Ok. This is a little late, but the Chelsea love fest has gotten too rich for me. Yes, they are advancing to the Champions Final after dispatching of one of the world’s best team (and a team far superior to them). That is great. But, what I find humorous is the journalism. Soccer journalist comically deconstruct soccer stratagem after the fact and proclaim genius with their 20/20 hindsight. It gets old. Article after article lauded Di Matteo for his brilliant strategy to beat Barcelona. How about this – he had no strategy. Since his team only had the ball 20% of the time, he instructed them to hold on for dear life and pray that Barcelona’s strikes hit the post, not the net. A few inches here or there and the aggregate would have been 7 goals for Barcelona. Somehow, we lose sight of that.
Interestingly, Di Matteo cannot even be given credit for English football strategy. The old English strategy was based on a flawed assumption that the more balls you kicked into the opponents penalty box, the more goals you would score. So, following their 1966 World Cup victory, English teams started a 4 decade trend of lumping the ball forward at all costs. Di Matteo didn’t even follow that instruction – he literally held on for dear life. Credit goes to the performance of Cahill and Cole for their play. in fact, I haven’t seen much coverage of the goal line clearance that Cole made in the first half. Messi broke down the defense (which usually comprised the entire Chelsea team), dished the ball to Fabregas who flicked to an open net. Why he didn’t put more pace on the ball seemed to puzzle Messi (watch his face after clearance). You can almost see Messi saying, “I do all the work, draw all the defenders to me, give you the ball with an open net, and you try to be cute.” You can find the video clip of the save but youtube has taken it down.
For numbers lovers, try this power point Thomas Shenton sent from Sky Sports: http://www1.skysports.com/football/news/12040/7701796/Numbers-game
Interesting blog article referred by Keith Barrow: http://www.socceramerica.com/article/46458/the-cloud-that-hangs-over-chelsea.html.
Also, lost in the post game buzz, Guardiola stepped down. Not because of the result, but because he is ready to move on. He mentioned last summer he was considering it.
Before I end, I will say that I do see some of the same problems with Barcelona that I see in Arsenal at times. Bot teams try very hard to attack the center rather than use wing play. The math supports them – most goals are scored in the “zone of danger” (as Hector Leano calls it) in front of the goal. Crosses from the side are great, but Barcelona and Arsenal regularly demonstrate the effectiveness of attacking the middle rather than the flanks. That being said, and while I hate the “lump it” strategy from Reep and Cullis (link to blog summary here: Gaining Territory v. Possession: Part I (Book Review: Inverting the Pyramid), Barcelona would be served to occasionally use the long pass it seems. Like I mentioned in an earlier Arsenal post, playing short out of free kicks and corners is great, but it seems like sometimes you need to take a shot at the goal from 35 yards out. The winner of this year’s Champions League will be Bayern Munich which I predicted in September. I think that they demonstrate a balanced approach to the game. They can play possession, attack middle, but they can also pay wide and long. And, if you didn’t see the shootout with Madrid and Manuel Neuer’s saves against Ronaldo and Kaka, you need to watch it. He is the best goalie in the world. Cheers.