to play for and they hardly did that. Depending on penalty appeals to get them through was desperate. They didn't play the attacking football they are renowned for. In both legs Barcelona were the attacking team and it is they who earned their passage into the final. And it is ironic that where Barcelona looked more vulnerable with Abidal off, where Chelsea became too relaxed, that it was then when Chelsea lost control of their focus. And the whole tie.

The reactions after the game were understandable but I cannot condone them. I can understand when (not if) a driver cuts up another driver, the first driver becomes frustrated and displays that frustration towards that second driver, from their car seat, but that's it. I cannot condone road-rage, especially where it can almost come to violence. The Chelsea players are understandably upset but they individually dealt with their disappointment, with a few not visibly becoming animated towards the referee. Nor the camera.

We all have disappointments and if we allow our emotions to take over, people will be at each other's throats daily. What's next, a throw-in is not given and the referee has to run for cover? A child is denied a free-kick and swears at the referee? I don't want bad habits coming into football. Disappointments are to be dealt with with maturity, not in the manner seen tonight. When you add up that, without the penalty appeals, Chelsea didn't play enough for the win, you should realise Mr Ovrebo isn't the only one at fault for Chelsea's exit. But it is easier to target him than to look at the players themselves.



Anonymous Striker said...

Excellent piece, brilliant.

I agree 100%. Chelsea scored & settled for that. They went into a defensive mode there after, to defend the 1-0 scoreline.

Yes, there were hands, push & happens all the time, sometimes you win & sometimes you lose, its called Football.

But remember, & THIS IS THE KEY, with Barcelona 10 men down Chelsea decided not to go in for the kill. Instead they stayed back, hoping & waiting for the final whistle blow & that against a side like Barcelona is worthy of losing, precisely what happened.

All the contrary with Barça, 10 men down & seriously wounded they decide to burn their ships - no return , go for it & die with their boots on - while alive there is a chance...

Its about mentality, a winning mentality, & Barcelona had it tonight while Chelsea looked for it; it was in front of them all night...10 guys in a yellow shirt

5/07/2009 12:20 am

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Entirely agree. All TV commentors said Chelsea played better, and Barca where disappointing. I believe a lot was expected from Barca tonight after the trashing of 2-6 with Real Madrid. But Real Madrid defence and midfield is not chelsea defence and midfield. Does not even compares to it. So Barca with Henry absent and Alves in space had a difficult task to break a 10 man chelsea wall that close down the opponent rather than leave space as Real Madrid did with Barca last weekend. Further more Barca were vulnerable in the middle with their 2 central regular defenders out.

Apart from the referee, Chelsea are also to blame, since with 10 man they could have attacked and killed the game, taking in consideration that nearly all Barca players were not playing at their highest level tonight. Instead they happily defended, waiting for the time to pass, knowing also that when they attacked they nearly scored. So why they did not attack? As soon as Barca were givin some space, they scored as usual. Tough Luck.

5/07/2009 12:28 am

Anonymous Striker said...

Your article is so good I have "borrowed it" - citing source & EFT blog with link & my pre-comments - so that SFS readers can enjoy the high quality of the Football journalism.


5/07/2009 7:22 am

Blogger RedsMan said...

Striker, thank you. I find that quite a compliment, considering your own superb reporting and efforts on Spanish football.

Thank you, Anon, and I concur with you. I sense people in this country will be in uproar over this as that is the output the media will seek to produce. It just passes the failure off the players' backs onto one person, the referee. Now he has to take the severe lambasting in the media from the media themselves as well as members of the public, for something that is not entirely his fault.

Surprisingly, we have yet to hear from Chelsea fans on this. I've been listening to Mike Parry on TalkSport as I expected him to go all guns blazing, as a patriotic British man with a passion for English football. He mentioned that Ovrebo apparently has 'history' for baffling decisions, so here starts the witch-hunt. Now Ovrebo is developing a reputation for bad officiation. And yet our own referees are picked up on doing likewise but still qualify for selection for officiating at top football tournaments.

The point being, no one mentioned about 'history' when Ovrebo was chosen for last night's game. No one mentioned he was a 'dodgy' referee, he called it as he saw it. He has two linesmen to help him if need be. Right or wrong, if he says so, it goes, and that is the end of it. Someone will be aggrieved, the other pleased.

