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Rubin Kazan 3-2 Chelsea (agg 4-5) – A European Cup is a European Cup

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The Europa League is an interesting beast. Primarily because it’s not a beast at all. For much of the developed world (at least in terms of football), it ranks somewhere below the Reserves and above the U-12s in importance. The origins of this sad state of affairs are very much open to debate and undoubtedly involve UEFA, the growth of national leagues and, ultimately, money. I’m not an expert of this particular (or any other, for that matter) part of our modern footballing history, so I’ll refrain from speculating any further. What I do know is that I remember a time, and I’m still quite young, when the UEFA Cup meant something. It meant a lot, actually. And don’t forget the Cup Winners’ Cup. European football was diverse, competitive and didn’t involve the dreaded Thursday nights. The teams that were fighting for the aforementioned trophies weren’t second-rate obscure mid-table sides. They just happened to be less fortunate in their respective leagues the year before, but were still proper teams, hungry for European glory, which back then, in the days when the Champions League wasn’t the monopoly it now is, meant blood, sweat and prestige. I can still very much remember those UEFA Cup winners (and runners-up, and some really great matches), while I can’t tell you who triumphed in the last Europa League if I had a gun to my head. Right now the tournament is nothing more than a subject of jokes from rival fans. And the Blues are in it this year, if only to remind dear old Paulo Ferreira what a football pitch outside of Cobham looks like.

However, I believe that here and now, for Chelsea, this is an important endeavour for a very symbolic but nonetheless tangible reason. The glory of May 2012 vanished into thin air so fast that at the moment it’s nothing more than bland satire. There are few things more embarrassing than trying so hard, defying so many odds, and a couple of months later letting it go to waste. I didn’t expect us to win the damn thing two years running, mind you, but the way we crashed out, and the fact that it was us, speaks volumes to our detractors. What I mean is, it’s alright for Barcelona, Bayern, Milan and the like to suffer such an unfortunate chain of events and fail to pass the group stage. For us, the season immediately following our Champions League victory, it’s a nightmare. No one believed we could do it. And after we’d done it, they were constantly nagging on and on about anti-football, luck and such bullshit. They can shut up and we can pretend not to care, but the fact we couldn’t even reach the knockout round kind of adds weight to this mode of thinking. I, personally, do not want one of the fondest memories in my life to be put down to sheer luck and anti-football. Because it wasn’t. The boys were heroes. That victory was supposed to spark the beginning of something bigger for Chelsea FC. It was supposed to become a new foundation. It was supposed to make us legit on this overrated, corrupt European scale. Instead it will be remembered as a fluke, a sun spark in between Barcelona’s and whoever else’s golden dominance. Which isn’t true, but when was the last time history cared about what’s true and what’s a load of bollocks?

Unless Chelsea wins the Europa League. Not for the open-top bus celebration, not to make us cry in joy, not to pull the next Eden Hazard out of the greasy palms of Manchester City and their less financially fortunate neighbours at the last minute. Just for one thing: closure. In other words, May 2012 cannot have ended in Turin or in Donetsk the following autumn. Drogba’s performance deserves so much more. And the best Lamps and Terry (and Rafa, oh yes) can give him now is this worthless peace of silverware that only for Chelsea and only this year shouldn’t be so worthless. Get to the final, grab a couple of goals and just wrap it up. Go home, watch some sitcoms or something. But deep down inside feel just a little bit warmer. Because no matter how UEFA corrupts and destroys their tournaments, a European cup is still, in the end, a European cup (make it two with the Super Cup).

And I’m happy to say that after Chelsea’s trip to Moscow (which was supposed to be Kazan, but Rubin screwed up their UEFA application and ended up having to play, effectively, on neutral ground, with Moscow’s Chelsea fans cheering the opposition on*), the lads are still on course to the final in… Amsterdam, I think?

As for the match, I took the liberty to not write a proper match report precisely because I feel that either you’ve watched the game or you don’t really care enough (rightfully) to know all the little details. We have Man City looming and, generally, better things to do. For lack of a better word, I’d like to underline the overall attitude to this tournament by not writing a lot about the match.

