Chelsea – Champions League winners 2012
I don’t like stereotpyes. I never have and never will, I believe that people are all individuals and will do things their own way, meaning stereotypes are redundant. As Gabriele Marcotti said, so brilliantly in The Times on Saturday, a stereotype is nothing more than an easy way for the lazy and stupid among us to absorb basic information that we’re too uninterested or unintelligent to comprehend.
An example of classic stereotyping can be German football. Naturally, when faced with the discussion of German football amongst friends, many categorise German football as mechanical, robotic in the sense that German football teams win matches due to great mental strength, stamina and tactical discipline. Almost incredibly, many people I had the misfortune of speaking to in the days leading up to the Champions League Final were of the opinion that Bayern Munich were a methodical, boring outfit.
Think of German football, people think of Oliver Kahn screaming profanities at defenders, Michael Ballack hitting the ball at such a velocity the ball wails in pain and Lothar Matthaus bull-dozing his way around a football pitch. Clearly, those people have never watched much German football, certainly have they not watched this current Bayern Munich team play much football this season.
Saying all of this, Bayern’s main source of goals this season fits the teutonic stereotype. Mario Gomez, half German, half Spaniard, has tallied a monstrous 40 goals in all competitions this year for Bayern Munich, thanks mainly to that handy knack of being in the right place at the right time. For comparisons with Gomez, think Ruud Van Nistelrooy in his Manchester United years. Big and brawny, Gomez conforms to the cliché of German football.
What of Phillip Lahm, Toni Kroos and the scrawny physique of Thomas Mueller? Lahm, captain of the German national team as well as Bayern Munich, combines technique with pace and vision. Toni Kroos, a creative midfielder for Bayern, plays in the same way as that seen at Barcelona’s barn of talent (La Masia). Thomas Mueller, winner of the World Cup 2010 Golden Boot possesses a sublime first touch, capable of playing in midfield or as a striker.
Tactically, Bayern aren’t as ‘efficient’ as one would like to stereotype. Look at Bayern’s defending in their 5-2 Deutcher Pokal Final defeat to Bundesliga champions, Borussia Dortmund. There have been gaps in Bayern’s central defence for a while now and whilst Bayern have conceded just six at home all season, they are always prone to that defensive lapse.
Basically, Bayern Munich are not the Germans you thought you know; they are entertaining and frustrating in equal measure.
Everybody’s favorite, lazy stereotype of German football is perhaps best typified by the Chelsea sides which have struggled to capture imaginations of fans and the patience of Roman Abramovich who desperately chases after beautiful football as if it’s a beautiful ex-girlfriend he regrets not paying homage to at the time.
Chelsea have only ever briefly left their tactically efficient approach to matches in seasons gone-by since the departure of Jose Mourinho. It was Mourinho who set Chelsea up to win rather than entertain and it’s something that Chelsea have adopted as their hallmark, playing energetic, robust football, the antithesis to Bayern Munich’s free-flowing, attacking approach to their football.
There is nothing wrong with adopting a different approach to the rest in football. Of course, it is hard to appreciate the aesthetics of Chelsea’s football, I suspect the Chelsea faithful have their struggles at times, but their football undoubtedly brings results, the epitome of success.
A tactical, well-drilled approach however, requires a great deal of athletic supremacy to make it fully effective. My favourite example of Chelsea’s perfection of their particular art, is when they faced Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, winning 3-0 by playing on the counter as Arsenal weaved intricate triangles to beat Chelsea. Drogba slaughtered Arsenal on his own that night, he may as well have been playing on his own at times. To typify just how ‘brawny’ Chelsea were that night, Fabregas was cautioned for pushing Drogba. Fabregas then motioned to the referee as if to say, ‘what else do you want me to do?’ Fabregas had tried passing his way around Chelsea, everything, but ultimately could not deal with Chelsea’s brawn, gesturing his own height and comparing it with that of Drogba’s, claiming he could do nothing other in an attempt to stop him.
Just a year later, under the same manager, Carlo Ancelotti, with basically the same team, Arsenal hammered Chelsea 3-1 at the Emirates. Fabregas was excellent, as were Samir Nasri and Jack Wilshere. Arsenal’s mini-magicians had caught up with Chelsea who looked so slow, cumbersome, barely a shadow of the team that had wiped Arsenal out a year ago.
That decline has carried on into this season. Unable to cope away from their preferred model of defend, tackle, run and tackle, Chelsea suffered under Andre Villas-Boas and the Portuguese manager was duly sacked by Abramovich.
Chelsea have finished 6th in the Premier League this season, their worst finish for nearly a decade. Unable to cope with the physical demands of their preferred playing model, Chelsea are rapdily declining, but for one night, Chelsea showcased what has made them so successful over the years.
For the majority of the game, it was a case of ‘attack v defence’ as Bayern Munich camped out in Chelsea’s half and propelled attack after attack against Chelsea’s stubborn defence. On Chelsea’s behalf, they were ugly, showing incredible limitations against a vastly superior opponent. Bastian Schweinsteiger controlled everything in midfield alongside Toni Kroos, the two acting as masterminds to Bayern Munich’s attacks. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery were constantly troubling Chelsea’s defence and it seemed only a matter of time until Bayern would tear up Petr Cech’s clean sheet.
