Spain hosts both Champions League semi-final second-legs this week, as defending champions Barcelona entertain Chelsea, whilst Real Madrid take on Bayern Munich. Both ties are delicately poised with a slender one goal advantage to the away teams. This is a week to clear your diaries, get the kettle on and enjoy the footballing spectacle that is the Champions League. Today, Melosport looks at Barca versus Chelsea.
Barcelona (0) v Chelsea (1)
Following two Barcelona defeats in four days, Pat Nevin, former Chelsea winger, made a bold yet naive comment during this week, “I think people have lost the fear of Barcelona, they still have massive respect, but they know they have weaknesses.”
If Chelsea did not fear them they would not have placed all 11 men behind the ball. To quote one of Jose Mourinho’s more memorable Chelsea idioms – they parked the bus. Yet, who can blame them. Go toe-to-toe with one of the ‘greatest teams ever’ and it’s game over.
Football purists call this approach ‘anti-football’. They despise the fact that teams put more emphasis on defence than attack. They would prefer their own teams to win 4-3 rather than 1-0. Clean sheets are of little importance. Chelsea deserve some credit following last week’s performance. They did have an extremely high work rate as Lampard, Meireles and Drogba all covered more ground than Barca’s own leading, lung buster, Xavi. Lionel Messi was kept relatively quiet by his own standards (he is currently four goals short of equalling Gerd Muller’s European record of 67 goals in one season). Chelsea and Real Madrid’s master plans in stopping the Barcelona juggernaut included deploying three midfielders protecting the back four. This resulted in Messi dropping deeper and more centrally to get the ball (as per the graphic below). Real evidently did a better job than Chelsea as Barca hardly had a sniff at the Camp Nou, compared to hitting the woodwork twice and missing a host of chances against the Blues at Stamford Bridge.
How the Catalans will react to this semi-slump will be intriguing. The fact that Barcelona are widely considered one of the greatest teams ever, if not the greatest, is somewhat perplexing. Admittedly, they have won 13 out of 16 trophies and have also dominated in recent years in Europe (three Champions league victories in six seasons). Yet they have never won back-to-back Champions League titles. No-one has (since CL formed in 1992). People have short memories but the bottom line is, the club sides widely considered ‘the best-ever’ have won back to back European Cups and here is a brief refresher.
Milan in 1990 were the last team to successfully defended their European crown. Before the Rossoneri, Liverpool achieved the same feat in the late 70s. During the same decade, the brain child of Barcelona’s current tika-taka footballing style, Rinus Michels, commenced a period of domination where Ajax won three consecutive European Cups (1971-3), led by the great Johan Cruyff. Bayern Munich swiftly followed suit, winning three consecutive European Cups of their own (1974-1976) led by Franz ‘The Kaiser’ Beckenbauer. Before that era, came Alfredo Di Stefano’s Real Madrid, who guided Real to five consecutive European Cups in the late 1950s.
It is argued that there are more teams now in the premier European competition hence it is more difficult to win but the vast majority of teams competing are not champions of their country. Back in the days of the European Cup, the victors were truly considered the best of the best.
In light of this, this is not just a semi-final. For Barcelona this match represents a significant crossroads in the Club’s history. They have, undoubtedly, been sensational in recent years but there is a difference between being sensational and being truly great. Longevity. Barca must win back-to-back Champions League titles if they are to be considered truly great.
Messi to close in on Gerd Muller’s record and guide Barca to the Final.