Away in Spain, Chelsea did a job on Atletico Madrid as the Blues returned to London with a 0-0 draw and a smile on their face.
Bad injuries to two of their most important players, plus suspensions for another two, leaves their lineup in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal with Atletico Madrid in need of a major reshuffle.
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho confirmed to journalists afterwards that Petr Cech’s season is over after he dislocated his shoulder, while captain John Terry would face a race against time to be ready for the UCL final, if the Blues make it. To add insult to injury, literally, another two of Chelsea’s experienced campaigners will be missing for the return leg at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday as both Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel picked up yellow cards in the second half to rule them out.
Four experienced campaigners down, as Mourinho didn’t factor this absences into his masterplan.
That news put a sour taste on an otherwise controlled and professional display which saw Mourinho’s men suck the life out of Atletico like a masterful ‘Dementor’ from the fictional land of Harry Potter. Terry, before he hobbled off, and his center back partner Gary Cahill were Chelsea’s two best players. At the end of the game Cahill must’ve undone his back pocket and let Diego Costa jump out, because that was where Atletico’s main threat had been all night.
Losing Terry for the second leg is a big blow. He’s the glue that holds the Blues’ defense together, yet David Luiz can slot back in and do a job or Branislav Ivanovic, who was suspended for the first leg, may come straight back into central defense with Cesar Azpilicueta at right back and Ashely Cole at left back.
Not having Cech in goal will be a blow but for all his rustiness veteran Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer was composed and looked at ease in the pressure-cooker situation of the Vicente Calderon. However Chelsea’s biggest concern will be in the engine room. Losing both Lampard and Mikel is crucial, as Mourinho has often lent on those two in the UCL matches this season. Nemanja Matic is cup-tied after appearing for Benfica in the competition, so Mourinho has a dilemma in the center of midfield. What he could do is partner Ramires with David Luiz in the center, and then play Andre Schurrle and hopefully Eden Hazard on either wing. Mourinho will be praying that his Belgian superstar is fit, as Hazard could be the difference in what’s set to be yet another tight encounter in the second leg next week.
That’s the personnel factor covered, but that’s not the whole story.
At this stage of a UCL campaign, experience counts for a lot. The fact that Chelsea had the likes of Cech, Terry and Lampard on the pitch, that experienced core gives them a wealth of know-how and ability to overcome obstacles younger players can’t fathom. Losing players who’ve actually won the UCL and know what it takes to get over the line is a big blow for Mourinho.
Ahead of next weekend’s superbly poised second leg, Mr. Mourinho has some big decisions to make as he decides who will plug some gaping holes which have opened up.