Watching Chelsea walk out on Wednesday night as such massive underdogs was a strange feeling; only 3 years ago there was no one who dared look down on us and we knew that could take on anyone as equals. Our unfavourable odds of course made the victory that much nicer but everyone’s overwhelming surprise at the result made it bittersweet, nonetheless.
It’s a shame to think that it was only 2 years ago that our attack was arguably the most formidable in the history of the Premier League. Drogba and Lampard both smashed their personal records for goals in a season; Anelka and Malouda were also excellent as we stormed our way to that historical double, scoring a record number of league goals as we did it. Since then we have undeniably rescinded in that department, it’s been frustrating and painful to watch at times, but as we learnt on Tuesday, it hasn’t been completely for the worse.
Without all the firepower up front, the squad as a collective has been forced to become more disciplined without the ball, and also to tactically re-adjust, having two defensive midfielders instead of one. In other words, our fall from grace has forced us to adopt the system and temperament that is exactly what is needed to overcome Barcelona.
I’m sure every Chelsea fan by now has been bombarded with the boringly predictable evaluation that we were outplayed, with possession stats ignorantly provided as evidence. Find anyone who knows what they’re talking about however and they’ll tell you that this is never a fair reflection of how well you played against Barca, the only important thing is how you deal with not having the ball and we dealt with it magnificently. We were expertly organised, disciplined, constantly alert, plus we gave them exactly the right amount of respect.
Just after this tie was made, Lionel Messi came out and told the press that Chelsea were the last team Barca wanted to draw, he even said that some of his teammates disliked us and considered us bigger rivals than Real Madrid!! Initially, this confused me but now I think I understand where the little fella is coming from. Obviously there is more than one way to take on Barcelona, but one thing you absolutely cannot do is be yourself (and play your usual game). Alex Ferguson tried it twice and lost two UCL finals, Jose Mourinho also tried it once and lost 5-0 – three instances for you where top coaches got it completely wrong, with pride in the attacking culture they’d created surely a contributing factor. Chelsea on the other hand, we seem to have no qualms in abandoning all attacking philosophies and going out to scratch and claw and grind out a result at all costs. I can’t think of another team with the quality that we have who is prepared to do that, and I figure this must be the reason why Barca dislike us so much. They dislike us because we don’t play their game at all; we don’t care if they make us look amateur or cowardly in our approach because that’s exactly the mindset we know can take us through to the final.
Having learned then that Barca do consider such massive rivals, it surprised me to see Dani Alves come out and give such an absurd and offensive evaluation of the last time the two teams met. If any of you missed it, Alves’ profound mental rearrangement of events had led him to the conclusion that it was “fear” of Barcelona that cost us three years ago, rather than that infamous string of errors from everyone else’s favourite Norwegian referee. Cesc Fabregas also addressed the media to offer his opinions on our negative change in tactics since Villas-Boas’ departure, he said we had reverted to a “long-ball” approach. Personally I don’t think Cesc was being as critical/arrogant as he was made out to be after he said this, but you definitely would’ve expected the squad to have inferred a slight dig at them – and their reaction was exactly what you would’ve hoped for. Alves and Cesc picked at that old scab with their asinine observations and it turned out to be just the provocation we needed.
One thing is for certain, of all the things to have influenced the way Chelsea go out play in any game, fear is definitely not one of them. Not even against maybe the greatest club side of all time.