Atletico defeats Chelsea, punch ticket to UEFA Champions League final
This year’s Champions League final will be an all Madrid affair — the first-ever all-city match in the tournament’s history — after Atletico Madrid crushed Chelsea 3-1 (3-1 on aggregate) in an absorbing contest at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night. Atletico will now meet Real Madrid in Lisbon on May 24 after Diego Costa scored the winner on the hour mark from the spot. Adrian Lopez and Ardan Turan added to the tally in what ended up as a rout.
The result sets up a fascinating final: Atletico and Real are 1-2 in La Liga, and they have been the best two teams in this tournament all along. Atletico have yet to lose a game in this competition, and Real smoked Bayern Munich 4-0 on Tuesday night to serve up a major statement of intent. By rights, the final should be a classic, made sweeter by the fact that it’s a “derbi.”
Chelsea will rue their defensive mistakes — both goals were unforced errors — but might rue the overly negative tactics deployed in their first game, a dull 0-0 dirge, just as much. Jose Mourinho had Chelsea play within themselves in that first match, essentially gambling that Stamford Bridge would provide his low-scoring team the lift they needed. Instead, his Chelsea side have now been bested at their home fortress twice in two weeks, and Chelsea now must go back to the drawing board. They still have an outside shot at hoisting the Barclays Premier League crown, but it likely this will be another trophyless year for a manger who pointedly criticized a colleague earlier this season for being a “specialist in failure.” That doesn’t sound so clever now.
When Chelsea announced their lineup, it raised eyebrows. What was Jose Mourinho doing playing five defenders? It appeared he would play a 3-4-2-1 system, with three in the center, wingbacks, and Fernando Torres up top. Hands were wrung for a solid 45 minutes over buses, the parking of them, and whether or not we were in for the kind of slog that we had endured last week at the Calderon.
Instead, we were treated to a fast-paced, action packed game as both teams decided to shake off their shackles and simply play the match straight up. It was highly unexpected from Mourinho, who has made a fetish of tight defending, but it was thrilling.
Both sides took turns probing and pulling, and the chances came thick. Koke bounced his speculative volley off the top of the crossbar after just nine minutes, and was unlucky not to see it helped past keeper Marsk Schwarzer and into the net by Gary Cahill. Willian would then send a free-kick at the other end just skittering over Thibaut Courtois’ bar. Then, David Luiz latched on to a loose ball and nearly put an audacious overhead kick in at the far post, and the crowd at the Bridge began to sense there was something in this match after all.
It was fitting that the former Atletico striker Torres was one of the best players on the field, shrugging off a series of poor showings — including a vanishing act last week in Spain — and even more apropos that he broke the deadlock after 36 minutes. Branislav Ivanovic, nearly pinned to the sideline by Mourinho, slotted the ball through to Willian, who turned his marker and then slid the ball along the endline to Cesar Azpilicueta. His low cross found Torres, and he put the ball neatly to the far corner. While the East Stand erupted, he declined to celebrate, instead walking calmly back to the center circle and awaiting the restart.
Atletico had no such restraint, as was seen just a minute before the half. Tiago fed in a delicious ball over the top to a lurking Juanfran, and he picked the lock to force Schwarzer to his near post. With a lob, the ball fell to Adrian Lopez alone wide left, and he volleyed the ball home at the far post, sending the away end into raptures — and stunning the home faithful.
John Terry nearly broke the deadlock after the half, powering a header right at Courtois that the Chelsea loanee had to dive to keep out, and ended up just batting it away off his line. And that lack of luck would bedevil Chelsea in the half, with David Luiz heading a ball off the post that Courtois also somehow kept out.
Diego Costa would win the game from the spot after sub Samuel Eto’o made a rash challenge on him at the stroke of an hour. After some complaints from Chelsea over the time it took Costa to set the ball on the spot — he would be carded for it by ref Nicola Rizzoli — the striker calmly ripped the ball into the roof of Schwarzer’s net, and with that, the game was out of sight.
And Chelsea’s boss agreed.
“Until the penalty we were in control," said Mourinho after the match. "Keeper made an incredible save and the forward won a clever penalty. From there [it was] all Atletico."
Tiago, brilliant all night, started the play that iced the match twelve minutes later. Again finding Juanfran lurking around the back, he pinged in a fine ball that Juanfran laid off sweetly to Arda Turan. His shot caromed off the woodwork, but he was there to stroke home his own rebound with a buttery touch.
That goal sent Diego Simeone off for the sprint down the sideline, unable to contain his glee at taking Atletico to their first final in forty years. Mourinho could only stand and watch, glumly, as the red shirts in the Shed End erupted behind him.
"Sometimes in the Champions league finals you feel bad because the best team isn’t there, but the year, Madrid were better than Bayern and Atletico were better than us at the end. I must have respect for the team which has eliminated me today.”