Jose Mourinho won the tactical battle over his opposite number Diego Simeone as Atletico Madrid played out a goalless draw with Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final first leg at Madrid’s Estadio Vicente Calderon. It was a game of not too many clear-cut chances, but Chelsea will be happy to head into the return leg without a deficit. For Atletico, it will be a tough assignment in a week’s time at Stamford Bridge; and both teams could rue the losses of some key players in the second leg.
Diego Simeone had his full squad to choose his XI from, and left David Villa and Arda Turan on the bench. Instead Raul Garcia started as the support striker to Diego Costa. Local boy Mario Suarez’s energy and youthful exuberance was preferred over the experience and guile of Tiago. Simeone went for his preferred 4-4-2; inside-cutting Koke and Diego Ribas manned the flanks while Gabi played the pivot at the center. Wing-backs Juanfran and Felipe Luis completed the four-man defense along with Miranda and Diego Godin. Thibaut Courtois made his first appearance against his parent club Chelsea.
Chelsea had one eye on the weekend league game at Liverpool as Mourinho left both Oscar and Andre Schurrle on the bench. Creativity was on short supply in talisman Eden Hazard’s injury-induced absence; Willian was left to provide them all. Chelsea started in a more defensive 4-3-3; Frank Lampard, David Luiz, John Obi Mikel and Ramires were chosen to flood the midfield and afford less space. Ashley Cole finally started after his long absence, while Cesar Azpilicueta returned to his familiar right-back position. Fernando Torres was chosen ahead of Demba Ba; the Spaniard making a return to his old stomping ground.
Jose Mourinho came into the game in damage control mode; his selection of Ramires as the left-wing shuttler was merely a ploy to have more runners in the midfield and he did well to press and harry the Atletico midfield. Chelsea kept their shape all night; they played in two banks of four in front of their goal, and were largely helped by Atletico’s inflexibility in getting into space. Chelsea cut the routes down the middle, and Atleti were left to search wide to produce the goods. Fortunately for them, Diego Costa wasn’t in his elements, although that was down to Chelsea’s own discipline.
Simeone went for two wide men who weren’t exactly the touchline huggers. Both Koke and Diego Ribas loves to dart infield, and Atletico played into Chelsea’s hands by starting with both of them. Chelsea’s numbers in the middle coupled with Koke and Diego’s movement inside left them running into blind alleys more often than not. Atletico played around the manned Chelsea ranks without penetration, and balls were hoofed clear with ease. With so much possession, Atleti went for route two as their wing-backs made hay without much effect. Juanfran and Felipe bombed in crosses, only to see them cleared time after time. Koke and Gabi too played in diagonal crosses into the box, but John Terry and Gary Cahill remained focussed.
Chelsea’s lack of attacking intent (Return Of The Bus)
Even though this is not a completely defensive minded performance from Chelsea, it looked like they came to Spain not to concede any goals and they achieved that tactically. Did they park the bus at Vicente Calderon? More like a ‘Mini Bus.’ If it was another forward instead of Fernando Torres, Chelsea would’ve played with more attacking intent. Atletico were caught out in wide areas on more than one occasion, but the balls each time fell to Torres whose touch deserted him when he and Chelsea needed it the most. Particularly on the Atletico right flank where Juanfran was mostly near the Chelsea box and Koke somewhere in the middle, a few mistakes could have cost them dear, only for Torres to fluff his lines. Miranda and Diego Godin had an easy meat all night long; how Mourinho wished to have a more accomplished striker on the night.
Diego substitution a mistake?
Frustrated by the pattern of play, Simeone tried to shuffle his pack in search of that elusive goal. But the 60th minute substitution of Diego with Arda was perhaps the game-changer. Atletico had long planted unsuccessful crosses into the box, and started playing slick one-twos and passing combinations around Chelsea’s increasingly tired midfield. At that point, substituting their most creative player in Diego was perhaps a mistake, as Arda slowed the tempo down somewhat. Diego didn’t exactly have his best 60 minutes, but being the player he is, it was worth keeping him. Perhaps the shake of his head showed his frustration.
Chelsea changing shape with Terry off
The script remained similar for Chelsea even after John Terry was replaced by Andre Schurrle in the 73rd minute. David Luiz joined Cahill at the back, while Ramires switched into Luiz’s position. Schurrle barely touched a ball, as it was a case of sitting deep and behind the ball for Chelsea.
It was an eventful yet dull game as the scoreline suggests but the return leg has much potential to be a classic. Two-legged ties with Jose Mourinho are never over in the first leg; perhaps moaners should have known it before. Diego Costa was billed as the big threat on the eve of the match, but failed to stamp any authority. Frank Lampard escaped a possible sending off; it would have been somewhat harsh after seeing Terry limp off injured, although both will miss the second leg. Atletico’s big miss will be their captain Gabi. It was a game on predicted lines; Atletico had the ball and passed around Chelsea while Chelsea were happy to sit back and defend. It was a simple case of attack v defend, only that Atletico Madrid were surprisingly toothless.