Stamford Bridge was the stage for Chelsea’s clash with Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. After seeing out a 0-0 draw, which honestly didn’t suit one over the other, both sides knew that a goal was needed. Chelsea knew they had to score no matter what, while Atletico realised that a goal for them had much more value, away from home.
Torres struck first against his former club and looked to change the complexion of the tie. But Adrian’s goal just before half-time tilted it in Atletico’s favour. A silly foul from Eto’o gifted Costa a chance from the spot, and he duly obliged before Turan wrapped the game up with a third.
Chelsea 1-3 Atletico Madrid
Chelsea: Schwazer, Cahill, Terry, Ivanovic, Cole (Eto’o 54′), Azpilicueta, Luiz, Ramires, Willian (Schurrle 77′), Hazard, Torres (Ba 67′)
Atletico Madrid: Courtois, Miranda, Godin, Juanfran, Filipe Luis, Tiago, Suarez, Koke, Turan (Rodriguez 84′), Adrian (Garcia 66′), Costa (Sosa 76′)
Goals: Torres 36′ | Adrian 44′, Costa (penalty) 60′, Turan 72′
THE LONG-BALL FAR POST STRATEGY
In the first leg, as Chelsea sat back in two defensive lines, making their half compact, Atletico Madrid were forced into playing long balls and crosses which Chelsea more than dealt with. That strategy favoured Chelsea as they are generally good at dealing with such situations while also, any compact side would be able to keep the situation considerably under control.
Despite that, Atletico did look a bit threatening when a long ball was played into Raul Garcia’s path when the Spaniard was making a run from outside the box, cross field from the far post. He won a couple of headers that way but the knock-downs yielded nothing.
With space opening up in the second leg, as Chelsea weren’t as defensively set-up, the same long ball strategy would prove to be much more successful, despite Raul Garcia not starting the game (personally believe starting him and using that same strategy could have been beneficial, though it wasn’t required in the end).
MORE READING | Tactical Analysis: Atletico Madrid 0-0 Chelsea
Atletico Madrid did implement a similar tactic again to devastating effect. Atletico’s right-full back Juanfran was seen making runs in behind the Chelsea defence at the far post. One such run yielded the first goal, as the ball was played to Juanfran at the far post who pulled it back for Adrian to finish from close range. Atletico got their third through a similar play as well, another ball at the far post was put back into a dangerous area by Juanfran; Arda Turan’s initial header struck the post and the rebound fell in his path for an open goal.
Credit has to be given to Atletico’s midfielders and Juanfran (especially) for setting up these two crucial goals as besides this, Chelsea seemed quite assured defensively. But the home side should be criticised for failing to deal with this approach as both of Juanfran’s runs were unmarked and seemed to come out of a largely unthreatening situation. Hazard was also guilty at letting Adrian make a run for the first, while the entire Chelsea defence seemed to have shut off for the third.
ATLETICO EFFECIENT ON THE BALL
In the first leg, Atletico Madrid had more of the ball, seemed to want to score more, and seemed more likely. This was largely down to the tactics employed by Mourinho. The Chelsea manager realised Atletico were a bigger threat off the ball and containable while in possession. Mourinho thus decided to take the draw, and expected to beat Atletico at Stamford Bridge.
But in London, Diego Simeone’s men displayed immense quality on the ball. They just about edged the possession (52%), but with the game being much more open in the second leg, Atletico Madrid seemed more efficient with the ball. Chelsea, knowing they had to score, naturally ventured forward. This opened up some space and allowed Atletico to play direct passes between them while they looked rather lost with possession at the Calderon. They seemed more assured and confident on the ball with a less compact opposition, as they were willing to pass the ball around more.
Mourinho thus got it right in the first leg, taking a draw. He expected to win at Stamford Bridge despite playing to Atletico’s strengths and forcing them into a defensive set-up (their preference). Mourinho however, didn’t expect Atletico Madrid to be better than his side on the ball at Stamford Bridge. This bit of mis-calculation costed Chelsea.
DID CHELSEA ATTACK TOO EARLY?
