For Chelsea fans hoping their team can recapture the magic of 2012, Tuesday’s performance may have inspired memories of that magical European Cup run. For the rest who took in the team’s UEFA Champions League semifinal opener against Atlético Madrid, the feeling is more likely one of frustration, having seen a reluctant and defensive Blues predictably hold out for a draw on the road.
Limiting the home side to four shots on target, the former champions were able to take a 0-0 result out of the Vicente Calderón, but not before suffering a set of setbacks that could come back to haunt the team next week. Already without the injured Eden Hazard, the visitors lost goalkeeper Petr Cech and central defender John Terry to injury, with Frank Lampard’s second half yellow card rendering the midfielder suspended for next Wednesdays return leg at Stamford Bridge (Gabi will be out for Atlético). Though José Mourinho’s team can look at the blank scoresheet as evidence of a mission accomplished, the team’s recovery over the next week will determine whether the Blues left Madrid better of than they started.
Over the course of Tuesday’s 90 minutes, however, Chelsea looked every bit as capable of stifling its opposition as it did two years ago. Ceding Atlético Madrid 62 percent of the match’s possession, the Blues were content to sacrifice control and ambition for organization and opportunism.
Atleti went nearly the entire first half without a shot on target. Come full-time, the home side held a mere 4-2 edge in shots on goal. When Gabi’s 76th minute long distance shot deflected of the Chelsea wall, Mark Schwarzer had his stiffest test of the match. A calm dive allowed Cech’s stand-in to push the ball wide of the left post, sending the teams back to London scoreless.
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With Cech only playing 18 minutes, Terry leaving in the 73rd, and Branislav Ivanovic missing out entirely, Chelsea’s back five had a makeshift feel comes the final moments, something which nearly allowed Arda Turan to head home a Juanfran cross at the left post in the 80th minute. When Atlético continued trying to match up players against Cesar Azpilicueta and Ashley Cole, the Colchoneros’ crosses drew a few late gasps from the crowd. When Jonas Eriksson blew his final whistle, however, Atlético was left in the shoes Barcelona and Bayern Munich vacated two years ago. Late in Champions League, Chelsea had receded into its shell, a stance that left it unharmed by one of the best teams in Europe.
With eight days between games, Atlético boss Diego Simeone will be tasked with figuring out a way to penetrate that defense. Though Chelsea could prove more ambitious at home, a slew of potential absences may leave José Mourinho playing the same game, hoping one moment of brilliance can overshadow 90 minutes in a bunker.
Besides, generating two shots on target of their own, the Blues weren’t completely devote of chances to break through. Next week may be less about Chelsea changing than Atlétco responding to the challenge.