Tense and Tactical
Wednesday 27th September, Wanda Metropolitano – Chelsea travelled to Spain for their second Champions League match of the season, this time versus Atletico Madrid. It was a special occasion for the hosts, the first ever Champions League game at their brand new Wanda Metropolitano stadium.
Atleti and Chelsea have had some interesting shared history in terms of personnel recently: Thibaut Courtois spent a few years on loan in Madrid, and three of Atletico’s current squad had left the club, spent time as Chelsea players, before cycling back to Madrid – Filipe Luis, Fernando Torres and of course latest repeat signing Diego Costa.
Both clubs have also experienced a degree of success in this competition: Atletico were Champions League finalists in 2014 and 2016 (and also twice in the seventies). Chelsea were finalists in 2008, and actually won the thing in 2012.
For the current Champions League season, after Roma’s 2 – 1 win over FK Qarabag, Chelsea and Atletico were in second and third place respectively in Group C.
Atletico Madrid were having a good season so far in the Spanish league. They were unbeaten with four wins and two draws from six games, and sat second in the table, four points behind Barcelona. They’d won their most recent league game, a morale-boosting 2 – 0 home win over Sevilla, through goals from Yannick Carrasco and Antoine Griezmann.
Tonight though they faced EPL Champions Chelsea, who were coming off a pretty decent league run themselves. Both teams were known for combining quality attacking football with tough, pragmatic defending. Knowing that and the managers involved, it was reasonable to expect that this would be a tense, tactical game.
Diego Godin, Thomas Partey and Angel Correa were on the bench against Sevilla at the weekend, but started tonight’s game for Atletico. Chelsea made three changes to the team from their last game at the Bet 365 stadium: Gary Cahill started ahead of Antonio Rudiger, and Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard replaced Willian and Pedro as nominal wide forwards. Nominal because Fabregas would drop back into midfield, leaving Hazard and Morata as the only two up top.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Oblak 6, Luis 7, Juanfran 6, Godin 7, Niguez 6, Carrasco 6 (Torres 6), Hernandez 6, Partey 6 (Gimenez 5), Koke 6, Griezmann 7, Correa (Gaitan 5)
Subs Moya, Savic, Gabi, Gimenez, Gaitan, Vietto, Torres
Courtois 7, Alonso 7. 5, Azpilicueta 7, Cahill 7, Fabregas 6 (Christensen 6), Moses 7, Kante 8, Bakayoko 7.5, Hazard 7.5 (Willian 6), Morata 7.5 (Batshuayi 7.5)
Subs Caballero, Zappacosta, Christensen, Rudiger, Willian, Pedro, Batshuayi
Chelsea started the game aggressively, playing high up the pitch and pressing Atletico into errors to recover possession. Although Atletico didn’t take sufficient advantage on the counter, they lived up to their reputation for alert, dogged defending, repeatedly preventing Chelsea from making a breakthrough. Eden Hazard seemed determined to open the scoring himself for Chelsea, and tried a bit too many difficult shots and dribbles, with not much of an end product.
Just four minutes in, Hazard provided for Morata on the counter, but the striker’s shot was just wide. A minute later, Hazard made it to the byline wide left, then dribbled inside and shot into the side netting, where he could have crossed to an open man. On 12 minutes, Fabregas passed the ball up to Morata from midfield, and he knocked it back to an advancing Hazard, who struck it with force from distance. His shot appeared to have beaten Oblak, but it cannoned back out again off the post. Still 0 – 0.
David Luiz played the “Azpilicueta role”, with a long ball over the top into the opposition box. The pass was perfectly placed and Morata escaped Diego Godin to make a header, but Oblak made a good reaction save to keep it out.
Close to the end of the first half, Atletico began to find their feet and create more opportunities than they had been. It was still relatively easy going for Chelsea though, and they looked like they could cope with whatever the home side had to offer. Until 39 minutes – the referee awarded a penalty against Chelsea, for shirt-pulling by David Luiz during an Atletico corner. It was a pretty soft penalty, especially as Atletico had done worse themselves during some earlier Chelsea corners. Antoine Griezmann took the penalty, and Courtois dived right as he put it down the center for 1 – 0.
Chelsea kept faith with their methods in the second half, but still couldn’t find an equalizer. Then on 59 minutes, their patience finally paid off. Hazard received a long pass out on the left wing, then dribbled and curled an in-swinging cross towards the near post. Morata somehow got to the ball ahead of his marker, and glanced it beyond the keeper and into goal with a header. It was 1 – 1, and already seven goals from Morata in all competitions this season.
Chelsea’s goal stung Atletico, and they upped their tempo and aggression in search of a winner. Simeone brought on Fernando Torres for Carrasco and Gaitan for Correa. Torres had a great chance on the counter to put Griezmann through on goal, but he went for glory. Unfortunately, his shot was from too far out and lacked power, and Courtois easily saved. On 82 minutes, Conte made a double substitution of his own – Willian and Batshuayi came in for Hazard and Morata respectively. Four minutes later Christensen came on for Fabregas, presumably to secure the draw.
Right Place, Right Time
The game was almost over, with less than a minute of injury time left. Chelsea had the ball on the right side of Atletico’s box, where they exchanged passes looking for an opening. And when it finally came, Michy Batshuayi was in the right place, at the right time to take advantage.
Alonso passed back from the wing to Kante centrally, then started a run into the box. Kante passed straight up to Bakayoko, who dinked the ball back into Alonso’s path, taking a number of Atletico defenders out of the equation in the process. Alonso then hit a first time cross into the six-yard area, where Batshuayi was waiting to finish for an epic winner. 2 – 1.
It was literally the last action of the game. After the final whistle went, you could see the Atletico players standing around looking stunned. You had to feel a little compassion for them, and their fans. Chelsea had ruined their second stadium opening party this season. Then you saw Diego Costa sitting in the stands and thought well, maybe some good came out of it at the end.
After this win, Chelsea moved to the top of Champions League Group C on six points. Roma dropped to second, and Atletico and Qarabag’s positions remained unchanged in third and fourth.
Final Score Atletico Madrid 1 – 2 Chelsea
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