Odds and ends

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….?

10 thoughts on “Odds and ends

  1. There was a lot of triumphalism by the British media when Barcelona went out. In fact, most messageboards and reports I read talked about how finally people would shut up about how good Barca are. The ironic thing being that for the week before thwe games people were talking about how Barca are so overrated and not actually saying they are very good at all. The anti-Barca bandwagon became very popular this season, so I hope those people are happy that a team so inexplicably average as Chelsea have a shot at winning a title they barely deserve.

    As for Bayern, they played very well, dominating parts of the match at the Bernabeu, which is very impressive. Real disappointed me in the way they appeared to stop playing when Bayern scored. Ronaldo went from hero to zero, which was quite amusing, shutting up all those who had been banging on about how amazing he is and how much better than Messi he is. They are both fine players, in fact if they were in the same team there would be a fantastic balance of a winger/forward and an inside forward/attacking midfield schemer that would be impossible to stop.

    I just hope that a Chelsea team shorn of its core of players will really struggle to contain Bayern. My worry is that Chelsea present a real threat with their physicality, in the same way Inter Milan out thought and out fought Bayern a few years ago. This represents Terry’s last chance (realistically) at a Champions League medal and I hope he misses out yet again.

  2. Lets not forget that the Chelsea side is a horrendously expensively cobbled together team, who’s entire tactic in both the home and away legs was limited to defending with everything they had. It worked, but if the two ties were played another 100 times, in 99 occassions the outcome would have been a comfortable Barcelona victory over two legs. No, there is still much to admire about this Barcelona side, they did look a little leg-weary from a punnishing season and perhaps missing one or two players who would’ve just made that final difference to push them over the line – Villa up front might have conjured something slightly different with his direct style, Pique may not have been caught as ‘square on’ as his team mates for Ramires marvelous goal. Some of the younger players aren’t quite making the impression that Guardiola thinks they will.

    It is a fine acheivement that Chelsea made it through, particularly to achieve 2-2 at the Nou Camp having been with 10 men and 2-0 down, no doubts. They had a host of stirring performers, desperately stemming the tide and no lack of composure in both legs for their goals – Ramires being the critical figure in their two ties. It sums up everything about football and why it’s so compelling – you don’t have to be the best, you just need to take your chances. An encapsulation of life itself to some degree!

    That said, they appear to be the poorest team of the four semi-finalists and will require a significantly improved performance in the final to have any chance against a very, very good Bayern side. I think it will be one game to far for our neighbours. But a final in Germany….that brings back many, many happy memories from our road trip two years ago!

  3. Totally agree with you three guys. I would like to add two points:
    First of all, it was a miss for the liga teams to get to the finals. When you check the teams they cross until semifinals, Apoel, cska, leverkussen, unknown chec teams etc… It seems that with the low profile on La liga now (except for athletic), booth Barça and Madrid had fears and problems when facing real teams. The italian teams will recover (someday), Mancunian teams will pass to next round, PSG has lots of money to invest, etc…
    And second, as a huge barça supporter, and a Pep fan too, I just can’t guess why when we score 2-0, against 10 men, passing to the final, could we just said, Hey, relax, let’s pass the ball to the blues and see if they can attack against us. Just let them attack, and we pass to the counter attack. Alexis was playing a hell of a game, andres was fast, and messi, when he can run, is unstoppable. It was the same on the clasico. When we had the match drawed, 2 min and we were loosing. Football is a bloody hell sport.

  4. There’s a difference between tactics and strategy. Chelsea had a tactical plan to get past Barcelona – park the bus, make the most of counter attacks and be lucky. To plan to play like that every week, i.e. a strategy, isn’t likely to work – it relies a lot on luck and must be mentally exhausting and not enjoyable for players and fans. The Barcelona strategy of possession and skill fits with the no-contact era and is pretty successful. Tactically, i.e. beating Chelsea over two legs, I think Barcelona got it a bit wrong though. On two luckier days, penalties and shots against woodwork might have gone in and the blah blah blah beautiful game brigade would be tweeting smugly about footballing justice (ignoring the fact that the duolopy of Barca and Real are bankrupting Spanish football). But Chelsea scored 3 goals, won outright (not on away goals) and didn’t lose either game in spite of just 1% possession or whatever it was.

    I keep thinking, what would you do if it were a boxing match and someone just kept keeping their guard up. You would draw them out. Let them have a punch or two, but get them in the middle of the ring and basically change their game plan to re-implement yours. Barca didn’t do that so much and as far as I can see don’t do it.

    I really like Guardiola and particularly the way he doesn’t bitch about teams parking a bus – he recognises it’s what lesser teams have to do to get something out of the game. It would be interesting to see if he can learn from it or repeat the process at another club. I’m not so sure. A comment above alludes to a sequence of events and I think Messi is one of those. I think he brings an ability and goal tally that allows the team to play that style and that well. Take off his 40% of goals and I think the strategy would change a bit.

    I’m glad Barca are out. When did we stop loving the underdog, players throwing bodies on the line and the joy of watching arrogant fans try and deal with the pain of defeat? Can’t believe Chelsea were such underdogs and that I was pleased they won.

  5. I agree–still about the best there is. All the talk about how this exposes Barca’s weaknesses seems to miss the obvious fact that they are a team composed of humans and therefore fallible from time to time. Are they not supposed to lose until the end of time? And how often do they come up against a team with all their men jammed inside the box? Which team throughout history could score? Reminded me of small sided games when you get someone who stands right of front of the pug. Ok! Also reminded me of World Cup final 1974, Holland and who? Can’t see anybody talking about this Chelsea team in 20 years. but Barca, no doubt.

    For as much as we think of Barca as a team in the truest sense, I’ve really thought that this year they’ve looked like a great team who had the good fortune to bring Messi over at the age of 13, a move that nobody could’ve predicted would end like it has–a great team rising through a series of remarkable events. They do seem like they’d be a very different team without him, something I hadn’t thought in previous seasons.

    1. right BUT that 1974 West Germany team were worthy winners and one of the most underrated teams ever. Check out what Bayern Munich were up to around then. Ouch.

      PS I have footage for Football DVD Fight Club when we get that going!

  6. By the way, you don’t think that Chelsea’s match vs Arsenal over the weekend was a big match?

  7. “*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….?”

    Not to mention he scored Barca’s first goal.

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