UEFA Champions League: Are Chelsea Lucky or Just Opportunistic?
Chelsea grabbed a last minute winner against Shakhtar Donetsk at Stamford Bridge to keep their dream of retaining the Champions League crown alive and in their own hands. Having been completely outclassed in the reverse fixture, with the 2-1 scoreline flattering the defending champions, it took a bit of luck and a lot of poor goalkeeping to allow them to get their breaks at the Bridge.
Critics have said that it was sheer luck that got them through the 2011/12 competition, where they apparently bluffed their way to victory in Munich. By this point in that campaign, with four games of the group stage played, Chelsea were only one point better off than they are at the moment having dropped points against Genk and Valencia away, and they went on to lose to Leverkusen to add an element of danger to their knockout stage qualification. Had they not beaten Valencia at home in the final group game, they could very well have been dropped into the Europa League, but their resilience and a 3-0 win saw them through.
It was a change in manager rather than fortune that got them through the Round of 16, after Andre Villas Boas was replaced following a 3-1 away defeat at Napoli. Roberto Di Matteo took charge on an interim basis and lit a fire under the squad, inspiring Chelsea to a dramatic comeback which saw them win the home fixture 4-1 and the tie 5-4 on aggregate. They then beat Benfica 3-1 on aggregate before facing Barcelona in the semifinal, which is where the luck vs. opportunism argument really came into its own.
Chelsea won the home tie 1-0 courtesy of Didier Drogba and went to the Nou Camp knowing that an away goal would most likely seal the tie. The plan failed after just over half an hour, when Barcelona went 1-0 up and John Terry was sent off a few minutes later, meaning that if the Blues could come back and win, they would be missing their captain for the final. A few minutes later, Barcelona were 2-0 up and were dominating the 10 Chelsea players left on the pitch. If that's luck, you can keep it, thank you very much. Ramires' chip/lob over Victor Valdes took the luck of the keeper being off his line, but it was pure skill that allowed him to guide the ball in, giving Chelsea a lifeline before half time.
Two minutes after the restart, Drogba conceded a penalty which "the greatest player in the world" Lionel Messi stepped up to take. It was pretty lucky that he fluffed that penalty, but the defensive display that followed was amazing. It was the way Chelsea united as a team and dug in, despite being a man and captain down against one of the greatest club sides in the world that won it.
As it stands now, the Blues are second in their group, level with leaders Shakhtar on seven points with Juventus only one point behind. There are two games still to be played, with Chelsea visiting Juventus in Turin before welcoming minnows Nordsjaelland to Stamford Bridge for what could turn out to be the deciding game of the group. Without a win against Shakhtar, things would have looked very different, but it wasn't luck that got them the last gasp goal, it was a powerful bullet header from substitute Victor Moses, brought on to replace a tiring Oscar.
What people struggle to understand about Di Matteo is that he gets the team to play to their strengths and do whatever it takes to win. When they need a goal, he mixes up the attacking options, either adding a wide man in the form of Moses, or by replacing Torres with Daniel Sturridge. When they need to defend a lead, he will pull pretty much everyone back behind the ball to get the desired result.
You make your own luck in this game, through determination, skill, a desire to do whatever it takes to win and belief that ultimately, you will get what you want. Lucky, opportunistic, whatever you want to call it, that determination and belief is what underpins this Chelsea side. They make the most of whatever they have to get what they need from whatever situation they find themselves in. Add some cohesion in defence and a more ruthless striker and the only relevant label will be "Champions."
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