Barcelona v Chelsea (Overdog v Underdog)

April 25th, 2012 § 2 comments

The Champions League semi-final last night was without doubt an enjoyable football occasion for most people. Barca fans, those who dislike Chelsea and others may disagree. Normally when watching any football match, I tend to hope the underdog wins, or at least takes the lead so the game is a little less predicatable, and players/fans are put into a position which is slightly alien to them.

So, it would seem before even the first leg of this semi-final, I would be hoping Chelsea take the lead and challenge Barcelona to break them down. Normally I would. However, there are a number of reasons to find Chelsea hard to support. I do actually own a Chelsea shirt (see below) which was bought out of wonder that bright orange, television snow and cross-hatching could be combined so successfully (?).

The ownership of the club brought a lot of jealously, and the usual indignation from football supporters who prefer clubs success to be built on long-term effort and investment. On top of that, recently there has been the John Terry racism case, and the response from a section of the Chelsea support to the situation. Personally, aside from the yet to be decided racism case, which the FA has sidestepped for a few months,  I find John Terry a highly unpalatable character. Last night he did something so embarrassingly amateur that I think he should be (finally) stripped of the Chelsea captaincy. That kind of “letting him know I’m here” intimidation is for English Championship level football at best, and pub football at worst. He’s done similar things in the past, and I am sure I saw him dig a knee into the stomach of a Barcelona player in the first half of the first leg (possibly Sanchez) which I never got to see a replay of. The look on Lampard’s face, when handed the captain’s armband by Terry was one of, not disbelief, but belief. He knew Terry was most likely guilty and had let the team down – Terry’s attempts to explain himself while walking away would have done nothing to reassure Lampard and the rest of the team.

And so, down to ten men, now surely I can allow myself to support the underdog? Well, normally I would be further steeled in support, and would hope the underdog could hold on, frustrating the better team, and proving themselves adept at the art of defending, which is, after all an important part of the game (most teams play with 5 defenders, including the goalkeeper, and 2 or 3 ‘forwards’ – its been that way since the 60’s).

However, this is still Chelsea, and I feel I want John Terry to be taught another lesson (though doubtless he not be interested in paying attention to the teacher). Added to this is the feeling that this is Barcelona. The best football team in the world. I want to see them in the final, against Bayern Munich. Watching Barcelona is at its best not when they are playing poor teams, but when they play a team who attacks them, allows there to be space, and is prepared to challenge their less than impressive defence and goalkeeper. I felt Bayern would do that.

However. There is a bit of a feeling of a backlash against Barcelona at the moment. I think it began with the Qatar Foundation sponsor on the shirt. Barcelona players (Messi, Xavi and Iniesta aside) like to complain and fall over easily – this is not exclusively a Barca problem, but it is galling to see such good players resort to the kind of sportsmanship that teams with less firepower need to help them along.

But, the main reason with which I find myself leaning towards the backlash and almost glad that Chelsea won last night is this – Barcelona do not just play pretty tiki taka – they only play tiki taka. There is rarely any other form of approach – tiki taka is clearly a pleasing thing to watch, particularly if it intricately unpicks a stoic defence, but what I really love about football (and which for me raises it above so many other team sports) is the variety of things that can happen – the way the ball can be struck, the kinds of shots that can be taken, the beauty of a long pass (Frank de Boer?) a well struck cross and a thumping header, etc etc and these are just the attacking possibilities (I could go on for a while about the subtleties of shot saving). It may seem a little trite to complain about this with Barcelona, as their style has been so successful, and is playful and simply elegant. But it seems that it is possible to stop – and if it is, a team needs to rethink its options, and I mean that within the 90 mins or less of a game. In the minutes of injury time last night, Barca tried a couple of long(ish) balls into the box, but being unused to that, it didn’t work.

Lionel Messi is a wonderful footballer, and I am particularly fond of his approach to being fouled – he get’s up and passes the ball again. I still don’t understand why a man like that agrees to appear in adverts for Pepsi Max – but I can forgive him for his skill and imagination. Recently he broke the goal scoring record for Barcelona, and I watched a video of every single goal he has scored for Barcelona. What was interesting was how similar the goals were. Apart from the odd (admittedly brilliant) solo mazy run, the goals were a combination of low crosses from the by-line turned in, one on one’s with the goalkeeper, little headers from lowish crosses from the by-line and quick one-two’s on the edge of the box, and passed past the goalie. There are no long range belters, few curled into the top corner, no volleys from the edge of the box. I feel this is illustrative of my issue with Barcelona – that you could eat your favourite meal every day of the week and become a bit sick of it.

I am not advocating a return to long-ball football, but at least an approach of mixing things up a bit – tiki taka clearly should be the way kids are taught to play football, it improves general technique, and is transferable from something like 5 a-side to 7’s and full size. It is attractive to watch, and is enjoyable to play. In 5 a-side football there can, over time, be a certain amount of stale-mate, as players are marked well, space is restricted, shooting chances are rare – what I feel really lights up a 5’s game, is a near halfway-line, low, straight, well struck shot off the post and in. I’d like to see that from Barcelona more, or at least a curler from the corner of the box into the top corner, stuck in the stanchion (if there is one).

And so, returning to the Champion’s League – I hope whoever plays Chelsea (preferably Bayern for me, because although they are the ‘giants’ of German football, they haven’t won the league this year and German football is very exciting and pleasing to watch) humps them. And I hope John Terry is greeting in the stands.

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§ 2 Responses to Barcelona v Chelsea (Overdog v Underdog)"

  • oz says:

    I was pretty gutted that Barcelona got knocked out yesterday and the last three matches i have watched (Chelsea-Barca/ Barca-Madrid and Barca-Chelsea) have been so disappointing and crap, and a success for anti football, it puts me off watching any more football for a while.
    At Stamford bridge Cech pumped the ball as far as he could up the park every time after time wasting, Drogba cheated and dived and scored a flukey break away goal-one of 4 shots on target chelsea had in the 2 games. Lampard kept getting embarrassingly skinned and the whole team played in two lines of 4 on the edge of the 18yard box, Madrid did it too. I think Barca would be ok if they had one decent defender, they have no left back, a right back who thinks he’s a winger, Puyol who i love but is past it and was actually never that good at defending, and Pique who never made it at Man U. The Torres goal was ridiculous. Anyway it happened, i thought Messi was maybe ill or suffering an injury the last 3 games as he’s not been on it, and i still think if Villa had been fit they would have gone through.
    Any way nobody mentioned this last night;

    I hope Bayern draw one one tonight and win the final 4-2 at the Allianz, i certainly wont be watching a Madrid v Chelsea final.

    • craig says:

      I agree wholeheartedly waldo – not glad at all that chelsea went through – the whole thing just got me thinking about what could perhaps be missing from Barca, and yes, defending is one thing. It seems to get the best out of Barca, you need to at least approach the idea of attacking, and not just countering – I think Bayern would have done that. Thing is, with Barca’s possession in the first half, and chances, normally they would have humped them – but when the tiki taka doesn’t work, what’s the other idea? I couldn’t believe Torres was allowed to stand at the halfway line on his own – if Valdes was any good, he would have tried to close him much earlier, near half way line, force him to shoot or go wide. Anyway, “two lucky goals” for utd? two good headers more like. where in the world are you waldo?

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