Despite Messi’s Brilliance, the Chelsea-Barcelona Rivalry Remains One For Every Football Fan
After five English teams advanced to the Champions League Round of 16, many hailed the return of English dominance in Europe. The Big Six had invested in managerial talent to go along with their heavy spending on marquee players, and the Premier League seemed to be back at what many believe to be its rightful place at the pinnacle of European Football.
Only two of the five English teams to advance to the knockouts remain for the quarterfinals. Tottenham blinked against an experienced Juventus outfit, who seemed intent on remedying the insult of allowing two goals at home at the return leg at Wembley, and Manchester United did little to respond to the critics of their tactical play with an overly defensive setup against a Sevilla team who broke them down with short, positive passes.
Chelsea joined these two teams last night, crashing out of the competition after a 3-0 loss at the Camp Nou. However, their 4-1 aggregate result does not reveal the true nature and effort of their play, which gave a greater testament to the stature of the club than United’s 3-2 aggregate loss.
Yes, Chelsea fumbled at key moments in both legs. Despite Conte’s drilled Italian philosophy of disciplined defense, the Chelsea backline made egregious errors home and away which led directly to Barcelona’s scoring chances. Barcelona’s attacking cohesiveness and self-belief would have never let these chances at this level go to waste.
However, Chelsea did their damn best to overcome these setbacks. The fact is, despite the quality of Chelsea’s defense, they do not have a Samuel Umtiti in their team, who snuffed out almost every Blues attack with his commanding presence in the box. They have dropped points due to indiscipline to several smaller teams in the league, while Barcelona remain undefeated in La Liga.
They did not try and out-defend their opposition like United: Chelsea chose to attack. And despite the lack of an end result, it was an enthralling viewing of Champions League football. Each attacking player summoned their abilities to try and come back into the game, perhaps only failing because of the strength of the Barcelona defense and Chelsea’s own disorganization.
Olivier Giroud made determined runs against some of the best centre-backs in the world, showing that he was more than just a big man in the box. Willian did his best to replicate his stunning goal in the first leg with a series of dazzling, pacy dribbles and consistently threatening attempts on goal. And of course, Eden Hazard, all balance and poise, did his best to make his case for Neymar’s most serious competition for the title of second best dribbler in the world. That throne is, of course, reserved for the short man who graced this game with absolutely ethereal play and two goals and an assist.
Chelsea’s victory over Barcelona in the semi-finals in their Champions League title season was the moment which filled them with the belief to go on and win the whole thing. For the first of the successful new-money clubs, Barcelona remains something of a litmus test, the chance to prove that a relatively young project can overcome the aggregate benefits of a century of success. And so, this Chelsea side pushed and persevered till the end, and if it had not been for a certain Lionel Messi and a few moments of defensive misplacement, they could have found themselves victorious against the only remaining undefeated league team in Europe.