The question now….how do we deal with Chelsea. No need to practice ball movement, passing, player interplay, or anything that has made the “beautiful game” truly beautiful. I thought we had already turned this corner. Didn’t the Invincibles demonstrate the value of possession soccer? Didn’t Spain in the World Cup place an exclamation point behind it? If there were any doubters, didn’t Barcelona ease your concerns? WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THE SPORT I LOVE?
Now, we just crowned a champion that defied every statistical category in the two games with Barcelona (on aggregate) and in the final against Bayern Munich. I know Barcelona likes the ball so much that they never want to release it. You could read their minds in the Chelsea semi-final – “you mean, you are not going to challenge for the ball? you are just going to sit in the box? ALL OF YOU (not you Torres)? They out-psyched the Catalans who, puzzled, resigned to pass around the box. Since they don’t like to shoot other than tap-ins, they were a lost cause.
In the semi-final, Barcelona had 80% possession against Chelsea, who resigned themselves to play 10 in the box and “get stuck in.” English all over were proud and giddy. A collective “I told you so” was exhaled to all of the rest of “us.” (You see, there are English – from the Island – in soccer and everyone else. They have written off the success of “continentals” and those weirdos from South America as aberrations – their confidence never truly shaken).
Surely Bayern wouldn’t make the same mistake. While Barcelona treats the ball like its “precious,” the attacking four for Bayern are happy to release it. Well, they shot it today. The stats as I read them: Possession 56-44, Shots 43-9, Corners 20-1…The only statistic Chelsea lead was fouls – 26-14 (almost twice as much). There you have it. Just tell your team to play in their box (all of them but one), hack the other team, and hope to score on your one corner. Please don’t use the word “efficient” to describe Chelsea. I can hear it already: “Bayern’s shotgun, wasteful shooting thwarted by Chelsea’s efficient finishing.” The English press is ready to roll. Here is their headlong: “Whew…WE WERE RIGHT!!!”
Rewind to 1966 – English vindication for counterpunch soccer. Charles Reep controlled the thought of the F.A. and, based on his observation, he wrote: “Long chains of passes require repeated accuracy, very difficult to sustain as defenders move in to close down space- man-mark the targets as the sequence stretches out.” From his philosophy, the F.A. developed its philosophy. Many inside England look at his anecdotal, unscientific approach (he watched 578 games between 1953-1967) as the reason England has not returned to the glory in the sport it once occupied. The continentals and South Americans, leaving the English far behind, worried little about English smugness.
Well, here we go again. It is 1966 all over. The U.S. Youth Soccer has a new curriculum based on possession soccer. We finally are moving away from counterpunching. Let’s not look back. Forget 1966. Forget today. Let’s get back to the beautiful game.
***For the record, I understand why you need to counter attack as a strategy. You may lack the resources, you are over-matched, etc. But, doesn’t Chelsea spend more than Bayern? What’s their excuse? We bought the wrong players?