Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Written In the Stars: Chelsea 2 - Barcelona 2

photo by jurvetsonvia PhotoRee

Columnist Ed -- his head in the stars, as usual:

Where to begin?

First, though, let's state the obvious:  the better side lost.  Chelsea was fortunate to get by with a 1-0 aggregate in game one despite being dominated throughout and despite a crossbar and a few posts hit by Barcelona.  Game two was no different.  Chelsea could do little else other than park the bus in front of their goal.  Chelsea did that well -- perhaps better than game one -- yet they were still dominated throughout, and were fortunate that Messi -- MESSI!! -- missed his PK and that Cech was able to nudge another Messi shot onto the post. 

I couldn't be more happy that Chelsea pulled this out, but let's not for a second think that they were the better team.  They were gritty, determined, and above all else, fortunate.  But something else deserves noting: no one wants football games to look like that.  No one wants to see teams just surrender and play the way Chelsea did in this one.  Part of that was they were forced to by the Terry penalty, but they were doing that before that penalty as well.  So again, the better team -- maybe the best team ever -- lost.

As for Chelsea, the most enjoyable part of team sports is when an underdog wins through determination and passion, and Chelsea was able to do that last evening.  It's not merely the energy and running of the players, but it was their focus.  Ashly Cole, for example, is a player that is often a bit rash during the regular season, but he never lost control and played his position brilliantly.  So did Meireles, so did Drogba, so did Ivanovic.  Everyone on Chelsea played this match like it was a game of chess, and that's what got them through.

It was interesting, though, that Chelsea actually had a few excellent chances in the second half.  Barcelona has no aerial threat other than Pujols, and can really be pushed around on corners, long throws, and even goal kicks.  Ivanovic missing an open header was notable, though it should be pointed out that Pujols missed one as well.  He is probably the only guy that should be marked on a Barcelona corner, yet somehow he got away on one.

Speaking of Barcelona corners, it was interesting how they went short every time.  I get it -- no tall players to match up with Chelsea.  However, at a certain point there is no advantage to a corner if you never try to push one into the penalty area.

I can understand John Terry's frustration with Alexis Sanchez.  When he flipped out from virtually no contact and manufactured a yellow card in the first half, it was annoying.  Plus, Terry's knee kick was not really as vicious as Sanchez made it out to be.  That said, it was deserving of a red and Terry should know better.  I am not a Terry fan, but the flopping of teams like Barcelona is often extremely frustrating -- almost enough to make me the look the other way when players like Terry retailiate.  Almost.

Frank Lampard once again proved the best player on Chelsea at handling the Barcelona defensive rush.  Plus, it was his brilliant pass that set up the goal.  Notable is that as soon as he realizes he's won possession from Macherano, and even before he has the ball back at his feet, he takes a peek behind him, sees Ramires running and delivers a perfect pass.  That's how you play the game.

Ramires' goal was brilliant and shocking.  I'm reading into this, but sometimes I think Barcelona underestimates the skill of other players because they dominate possession to such an extent.  I think they were shocked that anyone but someone on their team could pull off a goal like that.  I'll leave it to you to decide if you were shocked also.  Magnificent.

Equally maginficent was the one-two, one-two, one-two between Messi and Sanchez early in the first half that almost ended with a goal.  It's amazing how good they are in tight spaces.

Peter Cech was amazing in goal yet again, the highlight being the shot from Messi that he nudged onto the bar.  Plus, his penalty kick work was fantastic.  Messi went slow and Cech's movement and ultimately correct guess got into Messi's head.  I think Messi knew when Cech went that way that he had to put it high, and he overcooked it.  I wonder if Messi is feeling the pressure of this "never scored against Chelsea" statistic.  I suspect that's not true, just the pressure of the game and largely bad luck -- it was still merely an inch or two from going in.

In contrast, I thought Victor Valdes was poor.  I don't watch enough Barcelona to make an informed judgment, but whenever I watch Valdes I am unimpressed.  Despite the acclaim he gets for his footwork, in at least every game I see he gives away a pass or two.  He's also poor in the air and subject to getting pushed around.  Perhaps this isn't important in the Spanish game, but it's notable regardless.  In this game, the first goal wasn't his fault.  But he made life far too easy for Torres at the end. 

Barcelona's defense remains perplexing to me.  The team has virtually no size, and they're fine with that.  Macherano was at best a substitute midfielder for Liverpool, now he's Barca's center back.  Both he an Pujols got shoved around by Chelsea, and in particular by Didier Drogba.  I realize that Gerard Pique was knocked out of this one, but one would think they'd have someone better than Macherano to pop in there.

Despite his last minute goal, I thought Fernando Torres was very poor for the first nine minutes of his play.  What surprised me most was how little he ran.  Here he is coming in for ten minutes and he's jogging around, presumably conserving his energy.  I appreciate the value and skill he put in for the final goal, but I am unwilling to concede as the announcers did that it was worth $50MM.  Drogba was still far more effective and critical to Chelsea's victory.

I think Warren Barton is generally terrific and the only good commentator on the Fox Soccer's coverage.  However, I think he was at least half wrong when he said this game wasn't about tactics, but rather was about heart and determination.  Yes, Chelsea had both, but the changes Roberto Di Matteo has made in the setup of this team have made a world of difference.  The 3/4/3 never worked for Chelsea, and his flooding of the middle with defenders and letting Danny Alves have the ball wide all day was well done.  His substitutions were also well done -- pulling Mata at just the right time, I think, as well as Drogba.  He deserves credit for more than just providing inspiration.  And let's not forget that AVB lost this team in large part because of the personnel he was playing and the results he was getting from a tactic that didn't work. 

This yellow card rule has to be reversed or looked into.  It just doesn't seem right to have the potential of that many good players suspended for the final.  Perhaps a fine to the player would be more appropriate.  I felt especially for Mereiles who brought the official in close to him and begged him to let the tackle go.  The tackle probably deserved a yellow card, but Macherano made the most of it with his dive and roll despite the fact that little or no contact was made.

Well, onward and upward for what remains of the Chelsea squad.  This victory makes things interesting in the BPL, because if Chelsea wins the fourth place team, currently Newcastle, would be out.  I couldn't think of anything more devastating for that club, or for Spurs, if either are able to finish in that position. 

The result also sets up well for today's Real Madrid v. Bayern Munich game, with both teams now thinking that the Championship is for the taking.  But after seeing this Chelsea team win with 10 men against Barcelona, one wonders if a Chelsea victory is simply written in the stars. . . . .


This is farlieonfootie for April 25.

1 comment:

  1. Some very good points here, and a very sound and comprehensive description (even if the spelling and syntax could do with a little work).

    I loathe John Terry. As a Gooner, I wanted Chelsea to lose. I laugh whenever anything bad happens to Terry. And yet, I don't think it was a red card. Yellow, possibly, but red, no. Every Spanish footballer is told to collapse in a heap whenever they are touched, and the officials bought Sanchez' s play-acting. But for me, three things stand out: how Barca have no Plan B when the Barca magic fails to pull the rabbit out of the hat, and how - as Ed says - Di Matteo has transformed a bunch of expensive but aging and largely written-off players into a team with self-belief and a desire to win again. And finally, the biggest shock of the whole match: Torres managed to score into an empty goal.