Last night Chelsea travelled to the Türk Telekom Arena to face Galatasaray in the first leg of their round of their 16 Champions League tie. The result was a 1-1 draw, with goals from Fernando Torres and central defender Aurélien Chedjou.
Here, again drawn at random, is a ‘match report’ assessment of Galatasaray’s goal:
Chelsea should really have built on Fernando Torres’s early goal but they suffered a lapse in concentration, a rare mistake by John Terry, and yielded to pressure from a Galatasaray side who responded well to Roberto Mancini’s tactical tweaks.
Here is the danger of match reports. Because they stand in for the actual game, the writer, under the veneer of informed expertise, gets to write history. But despite the insatiable need for some writers to affix blame for every single conceded goal on the field, the fact is Chedjou’s set piece goal was not a Terry ‘mistake.’
Here for reference is the goal in real time:
Now in the silly world of football punditry, Terry should have some how either got his head to the ball before it landed at the foot of Chedjou, or at the very least Petr Cech should have stayed on the goal-line to make what would have been an insane save. Neither scenario takes into account how good a delivery Wesley Sneijder made on the corner kick itself.
So let’s break it down a little further.
In this first image above, Sneijder has just taken his kick. Though you can’t see it here, a second before Chedjou pulled at Terry as if to get in front of the Chelsea defender, but then feinted to instead go behind him. Terry doesn’t mind losing his mark because he has his sights on getting his head to the ball first. If Terry can simply get his head to the ball first, he’s done his job. Cech is also coming out to see if the ball will dip toward him for him to grab it.
In this next shot you can see Terry leaping thinking the ball will drop closer to him, but is in fact beautifully hangs, curls AND drifts, leading to confusion between Cech and the backline over where exactly the ball will drop. Cech meanwhile sees Terry coming and hesitates, but both Cech and Terry judged the ball would drop in different ways—Terry thought it wouldn’t inswing as much, and Cech thought it would be two feet closer to the near post. It’s worth mentioning that Cesar Azpilicueta also mis-timed his clearing header.
After the goal, Gary Neville immediately points out it was Terry’s job to cover Chedjou. But he also concedes “That’s Petr Cech’s ball, even though John Terry’s got to stay with his man (Chedjou).”
No. Terry’s job is in fact to defend the corner. He believed the ball would drop two feet further out than it did which, if it had, he could have headed it away. Cech also misjudged the ball. So did Azpilicueta. Wesley Sneijder, who received almost no credit from any source I’ve read today, delivered one hell of a good kick, and Chedjou, who also took a gamble in feinting Terry to run behind him, won out.
So was this a mistake, or a misjudgment of a very good free kick? Where does Sneijder’s brilliant delivery end and the Chelsea back-line’s culpability begin? If Terry’s job was simply to cover Chedjou, which presumably means “getting in front of him,” wouldn’t he be equally at risk of scoring an own goal?
Football is a game, of course. But it’s also a method. You prepare your teams, you put out the best players, you practice set-piece defending, you ensure your side creates as many chances as possible in the opposition third. These are all ways to help stack the odds in your favour, but you cannot eliminate the odds. Stuff will always happen, split second judgments will be defied by a ball that drops two feet away from where you want it to.
Thankfully, Chelsea’s manager seems more in tune with this, focusing instead on his side’s inability to put the score out of reach:
“We are not a team who kill opponents. We are paying for that in the Premier League, losing points, and now in the Champions League we might have got a different result. But they all give everything. They fight for each other, work for each other, have tactical discipline. So I cannot be critical. They got a very acceptable result in a stadium where it’s difficult to play and difficult to win. I think they did a good job.”