Chelsea’s Champions League semifinal lineup vs Atletico Madrid disappointed me, and I suspect, rest of the footballing world too. For the next ninety minutes the only prayer on my lips was that the Rojiblancos score so that the game opens up. Alas, that never happened. My late night shift for a supposed thrilling encounter ended in misery, spoiling the rest of my working day.
The lineup was a pure 8-1-1; the two potential goal scorers being Willian and Torres. Both, combined, have found the net just a dozen times this season. Numbers not worthy of leading the line for a chance to make it to the finals of Europe’s elite club competition.
When Carlos Bilardo’s 4-5-1 tactics took the Diego Maradona led Argentina to the finals of Italia 90, the British media had roundly criticized it as anti-football, negative and killing the game. Subsequently, there were discussions at FIFA meetings on how to encourage positive play. The seriousness of the agenda can be gauged by the fact that they even considered widening the gap between goal posts.
However in the nineties, as Italy kept doing well in international tournaments, the “Catenaccio” branding reverberated. And once Chelsea was reborn under Mourinho in the Abramovich era, the same game plan started getting names like “tactical”, “strategic”, “chess like”. British media rocks!
With no offence to Stoke City, yesterday, the London club gave the sport a black day. ‘Play’ was only seen as a word in Chelsea’s black kit. There were long throw-ins, players falling over at the slightest contact; staying glued to the mat groaning for a long time (Drogba’s antics at Nou Camp 2012 even got Sir Alex to condemn); needling opposition players and of-course their mantra was defend, defend and more defend. Hell, even the current Stoke City team doesn’t play like that.
The Special One will point at the desired result (0-0). His respect for a team top of La Liga was right. Even mighty Barcelona haven’t been able to beat Diego Simeone’s men in five meetings this season and have scored a measly three goals against them. Atletico Madrid are one of the best teams in the world right now, and Jose Mourinho had every reason to fear them and their intensity.
He will get my thumbs up if he manages to take Chelsea to the finals. And more if he wins the trophy. But Jose is special for giving us memorable nights. Not ones like this. One of my favourite Chelsea moments was when they trounced Ronaldinho led Barcelona 4-2 at Stamford Bridge. Fans and neutrals remember only such games. For a sustainable legacy a top coach and esteemed club owes such nights to the sport.
Before the 2009 Champions League final, Pep Guardiola knew Manchester United were the better team and favourites. Yet he told his troops to go ahead and display the football that Barcelona believe in, their philosophy and what they stand for. Even when Samuel Eto’o gave them a lead within ten minutes, the Catalans kept attacking and displaying their tika taka game. The sort of spectacle which gets etched in memory forever.
A top club like Chelsea owes more to football than just to fans of their club. Even those fans won’t like the memory of this semifinal first leg in a few years time. Neutrals get driven away. Not done, not expected. Not from one of the best coaches around, from one of the richest and biggest football clubs. Over and over again.
Back in 2012 CL finals, Roberto De Matteo gave a European debut to a defender ahead of their multi-million dollar striker. Fernando Torres got a bench warming seat as a reward for his semi-final winner vs Barcelona. Ryan Bertrand, meanwhile, now, plies his trade for Aston Villa – which speaks of his level, considering he debuted on the greatest night for Chelsea fans this century. The sort of luck the Blues had that season, they would have anyways won with any lineup.
Chelsea owe strong memories to the footballing world, just merely lifting a trophy by luck isn’t enough, the opposition missing penalties isn’t enough. Thats small club mentality. Why pay big bucks if on the greatest stage you will play eight defenders! Get eight Ryan Bertrands instead!