Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel M

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

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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.

Bremen beats Wolfsburg to leave Bundesliga relegation zone

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10:  Serge Gnabry of Germany reacts during the Men's First Round Football Group C match between Germany and Fiji at Mineirao Stadium on August 10, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) — Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored twice as Werder Bremen moved away from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone with a 2-1 win at fellow struggler Wolfsburg on Friday.

Bremen and Wolfsburg are level on points and two above Hamburger SV, which is in 18th place and in the relegation zone.

It was a fifth defeat in six games for Wolfsburg coach Valerien Ismael, who won the league and cup double as a player with Bremen in 2004.

Gnabry fired the visitors ahead with a deflected shot in the 10th minute and made it 2-0 eight minutes later, controlling the ball with his chest before prodding home on the volley.

Striker Borja Mayoral, who is on loan from Real Madrid, scored with his chest following a Wolfsburg corner as Wolfsburg hit back moments later.

Midfielder Daniel Didavi struck the post with a free kick as Wolfsburg kept pushing for an equalizer.

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.