Atletico Madrid cruise past Chelsea and into Champions League final
Chelsea 1 Atletico Madrid 3
Chelsea: Torres 36’
Atletico Madrid: Lopez 44’, Costa (pen) 61’, Turan 72’
Man of match: Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid)
LONDON // The “philosophers” of whom Jose Mourinho was so critical before the game, those critics who had attacked the negativity of Chelsea’s performance in the first leg of their Uefa Champions League semi-final, may ultimately have had a point.
A goalless draw in Madrid left Chelsea vulnerable to an away goal and, sure enough, it was a goal from Adrian Lopez just before half-time that undid them.
At the time they had been 1-0 up and seemingly in control, but the danger of defensive play is that one mistake can change the complexion of a game entirely.
Chasing the game, Chelsea suddenly looked uneasy and it was that, as much as the rash challenge by Samuel Eto’o on Diego Costa that led to a penalty, that brought Atletico’s victory. For them, and for their coach Diego Simeone, it is a staggering achievement.
With nothing like the budget of Europe’s super clubs, Simeone has coaxed a slim squad to heights of which even they had probably never dreamt. They stand three wins from an implausible league and Champions League double.
It says much about Atletico’s status that it is entirely plausible that two of the key performers – Costa and the goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who made a superb low save from John Terry with the score at 1-1 – could both be playing for Chelsea next season.
It had all begun so well for the London club. There are times with Mourinho when you suspect what he enjoys most in football is less the game than the game around the game. Even his team selection seemed calculated to provoke as he stuck a metaphorical two fingers up at his knockers by selecting a team that included six defenders.
David Luiz, admittedly, had been widely expected to start at the back of midfield, but far more surprising was the inclusion of Cesar Azpilicueta not at full-back, where he is usually deployed, but on the right side of midfield.
The ploy was responsible for the first goal, after 36 minutes. Branislav Ivanovic laid a pass inside the full-back for Willian and, when it seemed he had been crowded out by the by-line, Azpilicueta was on hand to drive the ball across the box for Fernando Torres, whose first-time strike took a deflection on its way past Courtois.
Torres, of course, had been heavily – if indirectly – criticised by Mourinho after the defeat away to Paris St-Germain in the first leg of the quarter-final. Against his former club – the club at which he began his career and which he openly supports – Torres not only did not celebrate, but seemed quite overcome.
There was a temptation, given Chelsea’s recent solidity, to think the job was done, but eight minutes later, Atletico pulled level.
The move was neat enough, but Chelsea will feel they squandered two good chances to clear as Tiago crossed to the back post where Juanfran, having got away from Eden Hazard, stole between Terry and Ashley Cole, leapt to volley the ball back across goal for Adrian Lopez, a player whose confidence collapsed so utterly earlier in the season that he was left out of the squad, to score with a shot that bounced up off the turf and past Gary Cahill.
Hazard’s laxness left Chelsea chasing the game and suddenly they found themselves facing a team who did to them what they are so good at doing to others: sitting back and picking them off on the break.
Diego Costa made it 2-1 from the penalty spot after being tripped by Eto’o and, although David Luiz headed against the post, Arda Turan sealed Atletico’s place in an all-Madrid final by following in the rebound after his header had come off the bar.
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Published: May 1, 2014 04:00 AM