<i>Chelsea's neo catenaccio</i>
Do you think Chelsea's backs-to-the-wall display was pragmatic or do you think it was what has been popularly branded as anti-football? Write in with your views to.
When it seemed that the pioneers of Catenaccio (The Italians) had deserted the system for more attacking options, in another corner of Europe an Italian revived the old system that worked wonders. Roberto di Matteo's neo-catenaccio has dethroned Barcelona and brought Chelsea to the brink of European glory.
It's been a while since the days of ultra-defensive football has been eradicated. Italians, the pastmasters of the trade, have slowly moved on to the more contemporary styles of football, with equal weight assigned to attack as much as to defence. The last great exhibition of 'Catenaccio' was perhaps 12 years ago in the Euro 2000 semifinal between Italy and Netherlands at the Amsterdam Arena, which the Italians won against all odds (Playing against an in-from Nethrlands at their own backyard, a man down for two thirds of the match and two penalties awarded against them).
Shades of that famous match came back in last week's Champions League semifinal second leg tie between Barcelona and Chelsea. Chelsea's interim coach Roberto di Matteo took the same route that his compatriot, the legendary Dino Zoff took twelve years ago and produced an astonishing result.
Like a game of chess, football matches are often decided on the drawing board as much as on the field. Roberto di Matteo's neo-catanaccio proved a wall too impregnable for the awe-inspiring, all-conquering troupe of Pep Guardiola.
Di Matteo's men did two things perfectly in the match, they defended well and they counter-attacked well. They also had luck on their side when it mattered. Well in football, as in other sports, luck usually goes the way of the brave. The better side on paper did not win, the more pleasing side did not win, but the braver one did, the more pragmatic one did.
Purists might call it negative football, neutrals might brandish slur at the Englishmen for robbing them of an exciting game of end-to-end football. But given the balance of power and against heavy odds (playing at the Nou Camp, against the most prolific scoring unit, and being a man short for half the match), Chelsea had little chance of winning the tie any other way than they did.
Had Di Matteo employed a typical 4-4-2 or a more attacking 4-3-2-1 formation, it would have been game over long before the end. With Terry and Lampard long past their prime, Drogba struggling for fitness and Torres struggling for form, Chelsea never had an equal footing. They had to do something unorthodox, which would stifle the creativity of the likes of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta. Di Matteo did so by employing a 4-5-1 formation at first and then digging back to a 6-3-0, with Drogba playing as a fullback.
Barcelona, on the other hand, did not seem to have a Plan B. Already lacking an aerial threat, they also shied away from shooting from distance. They were convinced that all their possession and walking with the ball inside the danger zone would make a difference. But it did not. Rather they were caught off-guard for playing such a high line.
And in the end all that 82% of possession came to nothing. Barcelona have really got no one else to blame but Chelsea's superior game plan and its implementation.