In Defense of Defense: Why Chelsea’s Champions League Final Tactics Should Be Lauded

While reading the article about Chelsea not winning any admirers from their Champions League victory over Bayern, I found it interesting that the author made several points about how Chelsea failed to play with “style,” employing “negative tactics” that aren’t appealing to people who truly love the game or neutrals alike. While I’ll agree that Chelsea’s tactics were extremely defensive and may not have been pleasing for the bulk of the match, to claim that the game itself was not appealing is the ultimate in soccer snobbery.

The Champions League final is the pinnacle of European football and does not need added “style” or “flair” to help endear it to the masses. Someone was not going to watch the match based on the fact that one team plays a defensive style. The fact of the matter is that while Chelsea defended most of the game, it still had that same exciting feel to it that any final has. All the story lines that naturally come with a final were still there and were always going to be there whether both teams played extreme defense or offense. All Chelsea did was adhere to the age old American football adage that defense wins Championships.

It’s no secret that most people’s favorite part of any game is offense. Most of us love to see points go up on the board. But just because there are a lot of points scored in a game doesn’t make it more exciting. It’s common knowledge that it’s not enough to just go out and score without the ability to defend. Sure you may win some high scoring games, but more often than not you’re also going to lose a lot of games by those same high scores. Solely relying on offense is like going to a club to look for a wife. Sure you’re going to have fun and score some, but ultimately you’re not going to end up with what you’re looking for.

Chelsea could have started Fernando Torres up front with Didier Drogba and tried to go with an all out attack to appease the “purists.” But after seeing how the game played out, I think we can all agree that if they had employed that tactic, London would still be without a Champions League trophy. Sure Bayern played all out attack, peppering Chelsea with shot after shot, but in the end it was more frustrating to watch than awe inspiring because of the epic choke job players like Gomez, Robben and Muller displayed. I’d argue that the defending of Chelsea was more awe inspiring because of their sheer will and the fact they were putting their bodies on the line to prevent Bayern from missing another shot on goal. It’s not rocket science as to why Chelsea won the Champions League. They were the better team defensively and they knew it. Bayern had one corner to defend the entire game and they couldn’t do it. Chelsea defended 20 corners successfully. I don’t know about you but if I’m looking at stats from the final, that’s the one that is the most impressive to me.

When it comes down to it, every team has their own tactics they employ to try and win a match. Whether those tactic are born from the players that are available to them or the opponent they’re going to be facing that evening, ultimately you do what is going to help win your next match. Tactical flexibility is something that any successful team needs or else you end up going seven years without a trophy. The people who whine and gripe about negative football, the game losing its beauty or making the insufferable Stoke reference are generally the same people who shout from the rooftops about teams not having history. These are all statements made by people whose team was not good enough to win the competition.

When it boils down to it, the ultimate goal of any competitor is to win at all costs. No one wants to have the label “The Best that Never Won”. The players that suit up for their professional teams go out with the agenda to win at all costs. Does it mean they don’t love the game just because they have to play a more defensive style? If anything it means they love it more because they’re playing every aspect of the game. Sure, some players prefer offense more than defense, but believe it or not there are players out there who love playing defense more than offense. There are players out there who dream about keeping a clean sheet, making that vital tackle or block and expressing themselves through their defensive tenacity. Blasphemy I know, but believe it or not it’s true. People can express themselves through defense as well as offense.

The notion of winning the right way is a narrative created by fans and media to scrutinize a winning team.  There is no cowardice in opting to defend your goal nor is it an indication that you are an inferior team. If anything it’s an indication that you’ve actually done your homework, found an area where you’re stronger than your opponent and are employing a tactic that will help you succeed.

So yes, you can look at Chelsea’s victory as a win for negative, ugly, impure football. Or you can take it for what it actually was a win for tactics, defense and being better at penalty kicks. Maybe if some teams worked on those aspects of their game they wouldn’t have choked away third place and been in a situation to lose out on the final Champions League spot. Not that I’m trying to rub salt in any wounds.

I’ll end with the quote “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. I’ll take a hard fought, dirty, scrappy win over a more traditional “beautiful” loss any day. Especially when that win comes with a nice shiny trophy.

