Armchair Pundit

Don’t expect Chelsea to park the bus

Alex Chick

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"Unjust, cruel, horrible, unmerited. Any adjective is not enough to define the incredible elimination of Barca at the hands of Chelsea. Few times has a team done so much to deserve to reach the Champions League final as that of Guardiola's. And rarely has a rival, with so little, gained that very prize."

Sport (Catalan daily newspaper), 25 April 2012

"A big issue will be how to play against a defensive team like Chelsea. I believe that Bayern will have a lot of ball possession. Chelsea played effective football against Barcelona, but Chelsea won't win a beauty award. The footballing skills of Chelsea are not good enough."

Ex-Bayern Munich defender Thomas Berthold, 17 May 2012

Europe has decided. Saturday's Champions League final will be a battle of swashbuckling adventurers against anti-football chancers. Vim and vigour against long-ball torpor. Twenty-first century against the dark ages.

Following their semi-final win against Barcelona, it seems clear. Chelsea are the limited spoilers who will attempt to frustrate their way to glory. A team in the ignoble tradition of Steaua Bucharest, Red Star Belgrade and Internazionale.

Yet, like Mourinho's 2012 Inter, the image of Chelsea as a defensive team is a myth.

That is not to deny the negativity of their performances against Barcelona. Not just this year, but also in 2009, when Barcelona needed a late moment of Andres Iniesta genius - and a boatload of iffy refereeing decisions - to unpick Chelsea.

But that is what you do against Barcelona. At least, it is if you want to win. Everyone knew they would park the bus at the Camp Nou, and when John Terry got sent off Roman Abramovich backed his super-yacht in the penalty box for good measure - and Barca still scored twice and won a penalty.

Chelsea are not alone. Even Real Madrid are accused of playing anti-football against the Catalans - the same Real Madrid who scored 174 goals in all competitions this season at a rate of three per match.

Against Bayern? Chelsea can safely emerge from their defensive cocoon and actually take part in a football match.

Bayern are a fine side, but they do not pass like Barcelona, they do not control the game like them, and they cannot match their individual brilliance.

And Dortmund's 5-2 win over them in last weekend's German Cup final strongly suggests the way to beat Bayern is not to get men behind the ball, but to take the game to them.

FC Hollywood simply could not cope with wave after wave of Dortmund attacks, and they were torn to shreds.

With Holger Badstuber and David Alaba suspended, Bayern look more vulnerable than ever at the back.

Can Chelsea take advantage? Yes they can. This is a team with goals in it. Over the last five full Premier League seasons they have scored only one fewer than ultra-attacking Arsenal.

Of course, Chelsea change their coach so frequently it seems hard to find historical patterns. But while the gaffers have come and gone, the players have stayed much the same.

In 2009/10 Carlo Ancelotti's side broke the 100-goals mark in the league, with much the same squad that Di Matteo takes to Munich.

Berthold's remark is framed by a narrow memory of Chelsea's semi-final win.

Would he have said the same after the wildly entertaining 5-4 aggregate win against Napoli in the last 16? Chelsea nearly lost it through defensive laxness, but won it back with some thrillingly enterprising football.

Berthold's claim that "the footballing skills of Chelsea are not good enough" holds little water.

Sure, Didier Drogba plays with strength and power, but he also boasts a gorgeous touch and sublime skills. On a purely technical level he is twice the player of Mario Gomez.

Whatever his failings, David Luiz must be the most preposterously talented ball-playing centre-back anywhere in Europe.

Ashley Cole helped redefine the full-back position in England. Juan Mata did this, for goodness sake.

Frank Lampard, Michael Essien, Fernando Torres coming off the bench - even with two of their starting midfielders suspended, Chelsea boast quality all over the pitch.

Chelsea's record at the back has improved under Di Matteo, but that is down to fewer individual errors, rather than a change in philosophy. And the most calamity-prone defender of recent weeks, John Terry, will not even be on the pitch to have his ever-expanding turning circle tested by Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery.

Bayern rightly wear the tag of favourites, but they are not Barcelona. They are a side with flaws and vulnerabilities that can best be exposed through attacking endeavour.

If Europe expects Chelsea to park the bus, it may receive a pleasant surprise on Saturday night.

Alex Chick - @alexchick81

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