Jose risks all with madness of his methods

Chelsea's penchant for intimidation may eventually undermine their admirable football as they mix the spirited with the mean-spirited
Click to follow
The Independent Football

The sixth collision in three seasons of Chelsea and Barcelona was the best of games and the worst of games, and repercussions will continue to be felt at home and abroad. Uefa's president, Lennart Johansson, has suggested that both clubs, fined after bad blood was spilled two seasons ago, could face further disciplinary action; meanwhile, the English champions will surely discover at Tottenham this afternoon that much admiration for the quality of their football and their resilience in the absurdly dramatic 2-2 draw has been obscured by distaste for their methods.

The slightest suggestion of diving, wild tackling or attempting to intimidate officials in today's needle match of a London derby will bring a furious response from opponents, the home crowd, the media and quite probably those officials too. In other words, Chelsea are simply making life more difficult for themselves. As for John Terry, captain of England, reportedly announcing, "We argued when we had to", that rumbling noise is the sound of Bobby Moore, Billy Wright and others among his distinguished predecessors turning in their graves.

Just to counter the persecution complex that Jose Mourinho and his men are undoubtedly feeling, some facts taken from official Uefa statistics are worth quoting. In 16 Champions' League games played last week, Chelsea's 29 fouls (out of 43 in the match) was the highest total. So were their six yellow cards. Furthermore, the highest-profile match - "the game everyone wants to watch," as Mourinho had boasted - was the only one in which there was less than 45 minutes of actual football.

All those superstars, all that skill, and Chelsea were in possession of the ball for just 18 minutes, Barcelona for 23. No wonder the much put-upon referee, Stefano Farina, felt obliged to offer 98,000 members of the paying public an extra six minutes, sending Frank Rijkaard into a rage as Didier Drogba scored the evening's fourth glorious goal.

It was typical of the night's range of emotions that Terry should play such a crucial part in that final act, heading Michael Essien's cross down for Drogba, having earlier been one of the 10 players booked, in his case prompting more ugly pushing and shoving by kicking the ball at Deco, who lay prostrate after one of those 43 fouls.

As Barcelona's coach publicly upbraided the referee at the final whistle, Chelsea's players were in a huddle a few yards away, Terry telling them that they had shown the spirit as well as the quality to go on and become champions of Europe.

It was the former virtue that Arjen Robben, a player not always renowned for wholehearted commitment, dwelt on shortly afterwards, emphasising: "The spirit in the team, coming back two times like that, is great. It's very important for morale in the future and shows we can fight together."

He also suggested that the scoreline in the Nou Camp, together with a group table showing Chelsea five points ahead of the reigning champions, would make interesting reading for the other potential contenders: "I think everyone in Europe knows what we're capable of. We just have to show it. We've won the League twice consecutively, been in one European semi-final and then been knocked out by Barcelona last year. And in these two games we've shown we were the better team on both occasions."

Back now briefly to the Premiership, in the middle of a run of nine games in alternate competitions, which requires a certain amount of adaptation and, inevitably, rotation. As Robben says: "Playing for Chelsea you play so many games, you go from Carling Cup to League to Champions' League to League again. You have to switch quickly, but with the quality we have, we have so many good characters we can do that.

"You take the momentum [from Barcelona] with you, but we wanted to enjoy it first and have a nice day off. Then you make a new start.

"We can focus well on every new game, that's just the mentality of a club like Chelsea. For me, you want to play every game, but the only thing you can do is prepare well and show everyone you're in good shape and can be important for the team. For the rest, you have to wait and see."

The temptation when they play Tottenham must be to assume that three points come almost of right, and that defeat is impossible. Not since Robben was six years old have Chelsea fallen to their supposed London rivals in a League game, in an extraordinary run stretching back to Gary Lineker's winning goal of February 1990 (and even that was at Stamford Bridge, not White Hart Lane).

One of Mourinho's weapons against complacency is, of course, the competition for places, which he will doubtless make use of today by freshening up a team collectively weary from last Tuesday's mental and physical efforts. A start for either Andriy Shevchenko or Joe Cole would threaten Robben, who was used as a second striker in Spain ("just looking for the spaces behind Didier and trying to get on the ball and create some danger").

The other factor that should keep the champions on their toes is a growing awareness that this season's Premiership may not, after all, become as much of a procession as the previous two. Once again, the gap between top and bottom is huge, with the relegation candidates struggling to win a game between them, but in taking far longer than anticipated to adapt to English football, Shevchenko and Michael Ballack have failed to supply the turbo-boost expected to propel Chelsea further away from the rest than ever.

As Robben admits: "Manchester United are doing very well, Arsenal also had some good buys this summer and they are quite good at the moment. Last year was more difficult than the first year, and this season again we'll have great competition." In those circumstances, making themselves less popular than ever hardly seems the wisest course.