Friday 7 May 2021

07/05/2021: Chelsea's road to Istanbul

There are quite some aftermaths since ESL collapsed: protests at Old Trafford, and Chelsea allowing fans representatives to join some board meetings. But none of them matches Chelsea's competitive achievement just a few hours ago.

That is, a magnificent performance outclassing Real Madrid over two legs which wins them a ticket to the Champions League final in Istanbul -- somewhere we could have been to 16 years ago if not the phantom goal from Liverpool.

I couldn't help but to shed tears with semifinal scenes flashing through my head...

In 2008 Ivanovic scored two headers out of nowhere marking the beginning of his era in Chelsea; and of course the 4-4 is one of the most entertaining match ever.

In 2009 that was the night of fucking disgrace which I don't want to talk about that ever again. But the 1-1 game is absolutely filled with quality: Essien scored a stunner and so did Iniesta. The Barca team went on and become one of the strongest team in history (despite multiple controversies).

And 2012? I can still recite every single quote and every goalgasm from Neville for the two miraculous goals.

The semifinals are never boring, and so was today's game. Real Madrid's midfield were so exhausted and they simply failed to pressurize Jorginho -- who always play like a master whenever unmarked. 

Kante was of course the star above all, he was too good on both ends of the field. It was his change in tempo that created the first goal. His contribution to the second goal is even more direct: a clear interception before sending to Pulisic who fed Mount. He is almost flawless in the tie. He even won all aerial challenges which is amazing considering he is just 5'7!

The other players should receive their deserved praise too. Mendy's two crucial saves saved Chelsea in the first half; AZP playing the best he possibly can with his declining physicality; Rudiger who is solid as is truly a team effort. 

I don't blame Hazard for being sloppy in the game. He did he part, just that he simply lost his bursting power he had back in the days. He was thoroughly neutralized under the effort of Christensen and AZP, and the rest of Real's midfield were even less creative. Tuchel once again showed his tactical geniusness, and Zidine meanwhile, showed that his team is so awful under 3-back against top teams.

Back in the days I fell into love with Chelsea because of Mourinho and his 1-0ism. I thoroughly believe in 1-0ism works in sports in particular football (I like 1-0ism in baseball too, though I have to admit it may not be the best way there). Being good defensively however sometimes implies the lack of sparks on the other end and the lack of consistency to win against lower teams. We have seen enough of that from Chelsea during these years.

Some like Abramovich of course prefer the complete opposite: he wanted beautiful football. He bought many good attackers but most of them didn't perform as expected. On the other hand, coaches/managers that played attacking football -- like Ancelotti's team with 103 seasonal goals in 2009-10, AVB's high pressing team in 2011-12 and Sarri's Sarriball in 2018-19 -- never reached the same level of success in terms of European performance.

At a point we thought that it is impossible to play beautiful and solid football at the same time. But now with Chelsea and City's performance this year we see a glimpse of hope that this is actually possible. The key of playing solid and beautiful football simultaneously is not all about stacking world class players (like PSG). It's being able to run, to play physically, and to execute tactics thoroughly. This is the common feature we observed in both the City vs PSG and Chelsea vs Real Madrid ties. These are the two teams that overwhelmed their opponents in all aspects, and they deserve the spots in Istanbul.

To be honest I expect a dull display in the final because the two teams will probably play very conservatively, but that does not mean it is dull tactically, it is the right tactics adopted by both teams that prevent the talents from making comfortable decisions. This may not be a match that is enjoyed the most by general public, but I certainly have very high expectation on it.

Most of Chelsea's players actually never played in the Champions League semifinal let alone final, but that's not something we should worry. There were numerous players in the 2012 Chelsea team who just joined. Cahill even just joined the club during the winter transfer window! The newcomers in 2021  -- Werner, Havertz, Chilwell and Silva -- have shown their quality and we should be faithful that they can do it again on May 29.

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