Chelsea’s Champions League semifinal lineup vs Atletico Madrid disappointed me, and I suspect, rest of the football world too. For next ninety minutes the only prayer on my lips was that the Rojiblancos score early and the game opens up. Alas, that never happened. My 3am midnight awake for a supposed thrilling encounter ended in misery and spoiled rest of the working day.
The lineup was a pure 8-1-1; the only 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 finals of Europe’s elite club competition.
When Carlos Bilardo’s 4-5-1 tactics took Diego Maradona led Argentina to Italia 90 World Cup finals, British media had roundly criticised 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 down the nineties, as Italy kept doing well in international tournaments, the “Catenacci” branding reverberated. And once Chelsea got reborn under the Mourinho-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 ball throw-ins, players falling over at the slightest touch; staying glued to the mat groaning for longer time (Drogba’s antics at Nou Camp 2012 even got Sir Alex to condemn); needling opposition players and off-course; 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 whom mighty Barcelona couldn’t beat in five meetings this season was at the right place. Rightly Atletico Madrid are the second best team in the world after Bayern Munich. Jose Mourinho had every reason to fear them and their intensity. Jose will get my thumbs up if he reaches the finals. But he owes more to football than just to fans of his club. Even those fans won’t have memory of such a game down the years. 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.
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 reward for his semi-final winner vs Barcelona. Ryan Bertrand, meanwhile, now, plies his trade for Aston Villa - which speaks of his level worth debuting on the greatest night for Chelsea fans this century. With the sort of lady luck which smiled on the blues that season, they would have anyways won with any lineup.
Chelsea owe more to the footballing world, to the sport which has given them millions of fans.