Well, as I said, the game was somewhat unremarkable, had it not been for Torres’s fantastic lob (on the fifth minute) and Moses’s slick finish (on the 55th minute) that sealed Rubin’s fate despite their heroic effort (aided by some very dodgy defending, probably attributable to no one in a blue shirt caring enough by that point) to score three goals and save their quite impeccable European reputation. I’ll repeat myself and mention that the Europa League is still a very big deal for Eastern European clubs. And Rubin are no pushovers. They didn’t play as well as they normally can, but we should not disregard the overall outcome of the tie. Chelsea had to do well to pass Rubin. And for all the hate that Rafa attracts, the last few weeks he seems to be getting it mostly right, which is his main strength. Cold and calculated performances, whereby even when playing like shit, we can still grind out those results. And let’s be honest, at this point in the season, there’s probably nothing more that we could reasonably ask for. An honorable mention, I feel, should go to young Ake who looked quite good in the difficult to master holding midfielder/anchorman role.

*They didn’t want to play in Kazan in autumn (because it’s freezing and they have a proper grass pitch), and a club is only allowed to declare two stadiums to UEFA, so they quite logically declared Luzhniki with its notorious plastic pitch (sadly the only way to have a decent surface to play on when it’s minus fucking 20) and a stadium in the south of Russia (can’t be bothered to look up which, sorry) where it’s perpetual summer and bikini time. One thing they didn’t quite examine well was the fact that re-declaring a stadium (say, after the group stage, like clubs do with players in January) is not allowed. So when it became possible to play in Kazan, they couldn’t replace Luzhniki in UEFA’s list. For which they attracted a lot of flack from the Russian media and some fans. But it’s over now.

Our lineup: Cech; Azpi, JT, Crazy David, Ferreira; Rami, Ake; Benayoun, Lamps, Moses; Torres.

Their lineup: Ryzhikov; Kuzmin, Marcano, Navas, Ansaldi; Karadeniz, Orbaiz, Natkho, Kasaev; Eremenko, Rondon.

Press Reports

The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “Rafael Benítez had made a point of warning his players against complacency in the buildup to this contest but, clearly, that message did not entirely sink in. Chelsea secured their passage into a Europa League semi-final here at Rubin Kazan’s expense but, amid swathes of empty seats in this vast Moscow arena, they were beaten on the night with their fragility causing the interim manager palpitations on the touchline. Manchester City await in the FA Cup at Wembley on Sunday and, on this evidence, they will hardly be quaking in their boots.”

The Daily Telegraph, Jeremy Wilson: “The contrast with Chelsea’s previous competitive visit to Moscow could not have been more stark but John Terry will probably still be happy if he never set foot inside the Luzhniki Stadium again. Where there was tears, high drama and ultimately heartbreak when Chelsea lost the Champions League final in Moscow five years ago, this was an evening of kamikaze defending amid what was otherwise serene progress to the semi-finals of the Europa League.”

The Independent, Simon Johnson: “Chelsea should have cruised through to the last four after going to Moscow with a two-goal advantage and taking the lead twice during the second leg. However, they ended up greeting the final whistle with a huge sigh of relief after conceding three goals in a frantic second half.”

The Official Chelsea FC Website: “Chelsea are into the Europa League semi-finals despite being narrowly beaten in Russia. An early goal should have made things comfortable, but a second-half fight back from Rubin made for a harder night’s work than many would have predicted when Fernando Torres put us in front after four minutes.”

Goals

5′ Torres 0-1
51′ Marcano 1-1
55′ Moses 1-2
62′ Karadeniz 2-2
75′ Natkho (pen) 3-2
Highlights

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  • http://www.chelseafcblog.com/ Nick

    Thanks, Gleb. A very good read. I too miss the days when the UEFA Cup meant something, when European football was, oh I don’t know, more exciting. The Champions League has become a nonsense, and now that we’ve won it I really don’t care if we win it again. I’m sure Roman feels differently though.

