After Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final between Barcelona and Chelsea, which surprisingly was won by Chelsea after a spirited display at Stamford Bridge in the first leg and a bloody minded performance at the Camp Nou in the return leg, questions have been raised as the life-span of a football team. Particularly after Barcelona’s performance.
In the space of six years Barcelona been the most successful team in Europe, winning the Champions League on three occasions in 2006 (against Arsenal, 2-1), in 2009 and 2011 (against Man United, 2-0 and 3-1 respectively), numerous domestic titles (four league titles, one cup and four Spanish Super Cups) as well as the club world championship twice in 2009 and 2011, making them the most decorated team in recent football history. In the same period the Spanish national team have won the European Championship in 2008 and the World Cup in 2010. On top of that, Barcelona played breath taking football and had with Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi the world’s best footballers in their squad. In short, they have been the best team in the last few years without a question.
This trophy haul however, must have left traces as each year the players and their coach have experienced high levels of excitement and success which could leave players exhausted and saturated. This theory is supported firstly by the fact that Real Madrid have dominated the league this season and will go on to win it confidently and secondly with their defeat against Chelsea in the Champions League.
Historically this theory gets nourishment from Ajax’s and Bayern’s European Cup triumphs in the early 1970s. Both team dominated the tournament for three years on the trott (Ajax 1971-73, Bayern 1974-76) before other teams have caught up. The German national team have successfully reached three finals at the World Cup between 1982 and 1990, winning the last one. After that German football went into an hiatus for almost a decade, with the exception of 1996. Therefore, it is feasible theory with some truth in it but certainly not to be taken for granted.
Another explanation could be that other teams have simply caught up with Barcelona. The best example again is Real Madrid, who played a very positive game against Bayern in their second leg of the semi-final at the Bernabeu last night. Chelsea were certainly no match against Barcelona but they also have caught up as they simply denied Barcelona sufficient time and space to get their tiki-taka-passing machine going. More importantly, nerves have played a role in this tie as Messi missed a penalty and the team as a whole missed a number of chances in both games that would have put the tie beyond Chelsea’s reach from a very early point. Chelsea on the other hand had were a man down after John Terry’s stupid red card. It is an unwritten rule in football that a team with a man down fights even more. And so they did. Fighting spirit defeated technique.