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.

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