Armchair Pundit

Anti-football is still football

Alex Chick

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It feels like a battle between footballing good and evil.

Slick, stylish, attacking Barcelona against a Chelsea side that will park the bus and attempt to niggle, dive and obfuscate their way to the Champions League final.

A team built on youth development and promotion from within against a club whose catastrophic short-termism has created chaos and handed ultimate power to a group of surly millionaires.

However, we should resist the easy, simplistic conclusion that anything but a Barcelona victory tonight would represent disaster for football.

The stereotypes contain much truth, but they also ignore crucial facts - like Barcelona's colossal self-regard, and Chelsea's admirable resilience.

True, the notion that Chelsea have as much right as Barcelona to European glory will be tested to the limit when they assemble 11 men behind the ball and run the clock down for all they are worth.

The deification of Barcelona encourages us to believe tiki taka is the only truly legitimate style of play - but this is patent nonsense.

Recently, Barcelona's football has been easier on the eye than their results. We should never forget the point of football is to put the ball in the net - there are no prizes for possession.

Chelsea will be working from the Jose Mourinho playbook tonight, appropriately for a club still indelibly marked by the Special One nearly five (five!) years after his departure.

Like Real Madrid on Saturday and Internazionale in 2010, Chelsea will set out to disrupt and frustrate - anything to stop Barcelona's rhythm.

But this is not merely parking the bus.

If defending were easy, every club could leave the Camp Nou with a 0-0 draw - but Barcelona have hit four or more goals in 15 of their 28 home games this season, including hauls of seven, eight and nine.

Keeping Barcelona at bay takes hard work, discipline and tactical awareness.

It also takes a degree of humility - and yes, we are talking about a strategy employed by Mourinho.

Manchester United's last two Champions League final appearances saw them go toe-to-toe with Barca, attempting to outplay their opponents.

They were beaten easily. Compare that with the 2008 semi-final when they rode their luck to a 1-0 aggregate win on the back of a Paul Scholes goal.

There is no more merit in trying to beat Barcelona at their own game than there would be in Pep instructing his side to play like Egil Olsen's Norway just to prove they can.

Know your limitations and give yourself the greatest chance of victory -  and in Chelsea's case that means letting Barcelona dance around with the ball for 75 per cent of the match while packing the box with bodies.

It's not guaranteed to work, but it's their best hope. Is it any wonder the likes of Xavi complain so much when opponents do it?

We should celebrate different styles of play, not berate them.

Really, do we want a world of mini-Barças in which every team turns into Wigan and Swansea, and we can coo and patronise them over their lovely little version of the real thing? I don't.

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If Chelsea's style of play deserves more credit, there remain huge problems at the club following the disastrous Andre Villas-Boas 'project'.

Villas-Boas arrived with a mandate for change, and quite sensibly attempted a gradual shift from one era to the next.

He stuck by some senior players (Terry, Cole), axed others (Anelka, Alex) and tried to reduce the influence of others gradually (Lampard, Drogba).

Perhaps he might have been more successful had he ruthlessly booted the lot out - but that would have enraged the fans and required a huge investment in players, the like of which Roman Abramovich has apparently tired of.

It's true that AVB brought in too little quality - only Juan Mata has had a significant impact - but as soon as Chelsea cut ties with him their past became their future.

Roberto Di Matteo has taken the only path open to him - as an interim manager, he simply had to concentrate on winning as many matches as possible. That meant bringing back the old guard.

He has done extremely well and given himself a good chance of getting the job full-time.

Only if he does will he have to confront the daunting structural problems within his squad. Good luck with that.

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At the heart of Chelsea's spring renaissance has been John Terry, a man awaiting trial on a charge of racial abuse.

Terry denies the charge and must be presumed innocent.

He quite naturally stated his desire to clear his name as soon as possible, yet his trial was delayed at Chelsea's request.

Until then, Terry remains in limbo. It seems a strange sort of agony for a club to inflict on their skipper.

It was this that led the FA to remove the captain's armband from him - the possibility (however remote) of Terry lifting the European Championship trophy a week before going on trial.

That being the case, how should we feel if Terry lifts the Champions League trophy in Munich next month?

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Alex Chick - @alexchick81

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