Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Don't Blame the Blues for Their Sporting Vandalism

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Don't Blame the Blues for Their Sporting Vandalism

Article excerpt

Byline: Dan Jones

[bar] HELSEA took Barcelona to the cleaners last night in the only way possible. They played rope-a-dope. Roberto di Matteo's team fought Pep Guardiola's much like a hedgehog would fight a Labrador: by curling up into a compact, prickly ball, making themselves painful to attack and, when the moment arose, unfurling just enough to bite their assailants once, where it hurt.

And once, it proved, was enough. Barcelona had six times as many shots as Chelsea, almost four times as much possession, nearly double the territory and completed nearly four times as many passes. They hit the goalposts twice, too.

But in the only statistic that counted -- goals -- Chelsea were quite literally infinitely superior. Football is a binary game, and 1-0 is an unarguable scoreline.

For Chelsea fans, last night will be remembered as one of the great times to have been at Stamford Bridge. After the ghastly first two-thirds of season, the idea that the same team that were so dreadfully marshalled by Andre Villas-Boas might carry out an impeccable sucker-punch on the best attacking side in Europe would have been laughable.

Now though, it is Chelsea who are laughing: all the way to the Nou Camp, where logic insists they must have their collective trousers taken down and the UNICEF logo branded on their hairy buttocks with a hot footballing iron. However, football is not always logical.

Di Matteo, like Avram Grant before him, could still take an inherited team to the Champions League Final next month.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. For non-Chelsea fans, unpossessed of the serotonin rush, last night's result suggests an interesting philosophical question: is it morally wrong to use the tactics Chelsea used to beat Barcelona? Is lining up 10 men behind the ball, giving the opposition 70 per cent possession, and refusing to play except on the break actually a form of sporting vandalism? A sullen, urchin's cop-out? A metaphorical dirty protest? At times it feels that way. It is very often said, with some contempt, that us media drones wildly over hype Barcelona. But there is no doubt that they bring the sport of football as close as it comes to art. …

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