Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chelsea Defy The Odds

Pep Guardiola, Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Johan Cruyff, Michael Laudrup, Terry Venables, Stevie Archibald, Freddie Mercury - your boys took one hell of a beating.

Except that they didn't really other than that it will be Chelsea playing in Munich on the 19th May in the final. Barcelona will no doubt be waking up this morning, scratching their heads and feeling entirely sorry for themselves knocked out by a supposedly vastly inferior side. So where did it all go wrong?

The clues have been there this season that not all at Barca is entirely wonderful - incredible side that they are with several draws in La Liga showing that the team can be stopped with good organisation and not a little luck.

It is also possible that Barcelona have become a touch arrogant given that they no longer feel the need to play with either recognised centre backs or a centre forward. Both Chelsea and Real Madrid this week have shown with incisive breakaway goals that solid defending is still a virtue.

For Chelsea it is a quite staggering result and whilst one must wonder whether they have used up all their luck for the next ten years (Messi missing a penalty alone is astonishing) to concentrate on that would be to do them a vast disservice.

Many such as Arrigo Sacchi did will state this is a victory for 'anti' football and that it is a travesty. Does this mean that underdogs should not play to their strengths and simply allow the better team to steam roller them in whichever way they see fit? Barcelona are an incredible team to watch, as easy on the eye as the Ajax teams of the 70s or mid 90s. But football is also about teamwork, endeavour, organisation, defending and sheer hard work - and scoring goals (Arsene Wenger take note).

Given Terry's stupidity last night and the fact that Cahill went off injured early, Chelsea's heroics are even greater and whilst Barcelona will feel mightily aggrieved, Chelsea's win is in many ways justly deserved if even purely for the (much maligned) character that their team showed and quite simply for taking your chances.

The final will be just as tough given the suspensions to Meireles and more importantly Terry, Ivanovic and Ramires who have been three of Chelsea's best performers this season. Ramires was integral to the victory over Barca and Chelsea are usually a different proposition with Terry in the team, their losses will be felt keenly.

For Di Matteo, the question is now whether to give up on fourth place and rest players, the reality is he probably should. Drogba could be wrapped in cotton wool and set forth on both finals whilst allowing Torres a run of league matches that could help to embolden the fragile return of his confidence, physically at least he looks in great shape.

Cahill and Luiz one hopes will both be fit for the final and if so will need at least a game together to try to forge an understanding before facing either Ribery, Robben and Gomez or three from Ronaldo, Higuain, Ozil, Kaka, Benzema and Di Maria, take your pick.

Right back will be a hideous problem for Chelsea but there is little they can do about that now. Michael Essien has performed admirably at right back in previous seasons but his presence may well be needed in midfield now given the absence of Ramires and Meireles.

Di Matteo is now two cup finals away from an unlikely double that would surely push his case for the job permanently. There are however several factors that should count against him, not least does he have the ability to rip this side apart and build a new one?

What Di Matteo has done is simple but clever but is not the sign of a great manager and Lampard's post match interviews tell you a story. Di Matteo, knowing he has three months only to survive has simply gone to the established players and asked them to play and perform as they can and know how. He has given them license within his overall tactical philosophy for any given match and to a degree played to their egos.

Lampard, Cole, Cech and Drogba have all looked infinitely better under him whilst younger attacking players such as Mata and Sturridge have floundered to some extent. It is a short term solution and it has worked well to a degree.

The reason for stating 'to a degree' is because Chelsea's league form is still dire and despite Spurs' implosion they have made little head way and that is where managers should be judged. Chelsea's seat of their pants Champions League ride could easily have gone the other way even against Napoli.

It is however hard to be critical of Di Matteo of whom little was expected. For Chelsea, the final is much like the English Championship play off final in terms of financial importance. Win and they go into next year's competition with the funds to rebuild the team, lose and they do not given the financial fair play regulations.

Chelsea will go to Munich as huge underdogs again but it is a tag that seems to suit them right now - No Nonsense.