Chelsea 1-3 Atletico Madrid: Tactical Analysis
Stamford Bridge was the stage for Chelsea’s clash with Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. After seeing out a 0-0 draw, which honestly didn’t suit one over the other, both sides knew that a goal was needed. Chelsea knew they had to score no matter what, while Atletico realised that a goal for them had much more value, away from home.
Torres struck first against his former club and looked to change the complexion of the tie. But Adrian’s goal just before half-time tilted it in Atletico’s favour. A silly foul from Eto’o gifted Costa a chance from the spot, and he duly obliged before Turan wrapped the game up with a third.
Chelsea: Schwazer, Cahill, Terry, Ivanovic, Cole (Eto’o 54?), Azpilicueta, Luiz, Ramires, Willian (Schurrle 77?), Hazard, Torres (Ba 67?)
Atletico Madrid: Courtois, Miranda, Godin, Juanfran, Filipe Luis, Tiago, Suarez, Koke, Turan (Rodriguez 84?), Adrian (Garcia 66?), Costa (Sosa 76?)
Goals: Torres 36? | Adrian 44?, Costa (penalty) 60?, Turan 72?
The long-ball far post strategy
In the first leg, as Chelsea sat back in two defensive lines, making their half compact, Atletico Madrid were forced into playing long balls and crosses which Chelsea more than dealt with. That strategy favoured Chelsea as they are generally good at dealing with such situations while also, any compact side would be able to keep the situation considerably under control.
Despite that, Atletico did look a bit threatening when a long ball was played into Raul Garcia’s path when the Spaniard was making a run from outside the box, cross field from the far post. He won a couple of headers that way but the knock-downs yielded nothing.
With space opening up in the second leg, as Chelsea weren’t as defensively set-up, the same long ball strategy would prove to be much more successful, despite Raul Garcia not starting the game (personally believe starting him and using that same strategy could have been beneficial, though it wasn’t required in the end).
Atletico Madrid did implement a similar tactic again to devastating effect. Atletico’s right-full back Juanfran was seen making runs in behind the Chelsea defence at the far post. One such run yielded the first goal, as the ball was played to Juanfran at the far post who pulled it back for Adrian to finish from close range. Atletico got their third through a similar play as well, another ball at the far post was put back into a dangerous area by Juanfran; Arda Turan’s initial header struck the post and the rebound fell in his path for an open goal.
Credit has to be given to Atletico’s midfielders and Juanfran (especially) for setting up these two crucial goals as besides this, Chelsea seemed quite assured defensively. But the home side should be criticised for failing to deal with this approach as both of Juanfran’s runs were unmarked and seemed to come out of a largely unthreatening situation. Hazard was also guilty at letting Adrian make a run for the first, while the entire Chelsea defence seemed to have shut off for the third.
Atletico efficient on the ball
In the first leg, Atletico Madrid had more of the ball, seemed to want to score more, and seemed more likely. This was largely down to the tactics employed by Mourinho. The Chelsea manager realised Atletico were a bigger threat off the ball and containable while in possession. Mourinho thus decided to take the draw, and expected to beat Atletico at Stamford Bridge.
But in London, Diego Simeone’s men displayed immense quality on the ball. They just about edged the possession (52%), but with the game being much more open in the second leg, Atletico Madrid seemed more efficient with the ball. Chelsea, knowing they had to score, naturally ventured forward. This opened up some space and allowed Atletico to play direct passes between them while they looked rather lost with possession at the Calderon. They seemed more assured and confident on the ball with a less compact opposition, as they were willing to pass the ball around more.
Mourinho thus got it right in the first leg, taking a draw. He expected to win at Stamford Bridge despite playing to Atletico’s strengths and forcing them into a defensive set-up (their preference). Mourinho however, didn’t expect Atletico Madrid to be better than his side on the ball at Stamford Bridge. This bit of mis-calculation costed Chelsea.
Did Chelsea attack way too early?
Various twitter users and pundits, Gary Neville & Jamie Carragher in particular, have claimed that Chelsea attacked a bit too soon and put Samuel Eto’o up top with Fernando Torres a bit early. The two man upfront strategy surprised many, as Chelsea looked to take the lead on the night and in the tie.
Samuel Eto’o was brought on in the 54th minute for Ashley Cole, and this attacking intent naturally opened up more space for Atletico Madrid to exploit, which they did to terrifying effect. But just because the tactics didn’t yield the right results, it doesn’t mean it was the right approach to implement.
Chelsea were at the time trailing Atletico Madrid on away goals, Mourinho would have been more than aware that Simeone’s side are capable of seeing out a result, as they have done so often this season. Knowing they needed to score to stay in the game, Mourinho made his side go out with more of an attacking approach, at the cost of defensive frailty.
Personally, I disagree with the view that Chelsea attacked too early. When the side’s already trailing the game, and risk being further pegged behind if Atletico score another, you can’t afford to sit-back and leave the attacking for latter stages of the game. Bringing Eto’o on at half-time may have been too early, but certainly Mourinho was well within his tactical right to bring him on before the 60 minute mark. It would have been too much of a risk to sit back and invite Atletico forward as Atletico didn’t need to come forward, they could have sat back themselves. The ball was in Chelsea’s court and the onus was on them to attack, not Atletico.