Various twitter users and pundits, Gary Neville & Jamie Carragher in particular, have claimed that Chelsea attacked a bit too soon and put Samuel Eto’o up top with Fernando Torres a bit early. The two man upfront strategy surprised many, as Chelsea looked to take the lead on the night and in the tie.
Samuel Eto’o was brought on in the 54th minute for Ashley Cole, and this attacking intent naturally opened up more space for Atletico Madrid to exploit, which they did to terrifying effect. But just because the tactics didn’t yield the right results, it doesn’t mean it was the right approach to implement.
Chelsea were at the time trailing Atletico Madrid on away goals, Mourinho would have been more than aware that Simeone’s side are capable of seeing out a result, as they have done so often this season. Knowing they needed to score to stay in the game, Mourinho made his side go out with more of an attacking approach, at the cost of defensive frailty.
Personally, I disagree with the view that Chelsea attacked too early. When the side’s already trailing the game, and risk being further pegged behind if Atletico score another, you can’t afford to sit-back and leave the attacking for latter stages of the game. Bringing Eto’o on at half-time may have been too early, but certainly Mourinho was well within his tactical right to bring him on before the 60 minute mark. It would have been too much of a risk to sit back and invite Atletico forward as Atletico didn’t need to come forward, they could have sat back themselves. The ball was in Chelsea’s court and the onus was on them to attack, not Atletico.
ATTACKING BURDEN ON HAZARD
After the game was done and dusted, Eden Hazard has been quoted to have made comments to French media that won’t bode well with Mourinho and the Chelsea fans. “Chelsea are not made to play football, we are good on the counter-attack, a bit like Real against Bayern Munich. Often, I’m asked to do it all by myself and it’s not easy.”
Those were the comments by Hazard and it does make you wonder. The problem with a defensive system is that it requires all players across the pitch to be on the same wavelength, and this might be more difficult for a few and easier for others. Obviously it’s easier to get a defender to play a defensive system, rather than an attack-minded player. It’s fantastic when an attacker can do it as well, showing his adaptability and versatility, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Which is why Real Madrid’s tactics against Bayern Munich were so well conducted, by all eleven players. Eden Hazard is clearly not meant for a defensive role, and probably won’t ever be that effective at it.
But while he may be deficient in a defensive capacity, the comments he made post-match about the attacking part of the game are true as well. Although Chelsea were not as defensively set up in the 2nd leg as they were in the 1st and against Liverpool at Anfield, they still did rely to an extent on their ability to keep Atletico Madrid from scoring. The attacking burden thus fell on Eden Hazard (and Fernando Torres). While Torres had a good game, compared to the first leg after which this site leveled a fair bit of criticism his way, Hazard was the most active attacking player and looked to create chances more than any of the others on the pitch.
He was often left frustrated, as a result of both the burden on him, and an excellent Atletico Madrid side. While Mourinho’s tactics both against Liverpool and the first leg were effective in this crucial week of Chelsea’s season, the subsequent effect it may possibly have on a few players in the side, may be something to think about. While no player is above the club or the manager, many do intend on playing a certain brand of football that suits them better. Certainly, Eden Hazard’s preference would be to play a more attacking game as opposed to a defensive one.
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE THEM?
Few would have expected a Chelsea 1-3 Atletico Madrid scoreline, but Simeone’s men have already experienced one of the best seasons in their history, and this just adds to it. One can hope that they don’t drop any points in the League, which will ensure the La Liga title. The Champions League will be a fitting end to a remarkable campaign. Whatever happens from now to the end of the season, Diego Simeone gets my personal vote for manager of the season, purely for the achievement with these set of players, without having to spend big and competing continuously throughout the season with a small squad, with the same level of commitment and energy.
Chelsea may well finish trophyless this season, which might constitute as a failure compared to their lofty ambitions. But in the past two seasons, Chelsea have either failed to do well in the league as they finished fifth but won the Champions League, or failed to do well in Europe, getting knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage last season while going on to win the second tier European competition. This season though, they have competed well both domestically and in Europe, which could be labelled as progress.
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