Barcelona are crying out for Andy Carroll
As Chelsea stood resolute in the face of endless tedious passing, it became clear what Barcelona needed: a big lummox up front.
What an incredible game football is. One team, giants of European football, pound a team of more limited but tireless players for 90 minutes, firing shots in from every angle, hitting the woodwork umpteen times, only to lose thanks to a breakaway goal. In this game, luck and team spirit can overcome even the mightiest and prestigious of clubs.
But I’m sure you don’t want to read a whole column of me bemoaning the injustice of Liverpool’s defeat to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday. Instead, let’s talk about the miracle at the Camp Nou, as Chelsea’s victory over Champions League holders and official greatest-team-for-a-generation Barcelona is already being described. According to the Guardian‘s match facts, Barcelona enjoyed 82 per cent of possession, had 10 corners to Chelsea’s one and 23 attempts on goal to Chelsea’s seven.
Chelsea had John Terry sent off for the most pointless piece of idiocy after 37 minutes - and so played most of the match with 10 men. They also enjoyed the fabulous luck of watching Lionel Messi - who has already scored 41 goals in 33 games in La Liga this season - hit the crossbar with a penalty. All of this after a first leg at Stamford Bridge in which Barca had 79 per cent possession and 24 attempts on goal to Chelsea’s four.
In other words, a heavyweight boxing match between Mike Tyson in his really scary prime and, I dunno, Terry Wogan would have been less one-sided. However, the only match facts that matter are these: Chelsea scored at Stamford Bridge and Barcelona didn’t. At the Camp Nou, Barcelona scored two goals and Chelsea scored two, giving the West Londoners a 3-2 victory on aggregate. Fernando Torres scored, for pity’s sake. In short, they were jammier than a Bob Marley double album. Then again, ‘what’s “fair” got to do with it?’, as Tina Turner would no doubt have asked if she were a Sky Sports pundit. (She’d be better than Jamie Redknapp.)
Indeed, I’m prepared to put aside my usual revolutionary defeatist position in relation to European club games - anyone but an English team that’s not Liverpool - to say that I’m a wee bit pleased that Chelsea won. Partly because the mighty Blues have been reduced to the Benitez-esque tactics that they couldn’t stop moaning about when Liverpool kept beating them in the Champions League back in the day. Football is a team game of skill and tactics. If you ain’t got the skill, make up for it with tactics. When you support a supposedly weaker team, the ability to ‘park the bus’ is your only hope - and football gets a bit tiresome if you don’t have hope.
Football is war by other means. In this case, Chelsea took their game plan from the Battle of Rourke’s Drift: two ranks of men close together, constantly repelling a vastly superior enemy. It would have been entirely appropriate for Roberto Di Matteo to have stood to one side of the penalty area, channeling Michael Caine in Zulu, shouting ‘Front rank: TACKLE! Rear rank: TACKLE!’ Indeed, it was a surprise that after Messi’s penalty miss the Chelsea players didn’t gather around Petr Cech and start singing ‘Men of Harlech’.
The other reason I’m pleased is because I’m sick of the football media’s mutual masturbation over Barcelona. Yes, they are a good team. Messi is as good a player as there has been, already the club’s record goalscorer at the age of 24, while Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and others are top-drawer, too. Their defence may be a bit lacking, but it’s usually fairly redundant. Frankly, most of the time they could give a few of Spain’s millions of unemployed youngsters a run out at centre back in the knowledge that the opposition won’t get the ball long enough to cause any trouble.
However, Barca’s possession football is both beautiful and boring simultaneously. Unless the opposition defend like numpties, it soon dissolves into pass, pass, snooze. It also became very apparent on Tuesday night that there’s no Plan B. They may be the embodiment of how the game should be played, but sometimes you just need to be able to throw on a big lummox like Peter Crouch or Andy Carroll and wallop balls in their general direction in the hope of a fortuitous knockdown. What’s the Spanish for ‘route one’? I bet Pep Guardiola missed that lecture on his UEFA coaching course.
The other thing about Chelsea getting through to the final is that there is now so much opportunity to revel in others’ misfortune, which is appropriate as the game will be played in Germany, a country so generous that it invented a word for finding joy in other people’s misery. Schadenfreude really is the name of the game for the 99 per cent of football fans who don’t support the kind of clubs that, you know, win trophies and stuff. Opportunities for happiness at the expense of others include:
- The two best teams in the world - Real and Barcelona - have lost to the second-best team in Germany and the fifth-best team in England, leaving a squadron of excitable football journalists to throw themselves off the top tier of the Camp Nou;
- Bayern Munich, having qualified for a Champions League final which happens to be scheduled for their own home ground, lose to the aforementioned fifth-best team in England;
- Add to this that Chelsea win but still end up fifth in the league, depriving the team in fourth place - probably either Newcastle or Spurs - their rightful place in the Champions League. Bonus point here would be watching John Terry having to pretend to be happy but dying inside as another chance of personal Champions League glory slides by as his mates celebrate. In fact, he should just do the decent thing and start bawling his eyes out before kick-off;
- Bayern Munich win, leaving Chelsea to spend next season in the Europa League with such minnows as, err, Liverpool. Bonus point here is that John Terry ends up bawling his eyes out, but for different reasons.
Obviously, some of these scenarios involve Chelsea actually winning the thing, which would be a bit depressing for every other English fan. But there’s still plenty for the neutral to enjoy, whatever the result. Who needs all that tiki-taka nonsense when there’s the possibility of genuine human misery on offer? I’m beaming from ear to ear.
Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked. His new book, Panic on a Plate: How Society Developed an Eating Disorder, is published by Societas. (Buy this book from Amazon (UK).) Read his blog here.
Duleep Allirajah is away.