I am given to understand that there's a class of movie which is watched so that one can delight in their utter awfulness, taking ironic pleasure in the perversion of an artistic medium. I think the same is true of football -- demented, frantic play is entertaining because of the sheer not-footballness of it. Error-strewn, goal-ridden wastelands represent football at its weirdest, when careful, calculated play goes astray and turns into something resembling the England team on a bender. And there's joy to be had in that.
But if we accept that we can take a certain pleasure from a match that's so bad it actually becomes fun again, today's game demonstrated what happens when you take bizarro-not-football too far. Because Chelsea's 3-2 loss against Rubin Kazan, one that sees the Blues advance to the Europa League semfinals 5-4 on aggregate, was so bad that it was bad.
And it really, really should not have been. Up 3-1 from the first leg thanks to whatever angel is possessing Fernando Torres' mask, a depleted Chelsea took the B team to Russia, got an early away goal and could then have closed up shop without too much fuss. And indeed, that's what they did in the first half. The second... well, that's a different story.
The match began with the hosts on the front foot, and John Terry was called into action to block a shot from Roman Eremenko four minutes when it looked as though the forward would be able to find the net, but they were soon stunned by a moment of Zorresian brilliance.
Cesar Azpilicueta ended a Rubin attack with a timely interception, then immediately fed the ball to Frank Lampard. Lampard played that first time through pass he loves so much, and it worked to perfection, leading Torres behind Iván Marcano. Better still, Sergei Ryzhikov misjudged the flight of the ball, drawing the goalkeeper out and allowing Torres to finish in one touch, a delicate lob that bounced into the back of the net.
Of course, if he wasn't wearing the mask, he'd have hit the crossbar.
Anyway, Chelsea were 1-0 up five minutes in and had established a three goal cushion as well as grabbing an away goal, which meant that they were basically home and dry. Rubin needed three goals to force extra time, and considering that they spent most of the first half doing absolutely nothing at all, failure to get through to the semifinals seemed rather implausible. Only a fine stop from Petr Cech after Gokdeniz Karadeniz wormed his way through the defence gave any hint that the hosts had a comeback in them.
Things began unravelling in the 50th minute. Our good friend Salomon Rondon ran at Terry and nearly managed to get by him only for the captain to recover and clear for a corner, but that didn't prevent Rubin from grabbing their first goal. The set piece was played short to Pablo Orbáiz, whose cross was met by Marcano. The defender's run had gone totally untracked, and his header was hit perfectly, glancing in off the post with Cech frozen.
Suddenly tasked with playing football so as to ensure that they didn't suffer an embarrassing reverse, Chelsea sprung to life, quickly restoring their one goal advantage via Victor Moses, who took a break from running around like a headless chicken to play a delightful one-two with Ramires and curl the ball past Ryzhikov to make it 2-1. Down by three on aggregate and with fewer away goals, Rubin Kazan had to win by at least three to advance. Easy, right?
Rafa Benitez added John Obi Mikel to the fray, replacing Ramires in the midfield three. But rather than strengthening the team, the switch seemed to weaken it, with Mikel giving the ball away in dangerous areas and Lampard -- who despite his fantastic assist was having trouble with his passing -- struggling to impose any degree of control on the match. Control was what Chelsea needed. Instead, they got chaos.
Rubin Kazan's comeback was, on the face of it, pretty impressive. They were down both 1-0 and 2-1 to a far better side and then ran them ragged for the last half hour of the match, rallying for a 3-2 win. But the weird, stupid part of this game is that despite the fact that the match should have been exciting and meaningful, Chelsea's aggregate lead was so large that every time we conceded a goal my response was to snicker.
There was no tension, so all that was left was to watch some frankly horrible football. Mikel and Nathan Ake, who was otherwise pretty good, combined to allow Karadeniz to make it 2-2 with a header from Cristian Ansaldi's cross. And then Cesar Azpilicueta 'fouled' Aleksandr Ryazantsev -- I'm not really sure what the right back did to make the Rubin man fall over, but he was on the wrong side of his man and that's the sort of misfortune that befalls defenders silly enough to get into that situation. Anyway, Bibras Natkho converted from the spot, and with 15 minutes to go, Kazan were two goals away from the semifinal.
It would have been pretty interesting had they scored again, but, obviously, they didn't. In other words, we managed to watch an awful midfield meltdown for most of the second half without any actual stress, which was all pretty stupid. At least the B team got it down against a reasonably dangerous opponent, and we'll have the big guns rested for the FA Cup semifinal against Manchester City. Hurray!