    I will watch our remaining Europa League games if they’re televised in the UK. Surely now ITV will show our games considering that, for the second season running we’re the only English team left in European competition.

  • Fiftee

    Great read Gleb.

    Pretty average performance and some horrific defending. Nothing new.

    Just given a cursory glance to our remaining fixtures. Got some very tough games still to play. The usual Fiftee-pessimism tells me we need to love the Europa League a little bit more. We’ll be in it from the start next season.

  • mark_25

    Great post Gleb. As the cameras kept focusing on the Chelsea supporters from Russia I did think of you!

    Anyhow Chelsea, like Maggie Thatcher, are now alone fighting Britain’s corner in Europe.

    • bluebayou

      But unlike Maggie and her chums we will hopefully emulate last years efforts where we didn’t cave into the Germans.

      • mark_25

        Rather like the Germans we’re losing on all fronts

  • bluebayou

    Thanks Gleb, that was a good read and a pretty decent summary of where we are in the media’s eyes this season. Combined with your previous comments it is good to get a view from a man on the ground as it were.

    And I think you’re right the game doesn’t bear to much analysis. With Kazan needing goals and Chelsea trying to get by with as little effort as possible it is difficult to make judgements. But I think you’re right to say that Kazan are probably a better team technically than they showed at Stamford Bridge.

  • Gleb

    Thank you everyone! Feels good to have something posted here once in a while. Some games deserve a different kind of match report, and that’s why I wrote what I wrote. Some games are miniscule on their own, but instead happen to be a significant part of a larger system. Hopefully my next one, if it ever happens, will involve much more match analysis, which I quite enjoy doing, while being no good at it :-) Next up is Basel and they’ve proven (or proved?) to be an amazing side.Now that’s a team that really craves this cup! So it’s gonna be a true test of our EL abilities. I’m sitting here in Lisbon now, was praying today for a Benfica – Chelsea tie…

  • NorthernVA

    Great report Gleb. I must say that as hard as it is to admit but if the murmurings of Terry and Lampard being out of the first eleven against City I would be hard pressed to fault Rafa for that decision. I think I should self-flagellate until kick-off after saying that.

  • musumba

    It all boils down to leadership, and i think the management is in for a crisis,yes we are buying some decent footballers but are they leaders in the pitch?in defence we had a leadership in Terry in midfield we had leadership in Lampard while at the front we had Drogba. Cech also came in handy,with the current group the leadership seems to be fading away.I feel we genuinely need a leader to lead the striking force, in midfield i feel Ramires and Mata can do it ,but at the back we have problems Luiz is very unpredictable and unstable.possibly the signing of luka modric may add some weight in midfield. I still feel Oscar is a bit of a lighweight and should come in as a Modrics sub, Falcao too is a good option at the front.Scouting reports and potential signings emanating from Bundesliga in particular Andre Schlurre should be thoroughly scrutinized we may end up with another ridiculous jestering elf like Marko Marin

  • http://www.chelseafcblog.com/ Nick

    Killed off and stamped on by an Argentine in the week of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral.

    One thing I took from today was how much I sometimes hate following matches via Twitter. I saw nearly all of it on TV but what I read on Twitter seemed in no way to reflect what was happening on the pitch, there was just so much negativity. The @chelseablog account only follows 89 people too – goodness knows what’s being said elsewhere on Twitter.

    If Twitter has taken comments away from blogs, at least it’s taken the poison with it.

    • mark_25

      You should have been at Wembley, plenty of stick being dished out there. Mikel was taking the brunt of it

      • jonners

        not really surprising that Mikel was taking the brunt of the stick being dished out as he was very poor prior to being subbed and if you get a chance to watch the replay of the first goal you will see Mikel strolling ,yes strolling, back towards the penalty area about 10 yards behind Toure who is definitely NOT strolling towards our goal prior to releasing the pass which led to Nasri’s goal.The fact that we improved immeasurably when Mikel went off does not do him any favours.

