Boring, boring Chelsea! What lowly scoundrels of asinine, archaic, and acerbic anti-football. How dare they let down the neutral fan with these putridly pedestrian performances! Don’t they know? Soccer is all about entertainment; bringing bread and circuses to the hungry masses, not serving self-interest and chasing silverware. How stinking selfish!
If you’ve forayed in to the murky depths of social media, this is probably a familiar narrative for you. There were more tweets bemoaning Chelsea’s tactics than there were fans in the Vicente Calderón on Tuesday. I can honestly say that if I see one more meme about bus parking, my head will explode. I will admit, though, my time on social media during and after the match has led to some interesting and valuable reflection.
First and foremost, a few thoughts about Chelsea’s tactics on Tuesday:
No manager in their right mind would set up against Atlético in any other way. Seriously, any side who wanted a prayer of advancing to the final would have adopted the exact same tactics as Jose Mourinho. It has boggled my mind that so many people have criticized him for employing a defensive minded formation. While I enjoy beautiful football as much as the next fan, there is a time and place for pragmatism. It was common sense, plain and simple. Disagree?
Let’s look at a few key facts about Atlético Madrid—
1. They have yet to lose a single game at home in both La Liga and the Champions League this season.
2. Their starting striker, Diego Costa, has 35 goals in all competitions. Seven in the Champions League alone.
3. They just dispatched free-flowing Barcelona in the last round, matching them tit for tat offensively.
Now, let’s look at some key facts about Chelsea—
1. The second leg is at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea recently came back heroically and beat PSG 2-0.
2. Their three strikers combined Champions League goal tally is nine—a mere two more than Costa’s lone total.
3. Their best attacking player and leading goal scorer, Eden Hazard, is out with an injury.
So, with those facts in mind, why in the hell would Mourinho not play defensively? Going to the Vicente Calderón with an attacking mindset would be stupid and suicidal. Why would Mourinho employ a style that would destine his side to failure? If Barcelona, of all clubs, failed to beat Atlético with a free-flowing and expansive style, then what club could succeed? That is the beauty of Jose Mourinho. He is not shackled by ideology. If he has the right players, he will play open and attacking football (setting goal, points, and goal differential records at Real Madrid in 2011-2012 most recently) but if he does not have the personnel to do so, he will not sacrifice results for spectacle.
Having said that, calling Mourinho’s Chelsea displays anti-football has become a lazy and shallow platitude in and of itself. In the age of information, every football result in the world is at your fingertips. However, searching Google and perusing through social media is a vapidly shallow way to analyze a sport as intricate as soccer. For example, I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen Chelsea catch flack this season for only managing to score a single goal. It is simply easier to hop on the social media bandwagon and make a joke about their “negative tactics” than it is to view the match in full. Were people to do that, they’d realize that such low score lines have been born out of poor finishing and not cautiously defensive tactics. Don’t believe me? Another little factoid for you…
Chelsea has the highest shots per game average in the Premier League at 18.
Despite that stat, they are continually maligned for being negative and boring. The old adage “don’t let the truth stand in the way of a good story” is certainly alive and well with modern football supporters. Let’s also ignore the fact Chelsea has scored beaten their top rivals while scoring 2 vs. Liverpool, 3 vs. United, 2 vs. City, 6 vs. Arsenal and 4 vs. Spurs.
The reality is, it is easier (and more fun) for fans to hop on social media and lob potshots and platitudes with no real thought or reflection on the actual performance. The idea that Mourinho is defensive and negative is firmly ingrained in the football fan ethos at this point; facts and statistics be damned, that is just the way it is. It is an easy and safe statement to make, despite its shallow nature; it fits in with the status quo football narrative. After all, social media is about attention and hollow praise, not accurate analysis, right? Considering the Internet is a medium making globalized communication and idea sharing a tangible reality, it is a shame it has become a hotbed for lazy, reductive thinking about the finer points of soccer.
Soccer fans need to get over the idea the sport is eye candy for neutral observers. Why is there no praise for gritty, blood-sweat-and-tears effort, and tactical acumen? Why are common sense tactical decisions met with derision and disdain? Why must fans have such a one-dimensional view of such a complex sport? Will I deny that Mourinho utilized very defensively focused and conservative tactics yesterday? Absolutely not… but can you honestly say, were your club playing Atlético Madrid the Champions League semi-finals, you’d want them to do differently?
Read more of Trevor’s work at http://premierpunditry.com