Leaderless Barcelona pay price for failure to think outside the box
Most people watching 10-man Chelsea on Tuesday night will have assumed it was just a matter of time before Barcelona scored the goal they required, even after Lionel Messi's penalty miss.
It seemed Barcelona, and coach Pep Guardiola, thought the same. As the minutes ticked by, the defending champions kept on attacking the same way, exchanging short passes on the edge of the area, seeking a way through the white wall.
Only in the very final minutes did they change tack, and then it was to throw Carles Puyol forward and pump high balls into the box. It was not so much Plan B as Plan Z, the option of last resort.
Barcelona are so used to winning there was an inability to think on their feet and recognise the need to adapt their play. This is not to suggest they were wrong to stick to their passing-game principles, it is to argue they became overly fixated on one aspect: short passes around the box. They did not need Plan B, they needed to make Plan A work effectively, as they had before.
When Barcelona needed a goal to beat a massed Chelsea defence in the last minute of the 2009 Champions League semi-final it came via a shot from outside the box, Andres Iniesta drilling the ball in from 20 yards at Stamford Bridge.
The closest Barcelona came to scoring in the last 40 minutes this week was from a shot of similar distance, by Lionel Messi, which Petr Cech touched on to the post. Yet, despite that they had few other shots from distance.
Cech is an excellent 'keeper, but shots through a crowded area have a habit of wrong-footing the best through deflections.
Barcelona also failed to target their attacks intelligently, trying to go through a packed centre instead of testing the makeshift full-backs. Chelsea strung six across the back, with three midfielders ahead of them, but it meant using strikers as full-backs.
Yet despite winning a penalty when Cesc Fabregas ran at Didier Drogba on the flank, they rarely repeated the tactic. Time and again Dani Alves got the ball on the right facing Drogba, then passed backwards and inside rather than take the forward on.
It did not help that the ball was frequently passed, slowly, to Alves' feet instead of played with pace into space ahead of him. When it was, Alves created a goal, only to be flagged just offside.
Alves looked like a player reluctant to take responsibility and he was not alone. Barcelona did not just suffer from doubt and tiredness, they lacked leadership. (© Independent News Service)