Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel M

Looking back at Chelsea-Barcelona, and pondering Champions League soccer as the game at its best


Champions League soccer typically represents the game’s best version.

Yes, better that World Cup soccer; superior team cohesion and a higher level of player balance creates this sharper brand, not to mention an overall approach that generally leans more assertive, less cautious.

I tell people this all the time. Only yesterday’s eventful semifinal, full of brilliant talking points as it was, hardly made the case.

I still can’t quite figure out how to feel about Tuesday’s incredible night. Yes, Chelsea deserves credit for fortitude and finding a way, and praise rains effusive today across UK media stops. English soccer has long been hopelessly enamored with the blood-stained, desperate stand.

Only “blood-stained, desperate stand” is hardly how I prefer to see my Champions League semifinal play out. If we’re talking about Bolton needing a point to stave off relegation to a lower tier, bravely drawing its lines against mighty Manchester United or the like on a season’s final match day, then fine. But a moneyed team of Chelsea’s alleged quality?

In terms of what this means to the UEFA final in Munich, it’s like being presented with cough medicine or ice cream, knowing that either one will ease a sore throat – and choosing the cough medicine.

Yes, I understand the Blues were a man down on the road. And yet, building a line of six across the back, with two forwards stationed on the outside, is hardly the bright stuff of Champions League dreams.

All that said, it’s hard to reckon that Barcelona deserved to go through either. For all of the fabulous talent assembled at the Nou Camp, the Blaugrana simply failed in too many ways Tuesday to be considered among the most worthy finalists, either.

Shall we count the blue and deep red ways?

The goalkeeping wasn’t good enough. (By contrast, Chelsea’s Petr Cech wasn’t tested repeatedly Tuesday but certainly rose in the moments that mattered.)

Barcelona’s defending simply wasn’t good enough.

The tactics were wrong. Pep Guardiola’s over-thought 3-3-4 served only to stack more bodies along the black wall of death, a crowd of congested cleats drawn with anti-soccer purpose 20 yards from Chelsea goal.

But those were failures of the day; misdemeanor offenses compared to the felony crimes of a larger level.

Diversity of attack was sorely lacking Tuesday. True that its Barcelona’s beautiful style that makes Pep Guardiola’s side something special. It made Barca such a worthy and memorable champion a year ago. But it shouldn’t be carried like a burden, a precious cargo to be towed no matter the cost.

And yet, the ball went in, the ball went out.  Again and again.  With a curious, almost bizarre lack of bigger purpose. Hard-headed Barca was so dead-set determined to score the Barca way – and now they’ll have plenty of time to ponder the sorry consequences.

Shoot from beyond the 18? Not the Barca way, apparently. A few more speculative crosses, hoping to catch the visitors as they reorganized after the clearance? Nah.

Along those lines, at a bigger level, where in the world was Plan B? Going forward, Pep Guardiola simply must find one target player capable of changing the look periodically, or must otherwise find a way to be less systematically rigid when Plan A, stylish and pleasing to the eye as it can be, isn’t working.

So five things went wrong Tuesday from Barcelona’s side, undercutting the wealth of skill and smarts developed and gathered majestically at the Catalan home of soccer:

Goalkeeping not good enough; defending not good enough; over-cooked tactics; lack of diversity of attack; lack of a plan B.

But there was one more missing element (again, giving Chelsea proper credit for fiercely navigating the difficult night – even if they’ll be fighting in the Munich final with the shortest of sticks due to injury and suspensions):

Leo Messi picked an awful night to have a stinker.

That’s not Barcelona’s fault, and it’s probably not Messi’s fault, either. That just happens in the game from time to time. The timing in this semifinal case was just tremendously, notoriously ironic.

Ancelotti rules himself out of Liverpool job

Carlo Ancelotti, Real Madrid CF
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Carlo Ancelotti will not be the next manager of Liverpool, if you’re not so cynical that you don’t believe Mr. Ancelotti himself, that is.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Ancelotti, who this summer was fired one season after winning the UEFA Champions League at Real Madrid, has been widely reported a top-two candidate for the Premier League club’s vacant managerial position ever since Brendan Rodgers was fired on Sunday.

While he may very well have been one of Liverpool’s top choices, to hear Ancelotti tell it, he’s not interested in taking the job, nor any other job anywhere in the world this year.

[ MORE: “Super computer” predicts final Premier League standings ]

Ancelotti, speaking at the National History Museum in London on Tuesday — quotes from the Guardian:

“I enjoy my time now but, of course, I want to come back to manage – to work – because it is my passion. I want to take my time to rest, but next season I am ready.”

“Why not [return to Paris Saint-Germain]? I have very good memories of Paris, PSG, I have good relations with everyone, with Nasser [al-Khelaifi, the PSG president].

“But I’m thinking about other things and PSG has a very good coach in Laurent Blanc. I hope he will continue and shine in the Champions League.”

Of course, with Jurgen Klopp reportedly all but officially announced as Liverpool’s new manager, Ancelotti is probably doing two things by ruling himself out until next season: 1) saving a bit of face, given that he was pretty clearly not Liverpool’s first-choice candidate; 2) letting every Ancelotti-sized club know that he’ll be available come this spring and summer, just in case they’re considering firing their current manager and need a bit of assurance an elite candidate will be available.

[ MORE: Klopp expected to be named new Liverpool manager this week ]

For instance, the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City, PSG and Juventus immediately come to mind. A manager of Ancelotti’s quality will always have options and offers, and that’s something he clearly understands. Ancelotti has earned the right to enjoy a year-long sabbatical and to be picky when choosing his next job.

Report: FIFA provisionally suspends Sepp Blatter

Sepp Blatter, FIFA president

Sepp Blatter could, finally, be frozen out by FIFA.

The 17-year leader of world soccer’s governing body has reportedly been suspended for 90 days after FIFA’s ethics committee met on Wednesday to discuss allegations against both Blatter and his close ally Michel Platini.

[ MORE: Chung to sue Blatter ]

Reports suggest that the decision to suspend the Swiss official still needs to be formally ratified by the adjudicatory chamber of the ethics committee, but it is highly likely that Blatter will be suspended until January 2016.

Blatter, 79, has been at FIFA for over 40 years but under his stewardship the organization has been riddled with allegations of corruption as current investigations from both the U.S. and Swiss authorities continue. The longtime FIFA official is suspected of “criminal mismanagement or misappropriation” by the Swiss authorities after a payment of over $1.9 million is linked to Blatter and the current president of UEFA, and FIFA presidential candidate, Platini.

[ MORE: How will USA line up vs. Mexico? ]

Klaus Stoehlker, who formerly advised Blatter, has told Sky News that the ethics committee “made the ruling pending further investigations by the Swiss attorney general” and the verdict was “pending”  but that “no negative finding had been made against the head of world football’s governing body.” It is believed that the 90-day suspension is the maximum amount of time the ethics committee can suspend any individuals while an investigation is ongoing.

It has been reported that the head of FIFA’s ethics committee, Judge Hans Joachim-Eckert, has told Blatter of his suspension.

The leader of FIFA, who will stand down following the next presidential elections on Feb. 26, 2016, has been defiant in recent weeks despite growing pressure from corporate sponsors of FIFA for him to resign.

On Wednesday he spoke out and denied he will quit, while at the Leaders’ in Sport Summit in London another presidential candidate ,Chung Mong-joon, declared that he will sue Blatter for “at least $100 million” and believes the FIFA president and his “cronies” are deliberately sabotaging his own presidential campaign.