Thursday 23 November 2017

Mourinho blueprint works to perfection

Atletico Madrid 0 Chelsea 0 (Champions League s/f first leg)

Chelsea's goalkeeper Petr Cech (C) collides with Atletico Madrid's Raul Garcia
Chelsea's goalkeeper Petr Cech (C) collides with Atletico Madrid's Raul Garcia
Atletico Madrid's Filipe Luis (R) challenges Chelsea's Ramires
Atletico Madrid's Miranda (2nd L) receives a yellow card from referee Jonas Eriksson as Atletico Madrid's Gabi (L) and Chelsea's Willian (R) look on

Henry Winter

This was ugly, defensive, resilient and defiant football from Chelsea that takes them closer to the final. This was another reminder of Jose Mourinho's knack of strangling the life out of opponents.

Love or loathe the sulky Special One, he knows how to create the right game-plan, however pragmatic and lacking in artistry. Gary Cahill, Ashley Cole and Willian were all magnificent in thwarting a disappointing Atletico while Mark Schwarzer proved the safest of hands after replacing Petr Cech. Chelsea players kept meeting danger in the air and on the ground, repelling all Atletico attacks. Diego Costa has rarely been kept so quiet this season.

The evening was not without cost for Chelsea. Cech dislocated his shoulder in a heavy fall and will miss the rest of the season. John Terry limped off with a foot injury and is a doubt for Anfield. Frank Lampard, John Obi Mikel and Atletico's captain, Gabi, were all booked and miss next week's second leg at the Bridge. Chelsea will have Branislav Ivanovic back from suspension and, they hope, Eden Hazard fit.

Such were the changes that Chelsea ended the game with Schwarzer in goal behind a back-four of Cesar Azpilicueta, Cahill, David Luiz and Cole. They resisted until the final whistle, not giving Atletico any chance, vindicating Mourinho's cautious tactics.

Chelsea did not just set their stall out as tip it over and turn it into a barricade. Mourinho's mood might have soured further at the sight of Cech hobbling away in the half but he must have been buoyed by the defensive resilience of Cahill and Terry.

Mourinho's strop appeared to have dissipated when he arrived at Vicente Calderón, judging by the merry way he went round all the police motorcycle outriders and thanked them for delivering the team bus safely.

His reception was less warm inside the ground, the tens of thousands of Atlético fans concocting offensive chants for him. The hosts were hardly impressed with Mourinho's strategy of containment. Mourinho had fielded one of his most defensive teams with Fernando Torres often isolated on his old stamping ground. Willian tracked back deep to protect Cole while Ramires helped out Azpilicueta on the right. Chelsea had a three-man central midfield with Lampard occasionally pushing on but mainly assisting Mikel and Luiz.

When he was not involved in the incident that led to Cech's exit, Luiz seemed to have two main responsibilities, following Koke when the highly-regarded No 6 was drifting in from the left and also standing in front of the back-four to prevent any long balls reaching the dangerous Costa.

The much-coveted Costa, a target for Chelsea themselves, was soon involved, skillfully weaving the ball around Cole, as Atlético dominated possession. Making only his sixth appearance for Chelsea of 2014, Cole had so much to prove to Mourinho and to Roy Hodgson.

FRACTIOUS

The left-back caught Raúl García, the Atlético attacker who soon got his own back, lifting a boot at Cole.

It was occasionally fractious, Costa going toe to toe with Terry, before the defining moment of the first half. Defending a corner, Luiz pushed García into Cech, sending the 'keeper tumbling from a height and landing on his right elbow. Despite extensive treatment, Cech was unable to continue.

After all the pre-match talk over who should be in Atlético's goal (until UEFA sensibly intervened to overrule any restrictions in Thibaut Courtois' loan deal from Chelsea), the focus was now on who should be in Chelsea's goal. Chelsea's best 'keeper remained in Atlético's goal. Courtois has already become an icon here because of his remarkable maturity and command of his area.

Cech was replaced by a 41-year-old, making only his second Champions League appearance. Schwarzer had kept goal for Fulham against Garcia and Atlético in the 2010 Europa League final, losing that one. He was under occasional pressure here. From a Koke cross, García rose above Cole but headed over. Chelsea's defence was otherwise immaculate, particularly Cahill, who saw off one Koke run, then nipped in ahead of Costa to stop another move.

Atlético were surprisingly not moving the ball sufficiently quickly, not looking for incisive attacks when Chelsea players were out of position. They tried some long-range efforts. Mario Suárez unleashed a shot from 25 yards that curled just wide. Costa had a shot blocked by Azpilicueta, who was turning his body and Atlético appealed loudly for a handball. Swedish official Jonas Eriksson waved play on.

Chelsea had their chances before the break. Cahill headed a Lampard corner wide. Willian released Ramires, whose shot went wide.

Lampard curled in a corner into a thicket of players but Courtois showed his class, making sure he claimed the ball with strength and timing. But the theme of an unappealing half was Chelsea resilience. Mikel headed out a Gabi free-kick. Then Terry repelled another attack as Chelsea safely reached half-time.

Atlético fans never stopped their support, waving their scarves and banners all around the ground, except for a defiant splash of blue in one corner. Chelsea's fans had moments to sing about in the second half. Lampard shot through a group of players but Courtois saved.

Then Schwarzer punched hurriedly clear, the ball collected by Diego, who nudged it to his right before shooting. Schwarzer saved well.

Then it was Courtois' turn to command applause. Torres rolled back the years, dribbling in, eluding three tackles before shooting. Courtois was again well-placed to collect.

Chelsea's old guard were struggling. Lampard picked up that expensive caution for fouling Arda Turan. Terry limped off to be replaced by Andre Schurrle, with Luiz dropping back.

Mikel squared up to Gabi and both were cautioned.

Their contretemps occurred after Atletico players surrounded Lampard, calling for a second yellow after the midfielder handled. Eriksson ordered only a free-kick which Gabi fired low but with insufficient power to beat Schwarzer. Turan headed wide.

The game ended with Chelsea wasting a good chance to take an away goal home with them. With Lampard and Willian close to the free-kick, Luiz took it, and sent it harmlessly wide. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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