After last week’s dour 0-0 at the Vicente Calderón, Atlético Madrid progressed to the Champions League Final after an impressive beating of Chelsea.
Diego Simeone’s men were more at home in a game that suited their style of play, particularly after they had scored an away goal and taken the lead in the tie. They scored two near-identical goals either side of a Diego Costa penalty after he himself had been fouled following a corner to all but secure their place in a first final since 1974 with 20 minutes of the tie still remaining.
Chelsea came up short despite setting up their ideal scenario after taking the lead through Fernando Torres – a repeat of the first leg and Sunday’s 2-0 win at Anfield against Liverpool, beckoned only for Adrián to equalise on the night right before the halftime whistle. From then on in, the Blues found it difficult to find a way through the excellent Atléti back four and looked lost for ideas for the final third of the game.
Both sides were missing bodies in the midfield zone – the visitors suffered the huge blow of losing captain Gabi to suspension in the first leg, a fate similar to that suffered by John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard for Chelsea. Nemanja Matic, so impressive in games like these since joining from Benfica in January, was cup-tied.
José Mourinho sprung a surprise with his selection, naming César Azpilicueta on the right of midfield with Branislav Ivanovic returning at right back after being banned last week. Ashley Cole kept his place at left back, John Terry was fit to captain the side from the centre of defence and Eden Hazard was back from injury to start from his normal position on the left of the attack. Ramires moved into the midfield pivot to partner David Luiz with Willian ahead of them as a roaming number ten.
Adrián hasn’t been a regular this season for Atléti but filled in admirably for Costa in the quarter-final second leg against Barcelona and got the nod ahead of Raúl García to play off the striker. Tiago took the armband from Gabi and also took his position at the base of the midfield, while Arda Turan started ahead of Diego Ribas.
The same but different
The game started a much higher pace than the first leg, with Chelsea happier to play passes around their middle third than they were in Madrid. However, neither side could really assert themselves and the opening exchanges were largely about moves breaking down as soon as the ball went forward. Atlético set up as is their norm – pressing initially, before immediately forming two banks of four if Chelsea managed to switch the play.
30 – It took Chelsea just 30 mins tonight to complete more passes in the opposition half than they did in the first leg (77). Parked?
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 30, 2014
While Mourinho completely ceded the initiative last week, this was a more even game with both sides playing rather similarly in the first half: the hosts looked to feed Hazard (who was up against a full back one mistimed tackle away from missing the final in Juanfran) and Willian to create chances, while Atléti’s attacking inspiration came largely from Koke with Costa battling with Terry further up the pitch. Hazard’s inclusion gave Chelsea an extra dimension that they lacked in the first game, an ability to change the game with one moment of magic – a clever dummy after 20 minutes created a half-chance for Ramires to shoot.
With Oscar out of favour (for reasons unknown – form? fitness?), Willian has been increasingly used by Mourinho in recent weeks as a source of creativity having performed extremely disciplined roles in big games earlier in the season and his positioning here was quite clever, usually drifting out left to combine with Hazard and attempt to create overloads. However, for the Chelsea goal, he made a dart out towards the right touchline and skilfully turned two Atlético defenders. The ball broke for Azpilicueta who cut the ball back accurately for Torres to finish.
Interestingly, after big games over the last few days that have seen big teams like Bayern and Liverpool and even Atlético last week struggle to break down deep defences, resorting to slinging hopeful crosses into the box that are meat and drink to centre backs. However, Chelsea’s goal was exactly how to unlock mass defences: clever movement and an intelligent cutback.
Mourinho was now in pole position and had the personnel in place to defend the lead as his side have done so well in recent weeks. Alas, it was the man Chelsea had missed most in an attacking sense recently who let Atlético back into it – Juanfran advanced untracked by Hazard and volleyed Tiago’s diagonal pass across goal for Adrián to equalise. It had come after a decent few moments for the away team, with Koke switching flanks with Arda and becoming more involved in central positions. The advantage was now with Los Colchoneros.
After the break, the visitors continued to impress. With Chelsea now needing a goal, they began to find more space and crucially their final pass was much more accurate than in the first leg, with Koke flashing a cross in front of Mark Schwarzer’s eyes and Filipe Luis also firing in a couple of dangerous balls from the left.
Mourinho attempts to replicate PSG strategy
In the last round, Chelsea eventually found a way through against Paris Saint Germain with all three of Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba on the pitch by the time the latter bundled in the all-important second goal. Mourinho made a similar move here on 54 minutes, replacing Cole with Eto’o and going 4-4-2 with Azpilicueta moving to left back and Willian going right. However, before they could profit in an attacking sense, the Cameroonian conceded a penalty and Costa blasted his side ahead on the night.
Simeone introduced Raúl García, match-winner at the weekend at Valencia in place of Adrián and moved Koke centrally (where he had virtually been playing anyway) while Chelsea sent on Ba in place of Torres rather than going for broke with three centre forwards, perhaps wary of Atléti’s potential brilliance on the break.
Arda settled the tie with a goal remarkably similar to the first – Tiago again picked out a Juanfran foray and the Turkish international finished at the second attempt.
Chelsea, now needing three goals of their own, looked devoid of ideas and desperately lacked a playmaker in midfield; David Luiz is a centre back, even if Mourinho doesn’t trust him there, and Ramires is a runner, not a creator. Oscar remained on the bench for the entirety of the 180 minutes while Marco van Ginkel joined him, though he is only returning from a long injury layoff.
The away side were magnificent in the last quarter with Diego Godín and Miranda completely at home when Chelsea went long and Thibaut Courtois was alert to anything fired at him between the sticks. Like Real last night, they broke purposefully, playing intelligent forward passes out of defence with Koke in particular shining with the ball at his feet and Tiago deputising admirably for Gabi.
Mourinho may look back to the first leg, when Chelsea never looked interested in trying for an away goal. Although things went to plan for most of the first half, one lapse by Hazard in tracking, an airshot by Ashley Cole and the ball striking the most favourable portion of Adrián’s knee before flying in changed the entire tie – a moment of luck, similar to the one that they profited from on Sunday when Steven Gerrard’s slip allowed Ba to score.
For Simeone, it’s simple: two more wins and anything but a loss at the Camp Nou against Barcelona on the final day and the league is theirs; one more big performance in Lisbon in three weeks and the Champions League is theirs. Extraordinary.
David Kennedy, Pundit Arena.