Atletico Madrid trounce Chelsea in London; setup Madrid derby in Lisbon
The reticence of the night inside Vicente Calderón Stadium was long forgotten. A revitalised Atletico Madrid team played with verve and purpose to overturn a one goal deficit as they eased past their hosts with a formidable performance. In a semi-final that shall be remembered for some brilliant attacking football, Atletico fell behind in the 36th minute, but bounced back almost immediately to run riot over Chelsea and seal their place in the finals.
After an unimaginative 0-0 draw in the first leg, the second proved to be a refreshing contrast as the teams fought for the decisive edge. In the end, Diego Simeone’s determined men were too supreme for Jose Mourinho’s dour team as they ran away 3-1 winners to set up the first ever derby final in the history of the UEFA Champions League.
There was action straight away – Atletico earned a corner in the fourth minute and Koke collected the clearance to swing it back towards Mark Schwarzer. The curling ball left the 41 year old groping for air, but the crossbar at Stamford Bridge proved a loyal ally to the Chelsea team.
The two teams had immense experience – having played at the semi-final stages of UEFA competitions several times in the past. With a goalless draw in the first leg, the teams were playing for all or nothing in London, egged on by the partisan crowd at the home of the blues.
It looked as if Atletico might be the team that might break the deadlock. And they almost did too just past the half hour mark. Diego Costa was surging into the box, when Gary Cahill deemed it fit to bring him down rather than let him gain sight of the goal. The referee issued the first yellow of the match. Koke fired in a brilliant cross that seemed destined for the top corner, only for John Terry to move in and slide it clear with his head.
The first goal though came from Chelsea sending their vocal band of fans into a sustained bout of rapturous singing. It came without warning too. Willian seemed very well marked as he boxed himself near the far corner. But Filipe Luis allowed him to make the turn and the Chelsea winger found Cesar Azpilicueta.
The Spanish full back crossed quickly and Fernando Torres, who was unmarked, swept it toward the goal. Thibaut Courtois had the situation under control, but a deflection off the shin of Mario Suarez, left him for dead. The Spaniard had cut his teeth at Atletico and perhaps out of respect for his former club, sought to downplay the celebrations.
The lead did not last too long for Chelsea, as Atletico drew level just a minute from halftime. Tiago Mendes crossed a looping pass from left to right, Hazard failed to respond adequately and Juanfran took full advantage to slide one across the face of the goal. Adrian Lopez was right behind the ball and his unconvincing swipe bounced high to sail past Schwarzer into the net.
The absence of adventure marked the first leg – Atletico was too nervous about conceding an away goal and Chelsea were happy to just sit back and wait for an opportunity to counter attack. At the start of the second, it appeared that the two teams might dish out some more of the same fare.
The visitors seemed far more assured and there was a marked vulnerability about the Chelsea defence. While they conceded the first goal against the grain of play, they recovered quickly to put the hosts under pressure and gain an all-important away goal that dampened the spirits of Mourinho’s men.
As the two teams trooped inside for a little swig and some chatter, it was for Jose Mourinho to do some serious talk as the Los Colchoneros had the result under control. It was Chelsea that needed a clear victory in the second leg.
The first goal for Atletico was a result of multiple failures from the men in blue – Hazard failed to keep Juanfran under check, allowing him the freedom to execute the fatal cross. Ashley Cole should have been able to clear the ball but he was off position in the six yard box.
In the end ball slid through the incoherence that crept into the minds of Cole, Terry and Cahill – all three formidable men at the back. And Adrian had enough time and space to slot it home and drive a wedge into the heart of Chelsea’s strength.
Chelsea was on target immediately upon returning to the field, but the Atletico defense is a tested unit, offering some cushion and comfort to its keeper. But Chelsea needed to score and Mourinho had no choice but to enforce a change in tactics.
Unsurprisingly, the first significant substitution came from the home team – Mourinho called back Cole and sent in Samuel Eto in the 53th minute. He made immediate impact, even if it was not something his coach may have desired or expected.
Eto, falling back to provide some cover, hung his foot at Diego Costa only to topple him inside the box. The referee pointed to the spot and a focused Costa sent the ball soaring into the top of the net to give Atletico a second away goal and a nearly invincible lead.
When Mourinho deputed Demba Ba, the hero of the quarterfinals, for a tiring Torres the fans hoped that he could turn on some of his recent magic to rescue Chelsea. Instead, the match slipped farther from the blues when another Juanfran cross earned Atletico a third goal in the 72nd minute.
Arda Turan headed the ball on to the cross bar, but was alert enough to pick up a favourable rebound and stab it home for a 3-1 lead. Mourinho was cutting a forlorn figure by now, as his team stared at certain defeat.
The coach with the magic touch was about to lose his sixth game in eight Champions League semi-final appearances. It was a fourth straight defeat too at the same stage. No wonder the lines on his face were singing a tragic hymn.
Even as John Terry cut a distraught figure soon after the final whistle, the delirious Atletico players rushed to sink each other in the warm embraces and acknowledge the astute guidance of the ever reliable Simeone.
While Mourinho was looking to keep his campaign alive for a third Champions League title, this is the first time that Atletico has reached the finals since 1974. With Xabi Alonso ruled out as penance for his third sin in the competition and Sami Khedira nursing fitness concerns, the final should prove to be an even contest between two of the best teams in Europe.
Semi-final: Chelsea 1 – 3 Atletico Madrid (Aggregate 1-3)
Adrián López 44; Diego Costa 60(p); Arda Turan 72