Friday, May 2, 2014

Lessons from the all Spanish UEFA Champions League final

To understand football is to appreciate the processes involved. Now that Barcelona are out of the Champions League and competing for third in the log, many are surprised, including the very people I warned when I tried to explain how finished a force they were, some two years ago. That could not be classified as a fact because they were winning then. That thought received a tiny bit of credibility when Bayern Munich dated Borrusia Dortmund in last year's UEFA Champions League final after a good thumping of the Spanish giants. The excuses given by the football world was that there was a football renaissance where the sleeping German football giant was rising.

The reason why I did not buy that was simply the untruthfulness of that perceived fact. Barcelona were faded and of course, Munich had good talent and Dortmund had a once off class of young players who have since succumbed to the life in the fast lane of the game. Klopp is a good coach who needed to be tried and tested. Barcelona are not the tear-away team of La Liga or Europe anymore. The reason why you did not see it when we suggested that, was that there was Lionel Messi. The little magician was in terrific form and extremely rampant in front of goal.

Credit must go to the system at the Camp Nou. Someone either read this blog or he really earns his money. They realised this fact and went shopping for Neymar in Brazil for gazillions. Unfortunately, even with the magic of Messi and the talent of the young prodigy, Barca are a shadow of their former self. Out of respect, I have always avoided expressing my thoughts about Pep Guardiola.

Pep inherited that Frank Rikaard side that was devastating in attack and efficient in both ball-passing and ball-retrieval rate. There was nothing more anybody could do to that side. In any case, Guardiola had always done a good job at the academy in perpetuating the Spanish tradition of the game that bordered around the Johan Cryuff philosophy of the Dutch sexy football, total football. Cryuff had Barcelona set the trend of the Spanish game for a long time.

The former Barca skipper has since left that sinking ship, maybe fair to say a sunken ship. He entered a different environment of solid and disciplined football in Germany, where his predecessor had done a remarkable job in sweeping all silverware last season. He transplanted the Dutch philosophy to Germans and it's biting him now. He is being found wanting big time. That encounter against Real Madrid exposed him in many ways. German teams do not easily concede, especially from dead balls. They are known for their high concentration levels and solid defensive behaviour. They man-mark and do not go zonal.

Against Madrid, their play was disintegrated and the flow was questionable. The passing never came to anything and worse, the transitions were mediocre for what they wanted to achieve. At Barcelona, the industry of Xavi, the intelligence of Iniesta and artistry of Messi would take one from a frying pan to ice. It is easy to think of the Rob-bery combination to rescue the Bavarians. Both Robben and Ribery did their best in that regard but a little tactical bail-out from the coach was necessary,but never came.

I really wish to say Pep is a good coach but so far, the facts fail me. Now that the all-German final of last season has been replaced by an all-Spanish final, it is proof that the previous state of affairs where people thought that German football rules was a fluke, but for sure Barcelona has reached its 'sell-by' date. If anything, the Real - Atletico final is proof of Spain's level playing ground that has always been dominated by Barca shifted and that change did not start yesterday.

The Diego Simeon side have come of age and deserve their place above Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain and their slot in the UEFA final. As for Chelsea, they punched above their weight as I have not even rated them domestically. While they were criticised for their tactics in the semi-final, I am not of the opinion that team selection and playing were defensive as many suggest. If Jose parked the bus, then Chelsea would have won hands down. And I really think he should have arrogantly parked the blue bus. He only didn't because he (and Wenger) always criticise other teams for anti-football tactics because their teams have talents compared to others, but that was ever going to be his only way out.

As for the German football rising, forget about that. Maybe it is yet come. Last season was just an event. The best football is played is England because of the organisation and the money. The rest of the world's teams and players emulate and wish to be at that level. Atletico players themselves give all they have for that chance because they know they cannot all play at Real or Barca. The two Spanish giants only have cash to lure the cream of the English Premier League and Serie A but all the league is mediocre, save for the hunger of the hungry potentials. As for the Bundesliga and the French Ligue 1, they pick up crumbs from La Liga. Most rejects and failures from Barcelona and Madrid flock there.

Given the high profile Real Madrid players and the passionate fighting spirit of Atletico Madrid team, we await to see the derby of a life-time in Lisbon. Statisticians have told us that Fernando Torres alone, cost almost twice as the Atletico starting line-up and that with Willian and Hazard, they cost almost six-fold of the entire Atletico squad.  Money is not everything but if you believe that, please deposit all your savings into my account. Call for bank details.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Did Chelsea park the bus against Atletico Madrid? Me thinks not.

Give that man a Bell's. Chelsea's defeat at Stanford Bridge against Atletico Madrid in the second Champions League semi-final will not win Jose Mourinho any new friends, but please give the man a break. He is not a god of football, no matter how good he can be. As a shrewd coach of very high standards, for his status, he feels embarrassed that he had kept the cream of his team when he played against Liverpool and won with a second string side at the weekend, because he had thought that this  ammunition would come in handy today. It just came back to his face.

Atletico were tenacious and pacey. They fought with body and soul. They played like eleven devils with nothing to lose. They were worth their salt and deserved to win. This was in response to Chelsea's positive approach and attack. Let us be fair, The Blues played good attacking football, fought as a team in attack and in defence, they went forward and pried for openings and they were and are not always as defensive as many would want us to believe. It is easy to think Jose Mourinho is a bus-parker because the one moment he does it, the world stops and notices. Such is the mark of a great tactician.

He prepares the team for each situation. He tries everything he can without leaving anything to chance, though he sometimes fails to get it right. It takes a great manager to take time, split the hairs and work on detail to millimetres and milliseconds, literally. In football, sometimes even if you get it right, you do not necessarily win. The Special One is human and he errs. In this case, the mistake was to rest the best players saving them for this occasion. I understand the issue of fatigue, but match fitness and a lapse in attitude during the wait for this match on the art of players worked against him.

In the match against Atletico, one can point countless times that his central defenders were in the final third and the penalty box, and attempting to score. He abandoned bus-parking antics. A bus parking attitude is where the strikers do not leave the defending third. They passed the ball better and attacked with gusto most of the time. The timing of the second goal squeezed all wind out of their game as they never expected to trail.

Amongst a few more aspects that worked against him, fans and many neutrals had this match won by Chelsea on the basis of the away 0-0 draw in Spain before this kick-off. The players' attitude was already tuned to the final because they thought the coach had won the match for them. The reality and disappointment at the final whistle, that they will end this season with nothing makes Chelsea dangerous to play against next season. Now you have reason to believe that they will be the team to beat in the 2014/5 season.

Meanwhile, losing one match in the semi-final against leaders of La Liga does not make a manager bad. For all the toil and sweat of his charges, he deserved a little better for his ego. For a reality check, he got thumped and that makes the man dangerous for his next assignments. Just because it is Jose, he will not find many sympathisers but it is fair comment to say give the man some kudos folks. He was relishing the prospect of facing his former paymasters in Real Madrid, in Lisbon in the final.