        • Ramone

          Mata was dreaming, let Toure go initially and then couldn’t effect a meaningful challenge whilst chasing. So I don’t think we can blame Mikel alone for the goal, or for us being over-run so comprehensively in the first 30. As a team we couldn’t, compete physically and couldn’t get hold of the ball. We also had recurrence of super cup, kamikaze over commitment leaving us hopelessly exposed on the counter. I just hope that we have enough fight in our weary troops to keep going and that the season doesn’t fall apart completely. Fulham will surely give us a clue as to whether we can keep it together.

    • Cunningplan

      This place is fast becoming a bit of a graveyard. Might well be apathy on most peoples part, I know it has been on mine.

  • Cunningplan

    Ah well, our exceptional run in this competition comes to a somewhat abrupt end. A few observations from yesterday and my simplistic view, we looked like we were trying to pace ourselves over the 90 mins which is understandable considering our run of games. It appears we can only play with any real intensity for about 20 odd mins and this has been a familiar pattern over the past couple of months.

    Trouble is by doing that, if we fall behind it takes far more effort to get back into games and then reflects on our next performance. It was interesting to note we’d already played 15 more games than Citeh, nearly half a seasons worth of football more is quite telling.

    As far as the game goes there’s one thing I’ve noticed with regard Citeh and the way they play us, especially this season, is their constant fouling when we’re in a position to break and do damage. I’ve lost count of the times when shirts are tugged, players cynically tripped, and runners blocked, it’s very clever, and very effective. I appreciate Foy let the game flow as much as he could, but I certainly think early yellows for the Citeh culprits might just put a stop to it. As far as Kompany’s attempt in helping Torres celebrate his scoring before he actually did, by removing his shirt was admirable. Arsenal had a penalty for far less on Saturday which changed the course of their game, and lets not forget the two soft penalties given against us against Rubin Kazan. It’s not sour grapes on my part with regard the penalty although it may look like it is, Citen just edged the game overall as we were the architects of our downfall.

    Next two games are huge with regard the league, and will probably determine our finishing position, I think 4 points are a minimum requirement unless other results go in our favour.

    Right…. off back to my hibernation.

  • GrocerJack

    What a great read Gleb! I think much the same about how European football has been consumed by the ogre that is the Champions League. being of a certain age I remember with great fondness the fact that we qualified for , and won the Cup Winners Cup against real Madrid in 1971, as I’m sure other fans remember Fairs Cup wins and UEFA Cup wins. A competition was exactly that, you were there on the merit of having won or achieved something. In the case of the Cup Winners Cup it was as exclusive as the old European Cup in that each country had one representative, one there by virtue of being actual Champions, the other by winning the primary cup competition. It may just be a romantic notion through blue tinted glasses, but in general football was far more ‘fun’ back then. And competition wins meant more. They were badges of honour. Things your friends would envy. Or you would envy of them.

    That in itself might be linked to far more realistic expectations, and to some degree a greater understanding of the game by fans back then. You knew what you knew because you played the game, watched the game, read about the game in the papers and that was it. Now in this 365 day/24 hour society we get stats rammed down our throats, opinions (like arseholes) wherever you go, wall to wall TV coverage, live games across different channels from different countries and different continents, emails from clubs using your first name (Dear Tony, please spend some of your hard earned cash with us on some tasteless tat memorabilia or clothing etc etc) and endless reams of football culture shoved in our faces at every turn screaming at us about the virues of Super Sunday or Judgement Day or Football Fucking Armageddon!!. Don’t like football? Heretic! Heathen! Naysayer! Witch!

    I even see fans on Twitter who hold the belief that the bad old days of hooliganism were what football was about, some even professing to hate the game, but just enjoying the craic. It’s about tribalism innit etc… A bunch of know nothing fuckwits who seem to model themselves on self styled geezer Danny Dyer…god help them. Others seem to have read a book called ‘how to be a fan…chapter 1…decry everyone who says anything critical about the team’…Chapter 2 ‘Despise the manager’ . All of which adds to the undercurrent of nastiness I sense pervading the game today. Football has bred out the hooligans and replaced them, bodysnatcher style, with replicant hooligans, programmed to yell and shout, but inside just sad fuckers with no wives, girlfriends or any other aspect of anything resembling a normal life. If we don’t win by 6 then every player is crap, and the manager a subject of vile abuse.