36 thoughts on “In Defense of Defense: Why Chelsea’s Champions League Final Tactics Should Be Lauded”

  1. Nothing wrong with being somewhat defensive, but they got lucky so often that it’s comical. Messi and Robben missing Penos? Mario Gomez whiffing on a few sitters? Messi hitting the post. It’s kind of a laundry list of where it could’ve gone wrong, but the whole team of destiny thing looks fitting here.

    1. Just listen to how stupid you sound. Messi and Robben got a golden opportunity and choked at the moment of truth. Barca couldn’t even win in their supposed fortress of Camp Nou. Please, don’t make me laugh.

    2. By your logic Bayern were also lucky to be in the final because Ramos kicked a field goal instead of a penalty and CR7 missed his penalty too.

    3. I think it had less to do with luck and more to do with Chelsea’s rock solid defense creating doubt in the minds of the Barca and Bayern players and getting them to second-guess themselves every time they created a chance.

      Ugh. I HATE defending Chelsea.

      1. i dont think allowing 122134234 shots counts as rock solid…
        in the end, it was a bayern loss more than a chelsea victory.

    4. I got your back “cnl. onions”, Chelsea got lucky in the bayern & Barca games. Im gonna explain what hes trying to say. There are games when you defend and the other team get only like 1 real chance on goal. In that case you give the defending team ALL the credit because they truly stifled the offence. However when Barca hits the post 4 times over the two legs including missing a penal from from the worlds best player you are lucky. Guys theres nothing wrong with being lucky the best team doesnt always win. I just hate when people dont acknowledge their luck, if i ask any chelsea fan if Barca was lucky in 2009 they would say h*ll yeah.

  2. This post is incredible. I nominate it for a Peabody award. And also for an Emmy. I know it isn’t TV, but it’s that good.

  3. I hate it when people say playing defensively sucks. Its a strategy and it some cases, its the best one.

    1. It’s a strategy for teams that don’t spend billions of dollars to buy superstars. Stoke employing it is different from Chelsea …

  4. Wow, very well said in so many ways. It’s pretty clear, that you cannot argue with the logic in this post, Chelsea hater or not. This post wins the internet.

  5. This article is full of cliché’s and generalizations it’s hard to pick where to start.

    Couple of points…

    The game could have been 1-1 and still been end to end, or even involved say a massive 2 attacks from chelsea that may have resulted in a corner instead of just the 1 in the 88th minute.

    But because Chelsea’s back four is so bad they played 10 men behind the ball for 85 percent of the game.
    How was Chelsea’s performance good for English football?

    “Chelsea could have started Fernando Torres up front with Didier Drogba and tried to go with an all out attack”
    In the previous 12 hours of football with both Didi and Torres on the pitch at the same time they hadn’t scored a goal. they couldn’t because the mid files and defense could cope with the BM or barca play so they just sat there.

    “The notion of winning the right way is a narrative created by fans and media to scrutinize a winning team.”
    It’s is created by people trying to push the sport forward and evolve it, and expect it to be something better than just sit there. If the tactic is so great i hope everyone here pushes for it all the time at every level of football.

    “If anything it’s an indication that you’ve actually done your homework, found an area where you’re stronger than your opponent and are employing a tactic that will help you succeed.”

    What ? Of course if you put that many people behind the ball and park the bus you are going to frustrate the other team, you don’t have to be SAF to work out that tactic. it was desperation and happened against barca also.

    “There is no cowardice in opting to defend your goal nor is it an indication that you are an inferior team.”

    What? You can’t have it both ways; either you are forced into putting 10 men behind the ball and parking the bus during the game because you are inferior, or, you chose as a tactic to put 10 men behind the ball and park the bus. Either way its an admission of being inferior, did chelsea do that against QPR when they won 6-1 or did they attack because they were superior?

    “Maybe if some teams worked on those aspects of their game they wouldn’t have choked away third place and been in a situation to lose out on the final Champions League spot. Not that I’m trying to rub salt in any wounds.”

    Not having depth due to injury at various positions in the back four is hardly something that requires “working on” as a skill is it, The manager having a heart attack, a player dying for 78 minutes on the field during a fa cup tie, tottenham riots, dealing with Modric mood swings, being the wrong fully accused of tax fraud and facing prison if convicted, the pressure of being crowned as the england manager by everyone. hmm i wonder if any of that caused a distraction for the “choke” as you put it.

