Following Chelsea’s 0-0 draw with Atletico Madrid on Tuesday at the Vicente Calderon, the Blues grabbed exactly what they wanted from the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal.
Jose Mourinho set his side up to defend and frustrate Atleti, and the boys from West London did that superbly. The Special One is a master at manufacturing these kind of performances.
It is all square heading into the second leg at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday, as both teams will be happy with a winner-takes-all battle.
Here are three things we learned from a tight first leg of this Champions League semifinal.
Chelsea revert to Plan A: Defend
The best defense in the Premier League stuck to what it knows best away in Madrid: defend, defend, defend. Analyzing Jose Mourinho’s lineup before kick off, you could see what his intentions would be. David Luiz and John Obi Mikel (who incidentally were both celebrating their 27th birthday’s on Tuesday) both sat in front of the back four, as Chelsea’s water-tight defense became virtually impassable. Diego and Rui Garcia were starved off space in front of Chelsea’s backline, as Mikel and Luiz snapped at the heels of Atletico’s attackers. In a week where they lost at home to Sunderland, then have a massive clash against Liverpool at Anfield, Mourinho’s men went back to basics. It worked, handsomely. The Blues let Diego Simeone’s men have it wide and congested the space in the box, which suffocated Diego Costa’s ability to wriggle and writhe between central defenders. Chelsea showed no real intent going forward, as long balls pumped aimlessly towards Fernando Torres the entire game were too easy for Atleti to handle. Defensively, it was the kind of performance you would show to youth teams on tape time and time again.
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Lampard, Mikel out of second leg, Cech and Terry injured
After just 18 minutes Petr Cech was heading towards the sidelines, a push from David Luiz saw Rui Garcia bundle into Cech as the Chelsea ‘keeper fell awkwardly (reportedly dislocating his shoulder) and had to be replaced by Mark Schwarzer. In the second half Frank Lampard was handed a yellow card that rules him out of the second leg, then John Terry hobbled off after his ankle was trampled on by Diego Costa and then against Luiz’s foot to end his night. Then Mikel was booked, as he’ll miss the second leg too with suddenly a whole host of players potentially out for the Blues. Jose Mourinho can’t be ultra-defensive at home, so whether Mikel or Lampard would’ve played next Wednesday at Stamford Bridge is doubtful. What is more concerning are the injuries to Cech and Terry, especially with the game against Liverpool to come on Sunday, as it looks like both men face lengthy spells on the sidelines. Progress into the UCL final should be the main priority, so expect to see Chelsea leave out a few of their key players when they head to Anfield this weekend.
It’s not that Atletico’s team aren’t full of experienced players, because they are. Most are in their late 20’s, they only had three players 25 or under (Diego Costa, Koke and Thibaut Courtois) and most have been around the block a few times. Yet never in the Champions League semifinals. Chelsea’s players looked at ease in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the Vicente Calderon. John Terry, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard… they have decades of Champions League experience between them and their calm persona proved vital against Atletico. Little flicks around the corner here, shirt pulls and arms cleverly placed around the shoulders there, JT and co. did a job on Atletico. Chelsea knew they had to counter-attack Atletico’s exuberance by plugging gaps, running themselves into the ground and staying tight and compact. They did just that, as Atletico were left frustrated, while Chelsea were happy to thwart their Spanish opponents.