Did you enjoy the Champions League semis? Hard not to I reckon. Some thoughts:
People have been very quick to write Barcelona off, but they’re still about as good as it gets. We all know that anything can happen in football, and the semi-final played out almost perfectly for Chelsea, scoring at just the right times and ensuring that, for the most part, they could camp in their own half and make it hard to get through. There’s been a lot about Barca’s lack of Plan B, but again I think this undersells the difficulty of beating a well organised team hell bent on defending. Where exactly were they supposed to find space?
As it was Barca missed a penalty that would’ve changed the narrative completely, and I even saw the Independent give Lionel Messi 4/10* while celebrating Chelsea’s players with 8s and 9s. Well maybe, but again, all attacking players need space. True, Barca’s are as good at making this as anyone, but even Messi can’t run through crowds like that. And he did hit the post (twice including the pen). Lots of post-event rationalising here and I don’t know that it all adds up. Fine, well done, Chelsea, but their triumph still feels a bit strange.
Real Madrid faced a much better team in Bayern Munich, and overall can have few complaints. Munich are a fine side, a very well balanced side, too, and over the two legs this was about as good as football gets. It sets up the thrilling matchup of Ashley Cole v Arjen Robben: again, football doesn’t get much better than that.
I wonder if the Clasico had an impact? Barca and Real had a huge match at the weekend while Munich and Chelsea didn’t. These things are all about tiny edges and advantages and I imagine that was not insignificant. Certainly Barca lacked a lot of the zip we’re used to seeing from them, which is partly Chelsea’s crowded defence but also something a bit more than that. It’ll be interesting to see which direction Guardiola takes his team in next season.
Which brings me on to another thing: great sports teams usually can’t be ‘made’ in the standard sense. We all watched the Australian cricket team dominate for years and vowed to do things “the Australian way” and now every academy is talking about technique and vision, just like in Barcelona. Obviously this is great and very laudable, but great teams usually arise because a series of remarkable events lead to a few great sportsmen ending up in the same place at the same time. I don’t know that you can manufacture that (Manchester United haven’t had another golden generation, Australia aren’t able to create another team like that, and I doubt Barca will be able to either).
I wonder, then, if the real ‘moneyball’ technique will be to fill your academy with the biggest, strongest brutes you can find. Then when the leagues full of technical diddymen you wipe them off the pitch. Tony Pulis is probably on the case as we speak.
*the same reviewer said of Sergio Busquets “Saw a lot of the ball but didn’t do anything much with it” – well, no, he doesn’t really. That’s not his job. He is there to be a defensive presence and to keep it simple when he has the ball. He’s not supposed to be doing the hollywood stuff because that’s what Xavi and Iniesta are for. Have we Fulham fans had this discussion before….?