    A few veteran players on your team didn’t like its coaches tactics and got him fired after sucking for most of the season. And yes as a chelsea fan you are obviously trying to rub it in.

    What made you choose chelsea as a team when you first starting watching football just 7 years ago? was it because they won? if so your a glory hunter with a lemming mentality and not much credibility, If it was because you liked the way they played then its is in contradiction of everything you just wrote. so which is it?

    But then again you are new to the game so maybe this homer article is understandable.

    This discussion is Don Revie vs Brian Clough all over again, and look who won in the end.

    1. Your lack of insight on yet another post again establishes that you’d rather attack a person’s opinion than have a discussion.

      Your post is just one long rambling load of nonsense.

      If a team can’t handle pressure well then it means they will fail at their objective. See Spurs finishing 4th and see Bayern on Saturday.

      1. you fool LOL

        the text with ” ” are quotes from his article, and then my responses, learn to read homer! lol

  6. If you play like Barca, you’ll lose because they know how to play attacking football best. Why do people complain with a team that chooses to defend and get the results. If you want to win against the best teams, just pack the bus and get them on the counter. Barca have only the heights of Busquets and Pique to boast off. The rest are of average height. So, Chelsea knowing this weakness in Barca and the fact that they cannot attack against them just packed the bus and aimed long balls targeted to Drogba. Barca can’t handle it.

    Regarding the earlier comment by CH, Chelsea cannot be lucky against Barca if it was them who didn’t take advantage of the opportunities they had. You play against a team with 10 men, and you expect them to attack? C’mon! Chelsea managed to score with 10 men when Terry had been sent off. How would you explain that? Luck?

    Against Bayern, they had only 1 corner to defend the entire game and they couldn’t defend. Mind you, it was in the 88th minute. You can’t possibly tell me that was luck.

    1. Define like bmkwame. The story you are telling is what we call luck. Dont tell me that Barca planned to hit the post, Messi and Robben planned to mis the pen. its simple clear it was luck for Chelsea that the penalties were missed.
      Do you think BM didnt want to score with all the corners or Chelsea game plan was to get a single corner and score from it?

      1. Luck is a fluke or a strike of chance. Messi and Robben missing wasn’t “luck”. They were under pressure to convert the chances gifted to them. The didn’t perform under than pressure and couldn’t convert those chances. What is so lucky about that? Where do you think the pressure came from? Chelsea can be called lucky if Barca had 50 shots ON TARGET and an act of pure fluke denied evey one. Think of the Beach-Ball situation between Sunderland and Liverpool. That was Luck. A ball deflected INTO the goal that was otherwise going off target or to be saved is LUCK as the striker didn’t intend the deflection. A defender deflecting the shot off target or onto the post is also not luck as they were intending to stop the striker from scoring. People claim Chelsea were “lucky” in the 3 semi and final matches, but luck didn’t play hardly any part (unlike the Wigan match or the Spuds goal in the FA Cup). Don’t confuse luck/chance with the outcomes of the Chelsea matches. They set out to stop the opposition from scoring more than they did and succeeded!

  7. A smart manager utilizes the best tactics at his disposal for the opponent they are going to face.

    Sir Alex received a football lesson in the CL Final last year whereas Roberto Di Matteo devised a plan to frustrate their opponents while having enough quality to finish a counter attack. In each tie during this run Chelsea were able to outlast every team they faced.

    A win is a win. The people who are banging on about the style of the win are lying to themselves if they would not take the road Chelsea did if they knew the Cup was going to their team.

    Moan all you want Chelsea are still Champions of Europe.

    1. They are, and I agree that they chose the only tactic that could work for the (with luck) — so good for them.
      But I disagree strongly that they are the best team in Europe. If Chelsea were (hypothetically) to play against these same teams over and over would they continue to win? Probably not.

