The Italians call it “Catennacio”, Arsene Wenger branded it “anti-football”, critical pundits simply call it “parking the bus in front of the goal”. But Roberto Di Matteo and Chelsea fans have a different name for ultra-defensive football: a game plan.
Chelsea played this way – almost flawlessly – for three whole matches plus 30 minutes of extra time, in which they managed to eliminate Barcelona, arguably the greatest club team to ever play the game, and Bayern Munich – also no pushovers, and playing at their home ground.
Di Matteo’s strategy was a risky one that required supreme man-management skills. Every player has to do their job, and do it for the team. This has historically been a problem for the egos in the Chelsea squad – but the team spirit that engulfed the club in this year’s Champions League became an unstoppable juggernaut. Instilling the likes of Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard with an underdog mentality is no mean feat. “Robbie”, as the players refer to him, should take credit for that.
A special mention for the management of two players at opposite ends of the field also warrants a mention. Fernando Torres had a lackluster domestic season but over the course of the semis, and the final, he knew – and executed – his role perfectly. Given one chance in the Barcelona game, he took it and knocked out the reigning champions. In the final, he was seen defending time after time – despite describing starting the match on the bench as “perhaps the biggest disappointment” of his life.
At the other end, Petr Cech reportedly studied a two-hour DVD of every penalty Bayern had taken in the last two years. Cech was presumably given something of a free reign to conduct his own preparation, but having the guts to let a virtuoso do what he does, deserves plaudits too – another Di Matteo plus point.
Call it anti-football if you want – but for the tactic to succeed, player discipline must be paramount, and that falls on the shoulders of the caretaker manager. Chelsea may well have parked the bus on Saturday – but come Sunday afternoon they were driving it around West London, holding aloft the European Cup.
Give this man a job.
Management ups and downs
Gary Cahill and David Luiz
Restored to fitness after hamstring injuries, the Chelsea players showed that it is possible to win major tournaments without the criminally overrated John Terry in the line up. If only Roy Hodgson would take note…
For finally seeing the final take place at the home ground of one of the teams involved in it – a ridiculous spectacle for any neutral observer, even if it didn’t seem to alter the result.