The Champions League Semi-Final 2009, Barca – Chelsea
Today I would like to examine the Champions League semi-final between Barca and Chelsea. And this from the point of view of a football fan, but also a professional bettor who wants/needs to earn his money with football bets. I have seen both teams x number of times this season. In no way do I doubt the supremacy of English teams in Europe. Not only that I know the results and that these results are far too clear: I also see enough games of the teams from these leagues and from the European Cup that you simply cannot doubt the judgement anymore (well I qualify: Juve had Chelsea in the second leg at 2-1 and with 10 against 11 on the brink of defeat when del Piero appeared alone free in front of goal; 3:1 would have been enough for Juve; AS Roma, was close in the second leg against Arsenal, it would also have been deserved in my opinion very close for Roma; and to be eliminated in the subsequent penalty shootout was already very bitter and above all from my point of view nothing but “bad luck at the coin toss”). Nevertheless, English football is the best in the world.
But there is the one exceptional team of FC Barcelona. It is clearly and unequivocally number 1 for me, ahead of all English teams. I am also convinced that there has never been such a strong team before (sure, in their time there was, but not absolutely; comparable if you had Nadal playing against Sampras today, Sampras from his time; but even then he wouldn’t stand a chance). They just have to get it done against Chelsea, that’s my belief. Of course, I have numbers here, too, and my computer is armed against any form of euphoria anyway. But nevertheless, it came to the rather clear conclusion that Barca would progress by around 70%. The betting market contradicted my assessment, which, in addition to “not unusual” and “pleasing”, is also a prerequisite for my business: my opinions, assessments may agree with the market in many cases, but there must be the differences, otherwise there would never be a bet. So I need these discrepancies and have gratefully accepted them, throwing myself at Barca, betting-wise, full of the conviction of having an excellent bet.
In the first leg, with a -0.75 goal handicap (meaning: Barca win by one goal: half profit; if two or more goals, full profit, otherwise loss of the bet), the odds were about 1.97 at kick-off (previously once 2.17, in this respect the market proved me right; the 2.17 rate was judged too high by the market and played, more than the other side). I am rarely optimistic in my bets (that they are “good”, but not that they will come; experience teaches one that such behaviour is pointless). But on this evening I was reasonably optimistic. It couldn’t go wrong, I felt.
In this game, Barca was nowhere near as superior as I expected. Nevertheless, the numbers were clear: 20:3 shots on goal, possession high in the 60s. And even if, because of me, the biggest chance of the game went to Chelsea, it only came from Marquez’s one incredible back-passing mistake. Still, I admit: the Chelsea defence was the best Barca have faced all season. And Czech (not just in this game, but there nonetheless most especially) made outstanding saves. Still, in fairness, there could really only be one winner (my money was completely gone, of course, at -0.75), but the result was a 0-0.
Now, before the second leg, the market tilted a little towards Chelsea. But the handicap was “draw no bet”, i.e. 0 goals, no favourite was identified, which clearly speaks in favour of Barca as “the better team”, as they were traded as -0.75 favourites in the first leg. But how does that help me? Nevertheless, the prices on Barca rose slightly, so that, despite the draw no bet, Chelsea were gradually identified as favourites for the match (let’s say: the market).
The reason for this, of course, was mainly Barca’s line-up worries. Central defence is particularly important in away games. And first Etoo and later Iniesta on the left, these are not necessarily their favourite positions, and all this instead of the recently fantastic Henry.
Nevertheless, for me Barca dominated the game. This unbelievable goal for Chelsea at the very beginning, which has nothing to do with “played out” or “well done”, but simply with huge soup (almost comparable to the Karlsruhe goal by Langkamp from over 80 metres; ok, a bit far-fetched), but he can’t “control” such an accidental rebound. It falls on his head purely by chance, but quite perfectly. That is one half of luck, which is difficult to express as a percentage. But even then, and for all Essien’s class, he never even comes close to 5% for a goal from that situation.
Of course, this “plays into Chelsea’s cards”. A euphoria is triggered, not only among the players but also among the spectators. Everything suddenly goes very easily. The spectators are already going wild at every halfway successful action. A repulsed Barca attack is cheered, which wouldn’t happen at 0:0. Here the motto is always: “Why, we’ve already won.” State of affairs indifferent. As many percentages as Chelsea add, the opponent loses. You suddenly have an “uphill battle”, and at this very highest level. Nevertheless, Barca’s 67% possession speaks for itself. And they were also ahead in the statistics for corners until the end.
But, clearly, the attacking machinery was not running as usual. This time it had nothing to do with bad luck (at most the part that they fell behind in the first place). Chelsea were incredibly compact. I’ve seen almost all Barca games this season. And there hasn’t been a single opponent who has given them such a hard time. The physical robustness was evident everywhere. It was not only physical robustness but also physical strength in the form of “power endurance”. Chelsea brought all their players back behind the ball in a flash after every ball loss. Great fitness is a prerequisite for this. Not only did they get behind the ball after losing it, they were also ready to march forward immediately when they had possession, and Barca’s defence was on fire several times. Even though I despise flat reporter’s slogans abysmally. One thing is applicable here: the lack of coordination in the newly formed central defence was noticeable. Touré is not a central defender, even if a great player.
Barca nevertheless picked up the pace noticeably in the second half, but there was really no getting through. Many actions looked very determined, they were again combining forward at lightning speed. But the physical presence of the defenders was almost impenetrable. Neither from Iniesta, who really came into his own later on, nor from Messi. You could really see that both of them, whenever they started one of their otherwise irresistible dribblings, literally “bounced off” a wall of players. As I said, the physical presence was palpable, but of course it was coupled with a high level of class. The defenders were really all wide awake and always on the spot in time, so that even the body tricks and the incredibly tight ball control of the two top players could “do nothing” to the defence. Nevertheless, for fun I’ll refer to the goal balance: shortly before the end it was 13:10 per Barca, then there was the goal, but also at least two shots on goal by Chelsea, so I’ll assume 14:12 per Barca. The possession didn’t shift drastically either, despite being outnumbered for longer, stayed at over 60% Barca.
