Chelsea’s Champions League triumph was remarkable. But it was also an accident. If any victory flew in the face of logic and statistics, it was this one. The London team were utterly dominated, not just by Bayern, but by Barcelona. They also found themselves hanging on for dear life against Benfica, whilst Roberto di Matteo’s men also rode their luck against Napoli.
This was after they had come through their Champions League group in similarly fortuitous style. Needing a 0-0 draw at home to Valencia or to win to avoid an early exit at that stage, the Spaniards dominated their game. Yet they lost. In fact, it is difficult to think of games Chelsea dominated during their run to and victory in the final.
In the final itself, Bayern Munich had 35 shots to Chelsea’s 9. 20 corners to Chelsea’s 1. It was remarkable. Chelsea, not for the first time this season, were hanging on. Full credit to their character and discipline under pressure. But to claim this was a team who were the best in Europe this season is clearly ridiculous. They finished sixth in the Premier League, behind Newcastle United. It was not long ago that they only drew at home to Birmingham City in the FA Cup.
But Chelsea’s victory is a reminder that in cup football, the best team rarely wins. It is a format which allows for that most infuriating of footballing factors, luck, to play a significant role. In a 38 game season there is less room for luck. Everyone plays each other twice. In 38 games, the best teams will usually finish in the positions they deserve. That Chelsea were sixth underlines that they were no where near being the best team in England, let alone in Europe.
So their victory really has just undermined the Champions League. Johan Cruyff, ever the defender of football’s principles, said that he would be ashamed to win the competition the way Chelsea did. For a man who won it three times in his career playing some of the most spectacular football the world has seen, it speaks volumes. His views were echoed in a disbelieving German press, incredulous that Chelsea could have won. It was similar to the way in which the Spanish media reacted to Chelsea’s win over Barcelona.
There is little good to say about the style in which Roberto di Matteo’s side played. They sat back, waited for their opponents to make an error, and were to their credit ruthless. But to be so comprehensively outplayed and win, makes the victory more hollow. Christian Spiller in Die Zeit, said: “Bayern Munich were, for all 120 minutes, better than the so-called best team in Europe. A week ago, as some Bayern players acknowledged after the DFB Cup final, their dominance was subjective.
“Not this time. The statistics list, a paragon of objectivity, reported 35 to nine shots on goal, and 20 to one corners. In no Champions League game this season has Bayern had more shots on goal and more corners than in this final – not even the 7-0 win against Basel.”
It was the most remarkable of finals. If given all statistics but the goals, one would find it difficult to imagine how Chelsea could have won. Yet they did. That is the remarkable thing about football.