Fortunately for Chelsea, despite creating three great opening for Mario Gomez alone, Bayern could not score. Gomez was chief perpetrator, apparently choking each time he went to strike the ball. I don’t like saying a football player has choked without looking at other logical reasons as to why they did what they did. For Gomez’s first chance, Ribery had shot but dragged it wide, Gomez only saw the ball come through a line of players at the last second and could only snatch at ball, it was a great chance but understandable that Gomez missed. Gomez’s third chance, the best of the lot, was a howler. The German international dummied to great effect, throwing Gary Cahill into two minds and thus creating ample space in which the German could line up a shot and strike from nine yards out. Incredibly, Gomez blasted his shot, Lothar Matthaus style, into the mesosphere.
In the 53rd minute, Franck Ribery believed he had broken Chelsea’s resilience, but was judged to be offside.
Half an hour later, Bayern had found their breakthrough. Thomas Mueller, out of form for much of this season, has endured his most difficult Bundesliga campaign to date and it was great to see the World Cup 2010 Golden Boot winner find his Midas Touch once more when he headed past Petr Cech at the back post from Toni Kroos’ cross. With just seven minutes left, it was going to take an almighty effort for Chelsea to force an equaliser, having shown nothing in an attacking sense for the 82 minutes before Mueller’s goal.
Till that point, Bayern had been cruising, all they needed to do was play with the same kind of assurance that had seen them dominate Chelsea. Jupp Heynckes decided that Daniel Van Buyten needed to replace Thomas Mueller to protect their lead for the remaining minutes, giving Bayern an extra man in defence. Van Buyten hadn’t played any football since January, a Champions League Final is barely the place to give a rusty player a few minutes at such a crucial stage of the match?
Mueller’s exit meant Chelsea had one less midfielder of Bayern’s to worry about and thus could propel their own forages forward without too much hassle.
From one of those forages forward, Chelsea found their equaliser, courtesy of Didier Drogba’s prominent forehead in the final minutes, like we’ve never seen that before. It is no longer, ‘you play for 90 minutes and the Germans win’, but, ‘you play for 90 minutes and Drogba scores’. Cesc Fabregas said that shortly before Barcelona played Chelsea in the semi-finals, stating that you outplay Chelsea all match, but Drogba scores one goal on the counter-attack and Chelsea win.
In extra-time, Bayern were awarded a penalty when Drogba brought Franck Ribery crashing to the turf. It was as clear a penalty as you will ever see. Arjen Robben stepped up, took a poor penalty and Petr Cech saved.
After Robben’s penalty miss, it seemed that Bayern had lost their heads a little, they didn’t seem as assured as they were before, their passing not as fluent as it had been and the longer the game went on for, the more Chelsea looked good for a penalty shoot-out.
Juan Mata missed Chelsea’s first penalty and Bayern lead until Ivica Olic missed and Ashley Cole scored to make it 3-3 on penalties. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mr Bayern Munich himself, one of Bayern’s star performers on the night, stepped up to take a crucial penalty. Normally so efficient, Schweinsteiger struck the upright. Unbelievable. Schweinsteiger is the most efficient player I know and had missed his penalty.
Didier Drogba stepped up, scored and thus Chelsea emerged victorious as Champions League winners for the first time in their history.
Now to wrap things up. As I said earlier, for one night, Chelsea demonstrated what has made them great for so many years. Chelsea have never played with much enterprise, but almost in a robotic fashion, playing on the counter in big matches and stifling the opposition. This is great when the players concerned can cope with the physical demands, but when such crucial components of the machine start to rust, it becomes more difficult to perform and as such, Chelsea have typically declined in the last two seasons. 6th place is awful for Chelsea and unless they radically alter their methods and playing staff, these nights will never happen again.
I want to congratulate Chelsea for their achievement, but they must realise that they cannot carry on a they are. An FA Cup and Champions League double is brilliant, but it must be coupled with a strong domestic season. 6th place in the Premier League is strong, but more indicative of Chelsea’s quality this season.
It’s been widely discussed that Drogba should be offered a new contract at Chelsea. For me, it would be a terrible decision to keep Drogba on the playing staff at Chelsea. In Chelsea’s worst league finish for nearly a decade, Drogba has scored five league goals in twenty-four appearances. That is not a sign of a striker performing to his peak and for Chelsea to offer Drogba higher wages of phenomenal amounts would be such a bad decision it’s not worth contemplating. Why would you give a striker a monster contract when it’s clear said player is on a downward spiral. Fernando Torres, despite not scoring, offered a lot more than Drogba did all match when the Spaniard appeared in the match. Torres has also scored more goals (six) in the league than Drogba this season.
I’m not saying Torres is the answer for Chelsea, but it is indicative of how bad Drogba has been in general this season when his goal tally is comparable to a national laughing stock in Fernando Torres. I don’t believe for a second that defenders fear Drogba in the same whey they once did and for that, I would not offer Drogba a new contract.
Right, that’s round about two thousand words typed for this post and I’m sure you’ll be getting reading fatigue by now, so I’ll call time for today.
See you tomorrow.