Martin Samuel: Shut up shop Stuff that idea! What a start to the Champions League
22:04 GMT, 19 September 2012
They do know it is a league, these teams, yes Six games, home and away, bit of a safety net, the opportunity to make up for lost time. They get that, you think They know the top two go through and it might be December before the full picture emerges. They know it isn’t time to panic. Not yet, anyway.
And matchday one. They understand the meaning there, too UEFA wouldn’t need to give it the primary number, if there wasn’t also matchdays two, three, four, five etc. Agreed Just checking.
So what the hell is going on What has happened to the best teams from the world’s finest domestic leagues, to the champions of Europe, to Jose Mourinho and the most successful coaches from Italy, the birthplace of the defensive stranglehold, that they should collectively decide to play the cat and mouse stage of this competition as if it is football’s equivalent of a demolition derby.
What a goal: Oscar's second strike was truly breathtaking
More from Martin Samuel…
Martin Samuel: So Ronaldo likes his tummy tickled Well do it, Real!
Martin Samuel: Hooligans we can deal with, but these sly insults are much darker
Martin Samuel: Fans They're still the last people football thinks about
Don't be fooled: a cover-up could happen again
Martin Samuel: Here's why Manchester United want cash curbs… they are scared of City
Martin Samuel: I sat in the locker room thinking, 'What if I lose this'
Martin Samuel: Olympic spirit Andy forged maiden Grand Slam win over long years
Martin Samuel: Want to know Roy's secret Don't cut out the middle men
VIEW FULL ARCHIVE
First, Manchester City’s five-goal rollercoaster at the Bernabeu and now this: three goals before half-time, including one absolute corker, and a late comeback to share the points. And that wasn’t the half of it, really. Both sides will feel they did enough to win.
Chelsea because they were initially two goals clear and Juan Mata missed a very good chance to make it 3-1; Juventus because they were marginally the better side, hit the bar, and took the game to the European champions for long periods. They were chasing, obviously, but even when trailing Italian sides do not tend to commit to attack like this. They work their way back in; Juventus burst through the door with the urgency of desperados. Good for them. What they got, a point, they more than deserved.
On Tuesday in Madrid we saw a match with all the structure and predictability of a sparkler tossed into a box of fireworks, and this wasn’t much different. Chelsea started brightly but could not penetrate, fell a little flat then scored twice, conceded before half-time, looked to be about to further their lead in the second-half and then let in the equaliser. The match ended with Juventus in the ascendancy.
Games like this used to be played in the grip of the tacticians, mapped out on chalkboards in the days prior, stifled and joyless. The last two nights, however, have unfolded as if some imp has put happy pills in the pre-match energy drinks. Close the game out. What we have we hold. Shut up shop. Stuff that. Chelsea, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Juventus. All have gone at it hammer and tongs, and to hell with the consequences. Some think the art of defending is dead; or maybe the art of attacking has never been more alive.
Hammer and tongs: The Italians went all out in search of an equaliser
It helps to have a player like David Luiz in the heart of the back four, obviously. Gary Neville famously likened him to a player controlled by a ten-year-old on Playstation. He neglected to mention that the child in question had also just been at the Sunny Delight and blue Smarties. Having already blown a 2-0 lead, the final minute of the game saw Luiz where every manager wants his centre-half to be: over by the right corner flag, looking for a winner. He doesn’t need a coach, he needs a restraining order.
Just the thought of Juventus cost one former Chelsea manager his job. Luis Felipe Scolari was removed from his post in 2009 in part because his employer, Roman Abramovich, thought Chelsea would not be good enough to defeat Juventus in the Champions League second round: and the Italians have improved a lot since then.
This season’s Chelsea will have to do a job on Shaktar Donetsk and the unknown quantity of the group, FC Norsjaelland of Denmark if they are to be sure of qualifying because Juventus away on November 20 is going to be tough.
Bombastic: David Luiz attacked relentlessly even with the game in the balance
Antonio Conte was a key member of one of the most resilient teams in recent memory as a Juventus player and as the coach has created a group in their image. It is no coincidence that Juventus did not lose in winning Serie A last season, and their resilience from two goals down was exemplary.
Juve’s record in England in recent years is dismal – they have not won in ten visits, 11 if one includes the Champions League final defeat to AC Milan at Old Trafford – but Conte has restored the winning mentality. This may even transpire to be a good point, with hindsight. Chelsea may well have played one of the contenders for the trophy.
And it is their trophy right now, do not forget that. This has been a year of firsts for British sport – Bradley Wiggins becoming the first British winner of the Tour de France, Andy Murray winning Britain’s first Grand Slam tennis event for 76 years – and in the circumstances, it is easy to overlook the special nature of Chelsea’s success.
Achievement: Chelsea are the first London side to win the prestigious trophy
If so, a banner at Stamford Bridge reminded of the achievement in Munich last May. 'First London club to win the Champions League,' it read. Not just the Champions League, actually. No London club won its elder brother, the European Cup, either.
So to simply play a match as European champions is a historical feat. To successfully defend that title would be unique, too. No club has retained the Champions League in its modern format, not even Barcelona. Nobody thinks Chelsea will either – but then again, few gave them much hope beyond the first leg against Napoli last season.