by Jack Heaney
Though perhaps not blessed with too many signings of magnitude, the final flaky embers of the transfer window were not to slither away without a few meaty chunks to chew over. Sadly, the omnipresence of the transfer chaos condemned the UEFA Super Cup final – a match which shared time with the transfer window, but most certainly did not share the same level of excitement – to be somewhat of an afterthought.
To many, and reluctantly to this article writer too, the UEFA Super Cup sometimes feels to be little more than meaningless pretence. It would be more meaningful if the hawk-eyed football public took it seriously; but the English landscape often seems disaffected by the fixture. It appears like a fun sideshow – advertisements coat it with saccharine, but beneath that carapace lurks a general waft of indifference. Combine that with the excitement of the beginning of the new season and it would be fair to say that there is nothing too ‘super’ about the UEFA Super Cup.
Despite this commonly held view – perhaps more prevalent in England than anywhere else – there was certainly food for thought after the 90 minutes were clocked in. The vehemence and spirit with which Atletico Madrid played was endearing to anybody who has ever embraced the game of football. The game was worth watching perhaps not for the grandeur of the occasion, but the Spanish side’s performance alone. I seemed to forget the wondrousness of Atletico’s Europa League 2012 master-class; within half an hour it had washed over me again. The Madrid trio of Gabi, Turan and Adrian Lopez were majestic in possession and passing: they placed the boot on the handle and pushed the knife deeper and deeper into Chelsea’s gut with endless waves of cleverly timed counter attacks, and incisive ball-work.
And a word – or a hundred – for Radamel Falcao. Is he the finest predator on the planet? Yet again in a UEFA organised tournament the goods were delivered fresh and with an annoying ease that one cannot directly put their finger on. The first strike seemed to continue for hours; cleverly stroked, licking the inside of the post, whereas beautifully juxtaposed to that image was his second – a curling strike that slackened in the air, only to pick up the pace as it flew past Petr Cech’s shoulder. His third was the tipping of the top hat to the club that fought so hard to keep summer inquisitors away from signing him.
Considering the awe surrounding Falcao, the Blues must have realised the threat he posed. But still their defence was lethargic and indolent in the fact of such nimble dexterity. Chelsea will be facing strikers with the same talent he possesses in the upcoming Champions League campaign; and those strikers will be often be surrounded by an even finer team than the one which surrounds the Atletico man. When considering the way in which Madrid hit the woodwork thrice, Chelsea could perhaps count themselves fortuitous – on an ever deadlier day, one feels this Real Madrid’s rivals could have made it five or six.
While the UEFA Super Cup will not make – nor break for that matter – Chelsea’s term, nothing should excuse such a graceless, ungainly display.
Roberto Di Matteo must be rightly commended for the rebuild that Chelsea are currently enjoying. Summer acquisitions came thick and fast, with the likes of Mario Makin, Oscar and Eden Hazard exciting prospects for both present and future. Coerce these flushes of youth with a splattering of the old guard and the re-birth of Fernando Torres – as well as David Luiz’s outrageously spectacular hair – and their recent jaunt to the top of the league after three Premier League fixtures is surely a sign of sweet-scented days to come.
And so, it must be remembered that the Londoners ‘new guard’ will inevitably teethe and stutter like on Friday night, as well as provide potent nuggets of optimism. But the depths Chelsea’s inferiority reached against well-orchestrated European opposition was at best awkward viewing, and at worst alarming. It surely informed Di Matteo that work is in order to acquaint the squad with each other in preparation for the forthcoming Champions League campaign. There was an undercurrent of foreboding in his teams pace and purpose. With an International break to come, wounds must be quickly licked clean from this come down and the air-bubble of beautification Chelsea enjoyed pre-pasting re-inflated.
As Di Matteo will know, the reaction to the anguish is everything. And with the steel his side showed during last season, he will find huge disappointment in the way it turned to plastic on an evening where a little joy could be snatched and a heady run of form could be extended. He will also know that the UEFA Super Cup may not be football food for the Kings, yet that statement must not allow the Blues free reign to become jesters for the evening.
There’s comes a time when nothing excuses such squalor.