The below article was written by me for the official Chelsea website and published there after Chelsea’s semi final win over Barcelona. Still relevant even after the final of the champions league!
When Chelsea knocked out Barcelona on that historic night at Camp Nou, most people felt deja vu. Barcelona and Chelsea approached the game exactly as you would expect them to. Their respective methods have given them too much success to experiment with something else on such a big occasion like this. The plans were quite clear ahead of the game. The difference was going to be who executes and delivers their plan to perfection. So, it wasn’t really surprising that these two teams adopted their tried and tested methods. But the difference was elsewhere. The difference was on how Chelsea’s performance was viewed, accepted and even appreciated by the football community.
What used to be called as anti-football has now become defensive masterclass. What used to be called parking the bus was now called defensive organisation and discipline. What was called parking the bus is now called Barca’s inability to break through a tight defence. What was called a defeat for football is now being called success for the british bulldog spirit. This has been a subtle transformation and this is widespread cutting across all club affinities.
How did this happen? I personally think that people have learnt some lessons in football. As simple as that. Yes, Barcelona are the most fluent football team, probably ever. They are the guardians for what’s being called ‘beautiful football’. They are the gods and angels of football. And these impressions of FC Barcelona meant they can’t be beaten fairly and anyone that beats them might have used unfair means. They just cannot be deservedly beaten. And there was an expectation that the opponents play and beat Barca at their own game and anything else is going to be a lucky win or a defeat for football.
Have things changed? Hell yes! Fooball community, including the pundits, have learnt some important lessons in football. Barcelona’s playing style is not from the training ground, it’s from their roots and their culture. And theirs is one way of playing football. Some love it. Some don’t (yeah, it’s me). While they are definitely beautiful to watch, I find their approach highly one-dimensional and surely crackable. And that’s what teams take advantage of. This wasn’t a beauty pageant on the Camp Nou that night. It was a hard-fought contest whose prize was a place in the Champions League final.
Barca played like they always do. Chelsea simply stayed with organisation and discipline, soaked up all the pressure waiting to deliver the knockout blow when they get their chances. You can’t blame Chelsea’s approach. It has worked in the past not just for Chelsea but for various other teams. Why would we change that when Barcelona haven’t figured out to deal with that? And hence, you have pundits finally saying in chorus that Barca don’t have a plan B and teams like Chelsea are perfectly fine in exploiting that.
If we are planning to match Barca’s playing style, we need to do hundred other things before we try to match them on the pitch. Until then, we can be clever in our approach. Until then, we can play intelligent football instead of what’s called ‘beautiful football’. Personally, I’m not a fan of Barca’s style of football. I do like the fast and opportunistic style as against the slow and deliberate style. And it’s okay to not like Barca’s style. And it’s okay to play football with a different style and still be called good football. I’m a proud Chelsea fan as I know my team is versatile. They can play in many ways. They can play in different ways even in the 90 minutes of one game. Versatility is an identity in itself.
Barcelona are not gods of football. And hence it’s not blasphemous to beat them by not playing their game. You play in a way that helps you achieve your objective. To expect teams to play Barca with Barca’s vision and approach to football is plain silly. Who is to say which is the right method? It’s purely subjective. I think there is a great realisation of this fact in the wider football community. And hence I think there was widespread appreciation for Chelsea’s efforts against Barcelona. And for once, after Chelsea played Barca, I heard them all say, Chelsea fully deserved to go to the final at the expense of Barcelona.
Nothing changed in style and approach. All that changed was the mindset and perception. It’s about time Chelsea got credit and there’s nothing like football media showering praises on Chelsea. Music to my ears!