You have to at least give them a big compliment that Chelsea’s numerical superiority didn’t come to fruition; Barca were similarly good after the sending off as they were before, I’d ask you to note that too.
Nevertheless, all in all, only Chelsea would have been the deserved winner in such a match. But the penalty situations were decisive. There were at least three that definitely had to be penalised. That’s why I personally said to my interlocutor during the game that “the referee wouldn’t allow the equaliser.” So even if the ball did end up in the net at some point, he would find some kind of snag and just disallow the goal.
Then when Barca actually equalised, there was simply nothing he could do. The goal was clear and unambiguous. Still, I can’t be a bit happy about such a result. I may have won money, but that is secondary for me in such circumstances. You just have to say it so clearly: it was a scandal. The three or four Chelsea penalty claims that were turned down could all still be taken as they were still leading at that point. But the fact that there was yet another action in injury time, where a goal kick, which was actually very well placed, was on its way towards the goal, the referee was standing right next to it when the ball went to the hand of Etoo, who was in the way (be it the arm; in any case, the direction of flight of the ball was clearly the goal and a clear chance was thwarted), he simply cannot let it pass, if he has the slightest sense of justice (did he even want that?). Some of the four situations before that are really a joke. For me, the most outstanding one was the handball by Piqué, who simply intercepted the ball, which was brilliantly played around him, with his hand; who can speak of “unintentional”? A mockery; apart from the fact that I would be absolutely not interested, neither as a referee nor as a rulemaker, whether a goal was “accidentally prevented with the hand” or whether it was “prevented intentionally”. It would be a goal, the hand is an illegal part of the body to play the ball with, so it’s a penalty either way; apart from that, as I’ve pointed out many times: the players already know what they’re doing with their hands and arms. You can move them out of the way if you’re afraid of penalties, or you move them in the way, as was totally obvious to me from Etoo in the last scene, because you have “nothing to fear”; the referees and also the announcers always show leniency; “No, unintentional for me. No penalty”.
The fact that Ottmar Hitzfeld’s subsequent remark ensures that the referees will have no qualms about not giving penalties in future either, saying “No, he’s got his back to the shooter, it’s not his fault”, only confirms one of my basic theories (the referees don’t want to give penalties because it causes too great a shift in the odds, whereas a penalty that is not given initially keeps the odds for the outcome of the game the same). But in this case one has to speak of a scandal. He has to give the last one, because of the previous history and because of sporting justice. The chance was there to make amends. If he doesn’t do it now, then you have to fear the worst. By the way, I said to my interlocutor long before during the game: “Barca can’t progress. The referee can’t do that, otherwise he won’t get out of the stadium in one piece.” However, I myself immediately qualified that he could perhaps still afford it in Chelsea as the only English team or stadium, because there is a civilised audience there.
It’s striking for me that Dani Alves has regularly been a total failure throughout the season. He always gets to play, all right. But the fact that he is always allowed to take the standards is simply grotesque. Out of 100 of his standards, not even one is a danger to the goal. Moreover, out of three crosses, two end up behind the goal, the third can’t be received (but in this game, for once, he hit two halfway good crosses). But that’s not enough: the comment “he’s not involved in the combination play” would be totally wrong. Unfortunately, it’s different: “Every combination in which the ball lands with Alves is abruptly ended.” He constantly knocks the ball uncontrollably across the field in the hope that a teammate might be there somewhere. Unfortunately, there are two problems with this: if he should plan a direction where he sees a teammate, his feet do not implement the thought. Most of the time, however, he is too busy controlling the ball and doesn’t even see where he is going. Unfortunately, the effect is the same in both cases: the ball is gone. For me, it’s unbelievable that his team-mates still give him the ball and that the coach lets him play through again and again. And with the standards, that must be in his contract. Because even Viktor Valdez, the goalkeeper, would be able to play a better free kick than him.
By the way, another curious thing: Alves’ performance itself is never judged. Neither by the Spanish commentators (whom I always tune in to all Barca games on Premiere because of the intolerability of the Germans), nor by the German commentators, who are of course completely ignorant. He’s on the ball, the ball is away. It’s just “Alves, Alves…” and then they comment on the counter-attack. Nobody seems to notice that it might have been the 17th ball loss. I would immediately and with anyone (Alves fan because of me) pick any Barca game and go through all the situations to become aware of my own delusion.
In conclusion, I was wrong, my assessment of Barca’s superiority was, despite certain rudiments of confirmation, in terms of total goals and possession, corner ratio over both games, but still, purely emotionally, too high to make my bets really and demonstrably good. Given Chelsea’s quality, 70% going forward is too much for Barca. I’d also caveat this: it can happen in the first leg that Barca score an early goal (the 44th or so will do), that someone, like Essien, happens to hit a ball perfectly, that it just goes in (and if a team needs little luck for such an event, then it’s Barcelona). And then I’d like to see the second half or even the second leg. So Chelsea practically always had their desired result from the score and never had to do anything. I would also like to see the second leg again without that Sunday shot.
The whole game could be totally different. As Christoph Daum once quite rightly remarked, and yet earned plenty of scorn and derision for it: “Goals are very important for the course of the game.” It’s simply true. The whole character of a game is changed by a goal, and not only in the Champions League.
Final verdict? Bad bets. Interesting report?