Jose Mourinho was unusually quiet on the touchline tonight. Even when his beloved Chelsea are comfortably winning, the Portuguese manages to hop, jump and squeal his way into the limelight.
But with the Blues crippled and bereft of attacking intent against a brilliant Atletico Madrid side coasting to victory at Stamford Bridge, the master tactician could only watch with an almost tired expression, accepting defeat in a manner quite unnatural to a man that wins at all costs.
The manner of Chelsea’s capitulation tonight was in stark contrast to their stunning performance at Anfield on the weekend, with the Blues quite comfortably keeping England’s most vibrant attacking side out in their own back yard, scoring twice through a combination of good fortune and sheer will.
But Atletico tonight were not to be undone, even when faced with a Chelsea side containing 8/11 defensive players. There is cause to say that not only were Diego Simeone’s side a bridge too far for ‘the immovable object’, but Chelsea’s staunch adherence to keeping the Spaniards out led inexorably to their downfall.
Starting only three attack-minded players at home in a Champions League semi-final second leg is worthy of criticism on its own. Fernando Torres, who despite scoring a well taken goal, is not a striker to rely on. I say that with real vigor, with the now 30-year-old ‘attacker’ spending three disastrously inconsistent years in West London running face first into defenders, barely making a dent.
The dynamic duo of Eden Hazard and Willian was horribly offset by Mourinho’s decision to throw the left-back Cesar Azpilicueta in on the right-wing. The 24-year-old must feel like a worn travel-adapter, thrust in whenever deemed necessary. He was horrendously out of his depth in attack, let alone on the wrong wing, and despite his decent cross for the Torres goal, was a hopelessly unnecessary gamble by Mourinho.
A quick glance at the teamsheet before the game may have given the Chelsea faithful some hope of progression, with the dual action wide areas seemingly equally able to push forward as defend. But the irrepressible Willian, one of the most underrated Blues performers this season, is now being so overworked that his main attacking attributes are being wasted, due to the Brazilian’s mind being so fixed on the potential of the opponents’ counterattack.
Indeed, the bouffant-haired flyer could be forgiven tonight, as with the 0-0 draw in the Spanish capital came a stark realisation that one goal for Atletico would out the Blues in dire straights. And so it came to pass. Fernando Torres’ finish past on-loan keeper Thiabaut Courtois was obliterated by Adrian Lopez’ avoidable equaliser just before half time.
I have been a firm advocate for Ashley Cole’s reintegration into the first team all season, but the England man did himself no favours by allowing Juanfran’s basic bouncing ball across the box elude him, with Atletico reaping the rewards of Chelsea’s uncharacteristic hesitancy.
Mourinho’s reaction to the goal was also unusual, and effectively damaging to his side, with the half-fit Samuel Eto’o entering the fray in place for the apoplectic Cole. Although being, in my mind, the Blues’ most potent striker, the Cameroonian was thrust into a side that was still unbalanced, with creative players Hazard and Willian faced with a solid red-and-white wall of Atletico defenders.
With Oscar and Schurrle sat sitting on the sidelines, it was baffling to see Jose plump for another striker, especially considering the delicacy of the tie, and at still an early stage. It put the Blues into a state of panic too early on in the match, with very little football being played, and long-balls becoming a feature of their play.
Some will point to Eto’o’s poorly timed challenge on the obnoxious Diego Costa as being a turning point, but the blame still rests on the usually spot-on Mourinho for failing to return a natural balance to his side and making them decidedly top heavy. The ‘striker’s challenge’ will happen, and it is just unfortunate that Chelsea fell foul of the cliche here and now.
Exacerbating things further, and practically mirroring his poor substitutions in the 1-2 home defeat to Sunderland, Mourinho threw on Demba Ba, completing his triple dare for his misfiring strikers. ‘Score, and prove me wrong’, he must have thought.
But what good is a striker without the necessary ammunition?
Arda Turan’s third was almost too easy, with the heart and soul of Chelsea’s now world-renounced defensive solidarity violently sucked out. Tapping in to an unguarded net, with his first effort falling back to him off the crossbar, the Turk wheeled away in celebration, and one expected the Spaniards to bag a few more before the night was out.
The German Schurrle then made his way on, but the La Liga leaders’ possession football was a sight to behold.
Unlike the now deemed lifeless tiki-taka football expressed by the recently battered Bayern Munich, and the rather dull Barcelona, Ateltico Madrid were stylish, penetrative and rambunctious.
The brilliant Koke popped up everywhere, barely putting a foot wrong, with former Chelsea man Tiago pulling the strings from midfield, and the grossly underrated fullbacks Juanfran and Filipe Luis doing the damage out wide.
The full-time whistle was not celebrated with blunt, child-like glee from the Atletico players, but merely with unblemished gratitude for their fellow teammates. Every player shook hands, embraced, and went to console the fallen Chelsea men. It was a reminder that Diego Costa’s side, so brilliantly fixated on the prizes awaiting them, have become accustomed to beating the odds.
In this case, Chelsea were the favourites, a label that seems to hinder Jose Mourinho’s side, and it is something that needs to change and fast, with the Blues’ defence quite clearly not the best form of attack when faced with a team even more hell-bent on success.
What do you think? How would you describe the manner of Chelsea’s defeat? Let me know in the comments below…