English Angle: Were Chelsea Right To 'Park The Bus' Against Barcelona?

The Blues pulled off what many had deemed impossible, but have still been hit with waves of criticism for their style of play, which has led Goal.com's Greg Ptolomey to ask whether Hiddink was right or wrong in his ultra-defensive set-up...
In the aftermath of Chelsea's goalless Champions League draw at Camp Nou on Tuesday evening, Barcelona and their fans have bemoaned the Blues' approach. They played in their yellow change kit, and their perceived negativity was yellow-bellied, according to the Blaugrana.

"When the team in front of you do not want to play football, it becomes complicated," as Andres Iniesta put it, and Barca certainly do have a conundrum now.

But let's look at it rationally. We've had a fantastic series of knock-out ties in the competition already, but this is the semi-finals, and no-one owes anyone anything. Not one side had kept a clean sheet in the lair of the Catalan giants all season, and in this information age there's few who doubt the attacking prowess of this Barca side. To me, that's not the back-drop for a gung-ho Chelsea.

Presumably, though, Iniesta & Co. wanted the English side to open up so that they could assert their will and win comfortably. Does it not sound insane just pondering the Spanish giants' expectations of this colossal tie?

We've been spoiled this term. First legs are supposed to be like this at the business end of the biggest competitions. Goals are at a premium - they can decide careers - and frustration invariably sets in. The onus is on the home side; it's a mental examination far more than a showcase for sexy football. Both sides have already pulled rabbits out of hats, put hearts in mouths, and now we're examining far deeper credentials.

On Tuesday, Barca failed their mental test. They let their frustration - with both their opposition and the referee - manifest itself physically after little more than half-an-hour. That's just not good enough.

In 2007 Lionel Messi said of Scottish side Rangers after a goalless group stage encounter, "Rangers didn't want to play football. They practised anti-football from the first minute." Clearly, La Liga's finest have been stuck on the moral high-ground for some time. Their desire to play their dazzling football is admirable, but Pep Guardiola must instil Euro street-smarts in his troops.

His counterpart, Guus Hiddink, chose to 'park the bus' in midweek based on his ridiculous amount of experience. Nearly a year ago, we saw his Russia play brilliantly at Euro 2008. Wherever he goes, his teams believe in his approach, and it's been shown time and again that he makes the right decisions based on the players and opposition in front of him.

Backs-to-the-wall away performances in Europe are part of a tactical spectrum - not some terrible black magic from the bowels of anti-football. Further to that, you have to be technically very good to do it at this level, and ultra-fit.

What if Alex had lunged in on Thierry Henry as the Frenchman cut in from the left time and again? What if Michael Ballack, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien - although they could all have done more on the ball, admittedly - had stopped tracking Barca's kaleidoscopic movement, even for a few seconds. What if Petr Cech hadn't risen to the occasion after a dodgy run of form, narrowing every angle like a hyperactive mathematician?

It's harder than it looks to defend against such a good side for 95 minutes, and back at the Bridge they'll be glad of it. The sides will start over in the second leg, rather than the Blues chasing the game unnecessarily.

Okay, 'Lamps' looked knackered and maybe even a bit miffed when he was eventually substituted, and one of Chelsea's top men this season, Nicolas Anelka, only got a matter of seconds on the pitch, but it's all about taking one for the team. In west London, Hiddink will know that his side will need lifted in order to take the game to Barca: there is a danger of relying upon your defensive core too much if you're good at it.

It's been a freaky season in Europe, but teams will always park the so-called bus. It's serious business becoming European champions, and clubs are doing it for themselves and their fans at this stage. The neutrals, I'm afraid, will have to wait patiently for another 4-4 thriller.

Greg Ptolomey, Goal.com