What are we looking into? To take over the authority of the referee in the game? We introduce technology that may require moments of delay in the game, that may otherwise break down the spirit or tempo of a team who are feeling very confident at that precise moment?

It did look as if the referee didn't want to grant Chelsea a penalty, but does it follow that a referee should grant one of several appeals, for the sake of it? Or do we allow that he felt in his wisdom that none of the appeals were good, and get on with the game? Was the game only based on those appeals? Or were we expecting to see chances on goal?

When Chelsea fans moaned in 2005 that Luis Garcia's goal in the 2nd leg of that semi-final wasnt a goal, I felt fair enough. At the moment, it may have looked over the line to the officials. Had it not been given, the foul by Cech on Baros could have been a penalty. Would Chelsea have been in uproar if that penalty was given?

But notwithstanding that, Chelsea still had some 89mins+ to score in that 2005 2nd semi-final. It was at Anfield, Chelsea needed to do what Barcelona did last night, just score one goal, an away goal. They were very much capable of doing so with the players they had on the night. Just one goal. But they didn't, they couldn't. And since then people have moaned about the 'Garcia goal'. Why are people blinkered, not seeing the whole picture?


5/07/2009 11:30 am

Blogger Skipper said...

Yes, the referee made some crucial mistakes in this match. I though the handball by Pique was the most obvious decision that he got wrong. He was in a good position and it is remarkable hoe he failed to give that decision.

As for Drogba and let’s not forget Ballack, their behaviour was a disgrace. Drogba had 2 golden opportunities to score against Barca, once at the Camp Nou and once last night. This is a man who spends half of his time rolling around on the floor in agony when he is not really hurt.

Chelsea were really unlucky not to go through. However, as a neutral I really admired the way Barca kept attacking, even when they went down to 10 men. I am looking forward to the final.

5/07/2009 9:47 pm

Blogger hezi said...

I agree totaly.
the referee helped chelsea when abidal was sent off. chelsea could have taken advantage of that, but instead, they chose to substitute drogba with belleti.
that was cowardice. barca deserved to go to the final.
I hope united will not play as defensively as chelsea, that would be a real disgrace.

5/08/2009 12:36 pm

Blogger T said...

Redsman, your text to me after the game stated succinctly what you wrote in the above commentary - and with both I thoroughly agree.

That is a fine compliment from Striker - great to see EFT on SFS!

The Man Utd v Barca final is very much a final to look forward to. Undeniably these are the two finest teams in Europe - and the winners will truly be able to call themselves the best in Europe.

5/08/2009 1:28 pm

Blogger SKG said...

yes great article redsman.

i think the chelsea players should be more upset with themselves rather than the ref. yes the ref was poor, but so too were chelsea over two legs.

5/08/2009 1:28 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Amidst the furore from Wednesday night's football, English football has emerged scathing and hurt. More so because an all-English final was denied rather than Chelsea actually going out. When a side fail to even make a few chances on goal, sit back defensively all the more on a single goal lead, gain an advantage in numbers and still fail to impose themselves onto their now more vulnerable opponents, only to be sucker-punched in the end, they have themselves to blame more so than the referee.

We witnessed something going back to the medieval times where one can be easily labelled a witch on the flimsiest of any evidence, on the hearsay of others, and then be hunted and lynched. A scapegoat.

We have moved on from grass-roots football to corporate cut-throat politics, given up on the love of the game, the logics of its performances for the sake of million-dollar entries that enrage many when one person is the centre-point between success and failure.

Football succeeds in some corners, and yet lets us down in others. We are to still maintain respect for the officials within the game, regardless whether you agree or disagree with their decisions. You can, and are expected to, get upset if it leads to some failure but you most certainly do not surround and harass and practically 'bully' the referee. My days, they would all have to give up on their careers.

Death threats again? Potentially another referee leaving the game? Ovrebo hasn't been terrible his whole officiating career. But one can choose two games where he is said to have gone below standards and use that as a platform to condemn a decent man who used discretion and experience to make decisions.

Prove he was influenced, I wioll make my most humble apologies; otherwise it is many people who should be saying 'sorry' to Mr Ovrebo. Many. I can think of two already.


5/09/2009 12:39 am


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