    Football is a model of unfettered Thatcherism in that sense. A complete free market without any constraints applied by the powers that be, who hold the only noble purpose allowed in society today, that of making MONEY. I’m surprised she hated it so much. And through that pursuit of lucre we witness the consequent distancing of themselves from the fans, taking the club hierarchies with them and the soul of the game is bit by bit being removed.

    Like the original inhabitants of Mondas who replaced limb by limb, organ by organ, their human parts with technology to improve them, to remove pain and emotion. And when the last piece of human tissue was replaced so disappeared the last fraction of humanity. The Cybermen. Ladies and gentlemen football is well on the way to producing the Cyberfan. Along with the Cyberclub. Money driven, emotionless, with one single purpose…to conquer all before them. Cyberfootball.

    Look at the Champions league and the damage it has done to domestic leagues and cups. We live in a football culture, personified by the likes of Arsenal, where 4th FUCKING PLACE, is more revered than either of the other 2 domestic competitions. Unless your Swansea or Portsmouth, where they haven’t been poisoned by the marketing and money of the Champions League. Lets not forget that the Champions league and the Premiership are even more the paradigm of Thatcherism, in that the rich clubs get richer so they get more 4th FUCKING PLACE success to buy more players. Players eager to whore themselves on TV in the Champions league in order to get an even better obscene deal with another club. Whilst the poor clubs either go under (whither Pompey, Leeds, Coventry, Sheffield Wednesday..) or occasionally get to eat at the big table before being eventually discarded and forgotten before being sent packing from whence they came. Swansea beware.

    And finally as the money from sponsors and TV pours into the vast UEFA coffers, lining the pockets of the already rich we look to the National team, an entity that once in the 60s sat astride the world, respected, admired, feared for footballing reasons. The entity which made global names of Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Gordon Banks, Alan Ball, Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst et al. An entity which along with others has seen international football relegated to the status of a sideshow exhibition. Even once great teams like Brazil are peddled around the globe like latin showponies, living off past glories, having had their unique brand of football watered down by their players taking the Euro-dollar and having their skills homogenised by production line coaches spewed out of UEFA coaching badge schemes. ‘Come see the Brazilians’ the marketeers shout, ‘…..they were good once! And England, dear old England, once alternately white and red shirted representing the proud colour mix of the Cross of St George, now relegated to the status of begging a half pissed red nosed despot at Old Trafford for players to represent the country, and mimicked by lesser media trained monkeys at other clubs playing the same ‘club before anything’ game in order to hold to ransom the poor sap sitting at what was once the pinnacle of achievement in the English game. Players hypnotised by their collective coaches and club boards evil spells and that of UEFA and the media into seeing the national team as an irrelevance whereby they can cry off with a broken toe nail, or a poor haircut or any other feeble excuse rather than be forced to wear the faux Real Madrid all white or the mysteriously untraditional new blue kit of dear old Ingerlund, no doubt delivered by some smart arse vacuous ‘creative’ working for AdiNikeBok or whoever.

    So, yes, like Nick, my current view is we’ve won it and frankly I couldn’t really give a damn if we did it again whilst I’m attached to this mortal coil. Because even if we win it again, even if we win in the style of the Harlem Globetrotters with dazzling tippy tappy, ball juggling whilst break dancing street football skills, it will never beat the first time. It will never match Munich. It will never match the wonder of a 10 year old boy fresh from the glory of a replayed FA Cup and an Ian Hutchinson windmill action that Pete Townshend would have coveted finding out we’d beaten the Real Madrid. it will never match Zola scoring within 30 seconds of coming on to bring that silly, worthless in UEFAs eyes, trophy back to SW6 in 1998. Those things are done, completed, etched into my memory and psyche. if we win the current Europa league after the preposterous amount of games with revenues akin to wanking for pennies then we’ll have the full set and I’ll add that to the list.

    Anything else from that point will be very nice I’m sure…….but it will just be garnish my friends.

    Melodramatic rant over.