Alex Arthur | King Arthur’s Court
Published: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Updated: Thursday, April 26, 2012 11:04
Barcelona are not immortal. After losing to Real Madrid over the weekend and, in effect, ensuring the La Liga title for Madrid, Chelsea drew 2-2 at Camp Nou, knocking Barca out of the Champions League. After a 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge in which Chelsea dove, defended and frustrated Barcelona into submission, fans of the sport and experts alike all accused Chelsea of playing “ugly” soccer and making a mockery of the beautiful game. Well, I have news for them: Success is not measured by aesthetic means nor how much possession a team can retain. The scoreline, and the scoreline alone, is what separates champions from runners-up. Chelsea proved their tactics from the first leg were no fluke.
Barcelona has dominated the football world for the past three seasons, frequently eliciting remarks from commentators that they are perhaps the greatest club team of all time. Teams have attempted to full-field press them, as A.C. Milan did in the previous round. Teams have tried to attack toe-to-toe with them and mimic their style. Teams have even literally tried to butcher and hurt them to disrupt their game. I’m looking at you, Pepe and Real Madrid. And while Barca have occasionally faltered, they have always come through when it mattered most, as their three straight La Liga titles and two Champions League crowns in the past three years can attest. That all came crashing down Tuesday night. While Barcelona ceded the La Liga title to Madrid, a victory over Chelsea would have still put Barca at odds to win the title. Messi and company’s season rested on a Champions League title.
I wrote two weeks ago that Chelsea’s only chance for victory was to sit back and counter through Didier Drogba up top. Only if vintage Drogba showed up did Chelsea stand a chance, and Drogba put in a performance reminiscent of his dominance a few years ago. Chelsea stuck to the blueprint and scraped out a 1-0 victory at home, and then traveled to Camp Nou, where Barcelona has a near-perfect record. The Blues went down 1-0. Their captain, John Terry, was sent off just minutes later. They went down 2-0. At that moment, no one — maybe including the players on their own squad — believed Chelsea could find a way to advance. Down two goals and a player — not to mention that their other center back went off with an injury 12 minutes into the match — it was impossible to conceive that Chelsea could find a way to triumph.
There were many heroes. There was Ramires — who made the gallivanting run to assist on their goal in the previous game — who received a beautiful ball from Lampard and sublimely lifted it over Victor Valdes to make it 2-1. There was Petr Cech, who put forth his best performance of the season as Barcelona incessantly peppered him with 67 shots over the course of the two matches. There was Fernando Torres, whose spell with Chelsea has been more of a prank than a professional relationship. It has become almost tragic watching a player’s confidence wither into that of a little boy’s. As Torres ran down alone towards Valdes and the Barcelona net, I truly expected something laughable to happen. But he expertly rounded the keeper and scored his most meaningful goal against his fellow countrymen. And finally, there was luck. Without it, you don’t beat Barca. Messi missed a penalty kick in the 49th minute and hit the post in the 83rd. For one night, he wasn’t the best player in the world, and one night was all it took.
Looking forward, Chelsea will play Bayern Munich in the final. They will again be a heavy underdog. They will be beyond depleted, as Terry, Ramires, Branislav Ivanovic and Raul Meireles all picked up suspensions due to cards. The replacements won’t be world class, but after all, it is sports. Sometimes effort and discipline can conquer supreme talent and reputation.
Alex Arthur is a sophomore majoring in economics and English. He can be reached at Alexander.Arthur@tufts.edu.