Early Doors

Parking the bus gives Chelsea a chance

Early Doors

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When Jose Mourinho first introduced the phrase "parking the bus" to the English language he did so in a derogatory tone, bemoaning the overly negative approach taken by Tottenham in a match against his Chelsea side in 2004.

It was a sound bite that belittled a triumph of pragmatism, cast aspersions on the art of defence.

But last night at Stamford Bridge, as Chelsea beat the greatest team in a generation, and likely beyond, to give themselves a fighting chance of reaching the Champions League final, the bus was tidily reversed into the home goalmouth without apology and without shame.

As Barcelona saw shot after shot ricochet off the blue juggernaut blocking the Chelsea goal - and, to the home side's good fortune, the woodwork as well - Mourinho may have afforded himself a wry smile.

It was a defiant performance he would have been proud of, not least because during his time at Real Madrid he has been invariably unable to do what Chelsea did last night and blunt Barcelona, at least for 90 minutes.

In turn, current incumbent Roberto Di Matteo achieved a feat that few thought him capable of when assuming the manager's job on an interim basis in March, leaving Roman Abramovich noticeably beaming in the stands at the final whistle in a rare public display of pleasure.

Like Avram Grant before him, and having now overseen the finest result of his managerial career, Di Matteo may get the chance to manage Chelsea in a Champions League final before departing the stage in the summer.

Sitting at least seven blue shirts behind the ball at all times and asking the ever energetic Ramires to restrict the impact made by Dani Alves down the right ensured Di Matteo won the tactical battle against Pep Guardiola and, thanks to a goal from Didier Drogba, the match itself. Functioning perfectly as a team, with bodies flying in the way of the ball and wave after wave of Barcelona attacks repelled, this was an admirable defensive performance from the home side.

In Chelsea's willingness to cede possession to Barcelona and their own staunchly resolute performance in defence - with Gary Cahill particularly impressive despite predictions he would be torn apart by Lionel Messi - the match reminded Early Doors of perhaps the archetypal "parking the bus" performance: the narrow defeat to, again, Barcelona that took Mourinho's Inter to the Champions League final in 2010.

However, that took place in the second leg after Inter had won 3-1 at home. Chelsea do not have a two-goal cushion heading into the return match at Camp Nou, when they can expect a more rigorous examination if they sit back and invite pressure once again.

Chelsea were undoubtedly fortunate to come away with a 1-0 win last night and ED saw some complain that Barcelona were hard done by as a result.

Perhaps they were. They hit the woodwork twice and had another effort cleared off the line. They had 21 shots to Chelsea's four, 73 per cent possession to Chelsea's 27 and 782 completed passes to Chelsea's 194.

But then again, were these the only criteria that decided matches then Barcelona would win every single week. Thankfully for Chelsea and the game of football, they are not.

Ignore the cries of injustice. Defence is as valid a strategy as attack, yet when teams come to close down and constrict the magnificent all-conquering Barcelona, in some quarters it is treated as though they have committed an immoral act against art, a crime against culture. It is as if they have taken an axe to a Picasso.

ED recognises that Chelsea were forced to play loose with luck on occasions last night, but what side wouldn't against Barcelona? Should they have instead played to the strengths of a side that had lost only twice previously in all competitions this season?

Chelsea's game plan just about worked, even if Pedro was a couple of centimetres away from levelling late on when striking the base of the post, and to his credit Guardiola was full of praise for a determined and dogged performance from the home side.

"It's football," he said. "It's not a question about fair or unfair. Congratulations to Chelsea. We'd win every game if it all was about possession of the ball because our average is more than our opponents.

"But the most difficult thing in this game is putting the ball in the net, and that's what we couldn't do this evening. We have to focus on the next game now and try and create the same number of chances. It won't be simple. They'll have 10 men behind the ball, they'll defend, they're stronger than us, they run, they jump more than us. But we have to try and take the game under control and discover a way of scoring the goals."

As Guardiola says, Chelsea still have it all do to at Camp Nou - ED reminds you that Arsenal took a one-goal lead there last season and returned home having failed to have a single shot in 90 minutes - yet the fact they do so from a position of strength is rather remarkable.

Whatever methods they may have employed - excluding Drogba's lamentable and persistent play-acting, for which there is no excuse - Chelsea's achievement in beating Barcelona cannot be overlooked or diminished.

It wasn't pretty, but if they can defy the odds and park the bus for another 90 minutes then Chelsea are on the road to Munich.

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "This is not the place for a vacation. Besiktas has rules and discipline which the players have to obey. It is not allowed, except in reasonable hours, to be outside nightclubs. This was a joint decision between myself and the club administration." - The stellar career of Bebe continues with the news that the on-loan Manchester United midfielder could be sent back to Old Trafford after being spotted outside a nightclub prior to Besiktas' derby against Galatasaray.

FOREIGN VIEW: "It is complete nonsense. Why should a premium product such as the Champions League be artificially watered down? I have liked almost everything that Platini has done so far, but now he is completely on the wrong path. The fans don't want to see the third-placed team from Lithuania." - Borussia Dortmund chiev executive Hans-Joachim Watzke comes out pretty strongly against suggestions that UEFA could look to expand the Champions League to 64 teams and swallow up the Europa League in the process.

COMING UP: It is the turn of Europe's second cup competition to take the headlines as the Europa League semi-finals get underway. We have live coverage of the first legs between Atletico Madrid and Valencia and Sporting and Athletic Bilbao from 8.05pm.

Michael Cox from Zonal Marking gets his Tactical Brain in gear this morning while later we have the second part of our three-part interview with Blackburn Rovers manager Steve Kean.

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