Beauty always needs a beast: Gritty Chelsea make Pep's magicians special
21:30 GMT, 23 April 2012
Take away Professor James Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes is a plain old consulting detective, operating out of his comfortable home in 221B Baker Street.
Among the most identifiable figures in literature, he still needed a black-hearted adversary to make him special.
After champion driver Alain Prost retired, his greatest rival Ayrton Senna took to calling him up, asking him to reconsider. Racing wasn't the same without his great foe at the wheel. And as any Batman fan knows, it's all downhill after The Joker.
Centre of attention: Chelsea face Barcelona for a spot in the Champions League final on Tuesday night
'When super-villains want to scare each other, they tell Joker stories,' says Trickster, a lesser crook appearing in the 1995 DC comic series Underworld Unleashed.
Those wanting to scare Barcelona tell Chelsea stories instead. John Terry standing firm with two broken ribs. The six games that have passed since Barcelona last beat them. The time Chelsea came back from 2-1 down to win 5-4 on aggregate.
'Really strong, really competitive,' was how Barcelona central defender Gerard Pique described Chelsea yesterday.
Leading the way: The Blues arrive in Barcelona with a slender 1-90 advantage over the Spanish giants
'They know how to play these games and are very experienced. Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, players like this have a lot of games in their legs. They know exactly what they are doing.'
Behind the curmudgeon's mask – Barcelona's players rarely lose without laying a charge of anti-football against the victors – there appears grudging admiration between these sides.
When Barcelona captain Carles Puyol greeted his opposite number Terry before last week's match at Stamford Bridge, there was surprising warmth between the two old warriors.
Hair we go: David Luiz and Didier Drogba train at the Nou Camp on Monday evening
As Puyol nursed a hand injury in the first-half, Terry held it almost mockingly when they came together at a corner, as if to make the point that men of their stature are not fazed by trivial wounds. Puyol, of course, played on.
As Barcelona and Chelsea will play on tonight, beauty and the beast, their styles contrasting, perfectly. The best fights, it is said, are between boxers who conflict technically, and perhaps the best football, too.
Barcelona versus Barcelona Lite would be a poor contest – as it has often proved when the Catalans face Arsenal, and even Manchester United of late – but Barcelona pitted against a nemesis, Chelsea, or any of the teams managed by Jose Mourinho (which still includes Chelsea to some extent, such is his terrifying influence) is a real match.
Reach for the stars: Chelsea are looking for revenge after losing their 2009 semi-final against Barca
So they need each other. Just as Holmes needed Moriarty, 'the Napoleon of crime' as Arthur Conan Doyle styled him, so Barcelona must take their own trip over the Reichenbach Falls, locked in combat with a cunning, brutish villain, powerful, relentless, and last week seemingly impervious to attack.
The critics have it wrong. 'For the sake of the game, I hope Barcelona win,' said former Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar. 'I love teams who attack, Chelsea did nothing but defend with nine players.'
Ronald Koeman, who scored the goal that won Barcelona the European Cup against Sampdoria in 1992, joined this chorus of disapproval.
Pure theatre: The Nou Camp will play host to Tuesday night's second leg
'I have no admiration for Chelsea's approach,' he sniffed. 'I was appalled they did not try to make more of the game. As a coach, I would never let my team play as Chelsea did.'
As a coach he may not get the chance again. Koeman's Feyenoord team are currently third in the Dutch Eredivisie, six points off top place, but three points from sixth. This is his ninth coaching job since 1998 and while he has won three Dutch titles (Ajax 2001-02, 2003-04 and PSV Eindhoven 2006-07), recent appointments include a disappointing spell at Valencia, who fell to 15th on his watch and seven defeats in 16 matches during a brief spell at AZ Alkmaar.
High-minded principles are to be admired but a meeting of Barcelona and Koeman's current Feyenoord team would in all likelihood be a mismatch, signifying nothing.
On the ball: Barca will be keen to bounce back from their 2-1 defeat at the hands of Real Madrid on Saturday
There is little more tiresome than good football, played ineffectively. Barcelona murder teams that try to match them technically without the necessary equipment. All Chelsea have ever done to frustrate them is play to their own strengths and coach Roberto Di Matteo's gameplan is unlikely to stray too far from the tried and tested tonight.
'We have to attempt to score, because it is difficult to play for a goalless draw in Nou Camp,' he admitted.
'We will concentrate on the qualities within this team, look at the strengths of our players and the weakness of the opposition. We need to get the best out of ourselves.'
Does this mean more dogged defending, a bank of nine resisting, quick counter attacks and some direct play up to an imposing forward, probably Drogba More than likely. But what is wrong with that Where does it say that football equates to Barcelona and a million lame imitations
In charge: Guardiola oversees Barcelona's exciting brand of football
It is the existence of a team such as Chelsea, experienced, well-schooled, quick, physically imposing, horrible to play against at their best, that make us appreciate Barcelona's devotion to football's aesthetic qualities all the more.
Their aim is fiendishly hard to achieve (as Arsenal's recent trials have shown): they want to win every game playing beautifully, to triumph with football alone. Football skills, football thought – and fair enough, the odd example of football's dark arts – it is, at its height, a purists tingling fantasy.
And if every opponent aped it, if every team was a nod to Tottenham Hotspur under Ossie Ardiles – 'pass, pass, pass,' he would say, 'play, play, play' but unfortunately all they did was lose, lose, lose – then we would never realise how great Barcelona are.
It needs a cussed Chelsea team, marshalled by Terry, with Drogba a potent force, unplayable at his finest, to put Barcelona into relief.
It needs Pep Guardiola's often ill-tempered battles with Mourinho to remind us that truly great football is never easy, not even with Lionel Messi, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas or Andres Iniesta in the team.
Barcelona prove that a good big 'un doesn't always beat a good little 'un, but if the good little 'un falters, as Barcelona have recently, they can still lose. Not to everybody; but to Chelsea, certainly. And Real Madrid.
'We have done so well in the last few years that, at times, we don't even know who the opponents are,' Guardiola admitted.
'So if we do not beat Chelsea it is because they are a strong, strong team and this is their competition. And if they beat us, congratulations. We are ready to fight against them, to reach the final, yet we're not always going to be good.
'We need to be more demanding all the time. Our way of playing is very peculiar: passing and passing is our essence and that is how we will continue to play while I am manager. Our principle is always the same, have a ball kicking the ball around. That is the idea and we don't touch it. It started in my first game for the club, in Scotland, and it continued until our last game against Real Madrid. And we have won respect for playing this way, but the past does not matter. This is a time for the players; and they are huge players.'
Indeed, they are. The best players. Arguably the most outstanding club side many have seen, certainly in the modern era. And we know that because to overcome Chelsea, makes them so.
Koeman and Van Der Sar miss the point. Remove Terry, remove Drogba, and the wonders Barcelona offer would just be so much useless beauty