New Football Pools pundit Alan Hansen reflects with Goal.com on the two Champions League semi-fnal first leg ties this week....
Alan Hansen was a colossus on the pitch for Liverpool and Scotland, becoming a true Anfield legend and collecting a host of medals in a glittering playing career. And since hanging up his boots he's become a giant of football punditry too, renowned for his forthright views and analyses which are eagerly anticipated by millions of viewers of BBC TV's 'Match of the Day' every week.
In his role as a pundit for the New Football Pools, Hansen gave Goal.com his take on the two Champions League semi-finals, both involving Premier League clubs...
Chelsea Produced A Fantastic Defensive Performance
"In the aftermath of Chelsea’s heroic 0-0 draw over at the Nou Camp, the Barcelona players have been outspoken against their opponents’ physical and defensive display. They can say what they like but what did they expect Chelsea to do? Play an open expansive game against a team with some of the best attacking players in the world? Of course not, if you do that against Barca they will destroy you.
"Chelsea may have not had a kick or much of the play but 0-0 was still a fantastic result over in Spain. Barcelona play some of the best football you will see in your life but Chelsea restricted them to a handful of chances on the night. Guus Hiddink is not silly, he knew that if Chelsea opened up they could have been ripped apart. By keeping two banks of four and defending the 18-yard line Chelsea restricted the space for Barcelona to exploit and any defender will tell you it’s far easier to defend like that. It also helped that Petr Cech was back to his best in goal. He had a fantastic game apart from the first five or six minutes when a few crosses went into the box and he was all over the place.
"Football is all about exploiting the weaknesses of other teams and Barcelona didn’t do that. Chelsea have shown they struggle defending set-pieces aerially at the moment but Barca refused to throw the ball into the box. Now if this was a Premier League game I’m sure the opposition would be throwing the ball right under Cech’s crossbar but that’s not Barcelona’s style. They play their own game, their own style and back that to get results but they came unstuck against Chelsea.
"The talk before the game was how hard it would be for makeshift left-back Jose Bosingwa to stop Lionel Messi but he did really, really well. Now Messi is an unbelievable talent but if you restrict any player’s time and space, it’s going to be hard for them to influence the game. Chelsea packed men behind the ball, doubled up on the wings and strangled the life out of Barca when they got near their box so Messi didn’t really have an influence.
"It all points to an intriguing second leg at Stamford Bridge next week as the proposition will be different for Chelsea as they will have to come out a bit more. Hiddink won’t have his side going gung-ho and they will still keep men behind the ball even at home. Against Barcelona you have to. If you play too open against a team of that quality they will rip you apart so expect Chelsea to have more of the play but remain solid.
"The comments from the Barcelona players are ridiculous to be honest; there wasn’t a bad tackle in the game. Did they expect Chelsea to just roll over and let them play? It was a fantastic defensive performance from every one of the Chelsea players and all in all a great result.
"I must say I expected Barcelona to reach the final prior to the first leg but it remains unbelievably tight now going into the second leg at the Bridge. I would rate this one as 50-50 but it promises to be a really intriguing clash back in London next week."
Arsenal Got Out Of Jail But Must Improve
"Manchester United should have booked their Champions League final place with the amount of opportunities they had to put the tie to bed. Unlike Chelsea, Arsenal don’t have the mentality to go to Old Trafford and defend solidly without the ball. Even when they don’t play well, they still get men forward, which means if they lose possession, they are open to a counterattack. In contrast, Chelsea never really had the ball at the Nou Camp so were never ever going to be counterattacked, especially as they never got that many players forward. Arsene Wenger’s young team are not able to adapt to play tight and gain a 0-0 draw but, despite playing poorly, they will be happy to return to the Emirates only one goal down.
"All credit must go to Manuel Almunia for keeping Arsenal in this tie as he made a string of saves against a United onslaught, especially in the first half. He was one of the few Gunners' players to emerge with any credit from the game, although young Kieran Gibbs did well. The 19-year-old was up against some of the best attacking players in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney but did not look out of place. Unfortunately for Arsenal, Emmanuel Adebayor was very poor on the night. He failed to use his strength at all, despite his size, and barely held onto the ball for his side. He owes his manager a big performance in the second leg at the Emirates after that showing.
"The Arsenal defence was so wide open at times that it wouldn’t be an over-exaggeration to say United could have won this match 4-0. However, now Wenger’s team have got out of jail they have a real chance of upsetting Sir Alex’s team at the Emirates.
"I’d be surprised if United play any differently at the Emirates as their pressing game worked well but there should be a marked improvement in the Arsenal performance and tactics. To be honest, I’d expect United to progress as they have players that can score anywhere and if they get one at the Emirates then Arsenal face a huge task to recover. However, Arsene Wenger’s side have shown they have the ability to pull off surprising results in the past and they may have to again."
Alan Hansen for Goal.com
Alan Hansen is a Pundit for the New Football Pools, who want to give away £20,000 this week through their Premier 10 game in which users predict whether a select list of 10 games from the Premier League will end in a Home Win, Draw or Away Win. To play Premier 10 visit www.footballpools.com.