One mistake too many
Chelsea was playing well, better than expected frankly. Antonio Conte had his team tactically prepared and mentally ready to compete with Barcelona at Stamford Bridge. Barcelona dominated possession, but the team couldn’t establish a consistent flow on offense because of Chelsea’s strategy of pressing high and dropping back once the Catalan team came out of its third. The Blues were content with clogging passing lanes and attaching a small army to follow Lionel Messi or Luis Suárez wherever they moved on the field.
On the offensive end, Conte played Eden Hazard as a false nine instead of starting one of his strikers, Álvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud — the former on account of injury, and the latter because the rest of his teammates feel insecure about their looks when OG is on the field. Chelsea hoped to make up for its lack of possession with a potent counterattack, led by N’Golo Kanté and finished off by Hazard. If that didn’t work, Chelsea prayed that Barça would make a mistake on a set piece, which is about as much as you can hope for against a juggernaut. Neither scenario truly came to fruition but what did was even better — Willian played like a man with his hair on fire, which is exactly what Chelsea needed. The Brazilian darted all over the pitch and took two audacious shot attempts that bounced dramatically off both posts. Low percentage shots indeed, but Willian produced the kind of high-octane ambition that a team like Chelsea needed to pull of an upset. Finally, the speedster found the back of the net in the 62nd minute and it looked as if the fútbol gods were smiling down on Chelsea.
Then this happened.
For all his strategizing and tactical brilliance, Conte, nor any manager for that matter, can build a fail safe for human error, and Barcelona’s equalizer was a tragic reminder of how a coach’s success ultimately comes down to the performance of his players. There is simply no planning for one of your defenders playing the ball across the face of your own goal, especially with Andrés Iniesta, Messi and Suárez waiting in the wings. Chelsea was unable to punch back, and although they outplayed Barcelona — last season’s Premier League champions — it only came away with a draw. To an optimist, it was a moral victory, but to a cynic, it was another disappointing result in a season gone awry.
Should a team not just win, but provide some sort of entertainment while doing so? The question has bothered the sports community for decades and Manchester United’s 0-0 draw with Sevilla brought the question to the forefront of the soccer world. Following the match, a few pundits complained that Manchester United manager José Mourinho coached a brand of “joyless” football that was “sterile” and characterized as “anti-football.” His team only took six shots in the game, with only one on target, while Sevilla took 25 — a disparity that spoke to the conservative nature of Manchester’s game plan. Mourinho was content to park his team far back in their own half, keep Sevilla in front of it and make sure that his team was never beaten on a counterattack. It was a smart strategy, but it was truly dreadful to watch. With that being said, does a coach truly have a duty to entertain, or is the job merely to position his team to achieve the best result possible?
Many would argue that the answer is no, the manager’s duty is to only focus on the game and the results — anything else be damned. Outside, subjective concerns such as “entertainment” or “fun” are better left for the marketing department, fans, owners and the media. Yet, the manager is the one who creates a team’s style and identity, ultimately determining what type of squad shows up on match day. Only an owner could hope to have any significant input on such matters, and even then a manager like Mourinho can ignore the whims of the front office until it fires him. So no, a coach does not have to make his team entertaining but I’d argue that a coach should at least attempt to do so. It goes against the spirit of the game to do otherwise.
Fans are the backbone of any sport, and act as the reason that managers like Mourinho get paid millions of dollars to shush cameras and unironically refer to themselves by titles like the “Special One.” The least a manager can do is to put a compelling product out on the field in appreciation for the club’s supporters and the “beautiful game” itself. Mourinho is a respectable manager with a great team and fantastic players, but right now, the Red Devils are about as exciting to watch as your standard episode of “Antiques Roadshow.”
Anyways, if you want to know why you didn’t inherent better genes, it’s because David de Gea stole all the good stuff.
Bayern thrashes 10-man Beşiktaş
Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski each scored twice while Kingsley Coman added another as Bayern Munich blew out Turkish club Beşiktaş, 5-0, in Bavaria. In the 16th minute, Beşiktaş center back Domagoj Vida was issued a red card for taking out Lewandowski’s legs. The Turkish outfit never stood a chance following Vida’s ejection, and Bayern showed no qualms about beating up on their emasculated foe.
Coman and Joshua Kimmich each had excellent games, terrorizing Beşiktaş flanks with their speed and relentless crosses, overworking Beşiktaş’ back half and unleashing Lewandowski and Müller on their overmatched opponents. Bayern finished with an incredible 35 shots attempted and 12 on target, and the team dominated the ball with close to a 70 percent possession rate. I guess Beşiktaş can take solace in the fact the damage wasn’t as barbaric as it could’ve been.
Lewandowski and Müller were the true stars of the night, however. Lewandowski is a joy to watch, and his nose for the goal is second to none. Müller appeared to rediscover his stellar form, playing with a pep in his step and showing the creative playmaking he used to display so regularly. Only Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi have more Champions League goals than Müller’s 21, and I have a feeling we may see a few more before this UCL campaign is all said and done.
Fantastic free kick
Shakhtar Donetsk scored twice in the second half to seal a comeback win against Roma on their home field, but perhaps more important than the actual result was Fred’s brilliant free kick in the 71st minute. Let’s just take a moment to appreciate this piece of moving art.
That is why we watch, ladies and gentlemen. That’s a goal that makes you get out of your seat, scream like the animal you are and high-five your imaginary friend as you nurse a stupid grin on your face. That’s a goal that you revisit intermittently over the next few days simply to marvel at, like a masterful painting or an inescapable Twitter debate. That’s a goal so great it makes you ignore the fact it was scored by a dude named Fred.
It’s OK; watch that a few more times. I know I will.
Rory O’Toole writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected].