Barcelona vs Chelsea : A victory for Barcelona or for football as a whole?

Iniesta HeroIn 1894 Charles Miller arrived in Brazil with a ball and a set of rules for a game, the intention being to score a goal. Barcelona on Wednesday night demonstrated their intent to play the way that the beautiful game was intended to be played, and to set about a task as only they knew how. Miller took to the streets of Brazil where they now commonly state “the English created it, we perfected it.

It is with this sentiment in mind we can look at the Champions League tie midweek. FC Barcelona, the fruition of Catalonia and their philosophy of being separate from the rest. With significant Catalan nationalist sentiment present in a part of the population of Catalonia, a sense of independence is massively important. This is something that is expressed in their football team…to be independent, to be ‘different’ from the rest. Barcelona are ‘Mes Que Un Club’ – More than a club.

You only have to look at the Primera Division this season to see the stark difference in Barcelona to the rest of the teams in the league. Their front 3 alone have scored over 100 goals in all competitions, playing to entertain and mesmerise their Camp Nou faithful… and with some success with their bitter rivals humbled 6-2 in a demolition job. They have used a philosophy to play with purpose and creativity to achieve the goal that Miller intended; to get the ball in the back of the net. Now, just as the Brazilians claim to have perfected it, at club level, Barcelona is looking to do that same thing with a side made up from talent (that they themselves have seeded and watered). They had no fewer than 7 products of their famous ‘La Masia’ (the cottage) youth development program in their squad on Wednesday night. In the first leg they came out with the intent to get a goal, to WIN the game. Only to be stopped by means they were unfamiliar with, a 10 man wall that never relented.

Their opponents, West London side Chelsea FC, could not have proved to have been a bigger contrast to their own style. The side was bought and is looked after by their super rich owner Roman Abramovic, who dreams of the kind of history their Spanish rivals have had. Chelsea, are the club with a foreign owner, a foreign manager and only 3 of their squad members of the England national team. Their approach to the game was not to win, but to simply stop the most potent strike force in world football, a complete difference in philosophy to that of their rivals.

Maybe that’s Chelsea’s problem, a lack of a philosophy or image? Owner Abramovic wants to play beautiful football, but he doesn’t have the necessary players to do it.

The second leg continued much like the first, although Chelsea did at least make an attempt to come forward a little. Their early wonder goal from Michael Essien proved to be the catalyst to send them back to what they knew best, defending. The game was ending with Barcelona having above 70% possession of the ball, passing and probing. Lionel Messi, the best player in the world, was bullied off the ball (legally mind!) and countered by no less than 3 players assigned to stop him. However, he gave the most vital contribution, a simple square ball to the legend in the making… Andres Iniesta. The epitome of professionalism, the “choir boy” took one swing of his gifted right foot and guided the ball into the top corner of the net, Barcelona got what they needed, that away goal! As he almost cried in celebration his team mobbed their new hero!

Chelsea’s naivety in not going for the away goal when in Barcelona is what has ultimately cost them. Barcelona came to play and score, only for Chelsea to “park their bus”…AGAIN, but this time releasing the odd ball forward when allowed to. To their credit, tactically it was almost perfect; it got them so close to Rome… the ugly way. Yet through their brilliance and determination, the Barcelona team managed to carve out ‘that’ chance with all the attacking verve and desire that they have been ordered to demonstrate since their youth team days.

Drogba madmanFootball is about getting a goal, not stopping it. It depends on your own views on how the game should be played, but over the two legs, the more professional, game playing team went through. The “Dream team II” managed to keep their cool after their own first leg frustrations with the ref. Chelsea, without philosophy, a confused club not sure of their identity, erupted. The words “disgrace” and “shame” have been used to describe the teams’ actions after the game. Such a lack of professionalism should not be rewarded.

Iniesta, Messi and Co. deserve their place in the final…they along with Manchester United will go with the intention to play the game, to score goals…at least we hope! Either way it should be a great final.

Is football the winner? You decide.

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Debate: Is the gap between the Premier League and Serie A as big as the Champions League suggests?

1037097_full-lndAs we sit here waiting another year in the UEFA Champions League whereby four of the quarter finalists come from English soil, we cant help but wonder…is the Premier League really THAT good?  Judging by the results this week it would appear so.  English champions Manchester United knocked out the champions of Italy Internazionale, Chelsea knocked out Juventus (who seem to have had the same inconsistent season that they have). Finally Arsenal, so nearly the blemish of the Premier League having to rely on penalties to knock out Roma (who themselves, like Arsenal are having an awful time of it in their domestic competition).

Results alone speak volumes apparently, and that would tell you that Englands elite far outstrips that of the rest of Europe.  Barcelona and Villareal are apparently the best Spain has to offer nowadays. Bayern Munich and Portugals Porto are the sole representatives of their nations in a quarterfinals that is surely another sign of how money is effecting our beautiful game (look out for another debate coming soon discussing this).   Focusing on Serie A vs the EPL and these three ties, could it be said that lady luck is now with England?  You only have to look at the injuries and suspensions to each of the Italian teams in comparison to their English counterparts

Looking first at Chelsea vs Juventus, the blues were welcoming back arguably one of the most underrated midfielders in the world, Michael Essien and one of their mainstays in defence Ricardo Carvalho to their bench.  Juventus on the other hand were without Momo Sissoko, Leggrottaglie, Zanetti,  Camoranesi and were then hit with the early departure of Pavel Nedved in Turin.  Juventus matched Chelsea all the way in terms of pace and strength throughout the encounter and it took a late Drogba goal to truly put the tie to bed.  All of this with their rock in defence Chiellini was sent off by a highly dubious decision from the referee.

Arsenal went into their encounter with Roma welcoming back two key players in Eduardo and Theo Walcott (ok they were missing Adebayor and Fabregas too, but still!). Roma were without a key influential player in the middle of the park in Danielle De Rossi. Add to that Francesco Totti, had not played since the 1-0 first leg defeat in London, when he was also only around 30 per cent fit, was asked to play 120 minutes of football. Roma on the night probably deserved to go through on chances created and were it not for an absolutely awful miss from Julio Baptista, they would probably be in the hat.

1036871_full-lndInternazionale were the only ones to get a positive result in their first leg and they found themselves struck down  in that central defensive position. First choices are normally always Walter Samuel (who came back from injury to play) and Christian Chivu.  Chivu was definately a big miss, an adequate replacement was found however in Ivan Cordoba. In came Patrick Vieira who even by Mourinho’s admission had not played enough football to be anywhere near his top form, and this proved vital for the opener on wednesday night.  Manchester United on the other hand have had their key players back and chomping at the bit.  Wayne Rooney, recovering for the first leg, was certainly a massive weapon up top for the red devils in the second.

So…granted, the English sides have got more depth in their squads, sure..the divide is there..but its definately alot more narrow than statistics would have you believe.  A popular view is that there is only one side capable of breaking the Premier League domination in this years CL, FC Barcelona.  Having run Manchester United very close last year with a depleted squad and a club in turmoil, surely even a more rejuvinated Barca and a free scoring front 3 of Messi, Henry and Etoo cannot be victims of the ‘statistic’.

Without the injuries and suspensions that the English sides never had, do you think there would have been a few smiling Italians on the back of the British tabloids the following day? Could this English “dominance” that Sky TV have lead us to believe be nothing more than lady luck? Will the Premier League “dominance” continue for many more years?  The facts are there, the games have been played to see how big the gap is…you decide.

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