  8. The person that took a shot at the SW6 D LMAO. Cant wait to get my Cahill Jersey next year, Defense Won Championship.

  9. I have no complaints with the tactics deployed by Chelsea, it’s what they had to do to give them a chance to win and win they did. Saying they should be lauded for this is a bit much. They played these tactics because they had to, that’s a fact.
    With that said, the “tactics” were not that great. The “tactic” was to park 10 men behind the ball and not allow quality scoring oprritunites. However, Bayern did create real goal scoring chances that were missed and these chances weren’t fly-by-night distance prayer shots, they were quality inside the box chances due to poor defending. The “tactic” essentially failed. They won the game not because of the “tactics” but because of extremely poor finishing on quality chances from Bayern. That is why they should NOT be lauded. It is exactly why Bayern LOSTthis game rather then Chelsea won this game.

    Again, Chelsea are champions of Europe and should be complimented for doing so, but to laud the tactics used is ignorant and shows an immature and bias look at the actual game itself. They played the way they had to play to have a chance and the stars aligned to se Bayern finish poorly and Chelsea to secure the victory.

    1. I think you missed the point of the “tactics” as you put it. No team will ever stop 100% of the shots on goal from an opponent who has a strong attacking quartet. The best you can do is limit that opponent to shots from difficult positions to lower the chances of them scoring; then, when they do get better positions, to place them under high levels of pressure to make the shots as difficult as possible. This was the tactics that Chelsea employed during the three semi and final matches. The fact that the opposition missed easier chances doesn’t come down to pure luck as some are claiming, but down to pressure. Messi and Robben were under pressure to convert those chances and this led them to miss or for saves to be made. I don’t believe Cech going the right way in 6 out of 6 penalties was “luck”. If it was then I have to get that guy to a roulette table! A shot deflected onto a post that would have otherwise gone in is not “luck” as the defender was in the right place at the right time to stop the ball going in. Sometimes people seem to mistake genuine “luck” with self created fortune. Chelsea created their own “luck” in those matches and well done to them for it!

      1. I think you are missing the point. Missing the goal completely on 3 sitters without a man on you has nothing to do with pressure from the defense and “tactics”. You said it 100% correct, the tactic was to as you said “limit that opponent to shots from difficult positions to lower the chances of them scoring; then, when they do get better positions, to place them under high levels of pressure to make the shots as difficult as possible” My point is that is exactly what Chelsea deployed and FAILED to do. They allowed Bayern to penetrate the box and take quality shots from quality positions, they just missed them terribly. I’m not saying luck or anything like that… I’m saying dreadful finishing that had nothing to do with Chelsea.

        1. Just to add… Chelsea should not be lauded for failed tactics. They should be lauded (I hate that word fyi) for clutch and clinical finishin when it counted.

  10. This is my closure on this year’s Champions League final. Last year, we saw a Barcelona team outclass and outplay Manchester United, the winners of what many consider the best league in the world, with their intricate and skillful passing on a slick and well-manicured Wembley pitch. Everyone throughout the world was salivating over their performance and giving them all kinds of praises. They were the deserved winners of that match and of the Champions League in general.

    This year, unfortunately, we saw a Chelsea side play negative, ultra-defensive, catenaccio football and ride their luck for 2 hours against a Bayern Munich who were wasteful in front of goal and then finally edge them on penalties. Unlike last year, the neutrals don’t feel as if the team lifting the trophy this year deserve to be lifting it. Last year’s winners produced the finest football masterclass, this year’s winners were happy to frustrate their opponents without showing any ambition.

    Whereas almost everyone throughout the globe, including the UK, was showering the Barcelona team with praises and compliments, after their Wembley truimph, only a small section of the UK media is praising Chelsea’s tactics, and not without wondering how Bayern Munich didn’t win the match. Most of us are shaking our heads as to how extremely lucky this Chelsea team got in this year’s Champions League.

    1. the 4 dislikes are from Chelsea fans I bet. I’m talking the truth. It was bloody good luck on their side, which isn’t to say that they were tough and resilient and these qualities have to be commended as well. But it’s luck, OK?
      Do you think Messi missed that penalty at the Camp Nou on purpose? Or do you think that the numerous chances that Fabregas and Sanchez had at Stamford Bridge, you think they missed those on purpose? You think Messi gave away the ball to Lampard on purpose, which led to the Drogba goal?

      Do you think Arjen Robben missed his chance on purpose? Do you think that they purposely allowed Drogba to score from Chelsea’s only corner of the game? Chelsea defended gr8, i’m not disputing that. But very few people can argue that Chelsea had a lot of luck their way.

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