Champions League: Amazing Atletico

Champions League: Amazing Atletico
Atletico's 3-1 triumph at Stamford Bridge means they are still to be beaten in the Champions League this season.

CHELSEA 1

(Fernando Torres 36)

ATLETICO MADRID 3

(Adrian Lopez 44, Diego Costa 60-pen, Arda Turan 72)

 

Atletico win 3-1 on aggregate

For once, Jose Mourinho couldn't talk his way out of trouble.

There was no ghost goal, there were no contentious decisions and no one felt particularly inclined to accuse Uefa of a targeted, anti- Chelsea conspiracy.

Even Mourinho had to accept that Atletico Madrid won the old-fashioned way - because they were the better team.

For the first time, the premier competition in European football will be contested by teams from the same city. Madrid will decamp to Lisbon and the rest of the world will watch through envious eyes.

For Carlo Ancelotti, it is simply a case of returning his side to the level to which they have long been accustomed.

For Diego Simeone, this is little short of a miraculous ascension.

Atletico were a basket case when Simeone arrived in 2011, a sporadically successful club cursed with reckless leadership and doomed to flounder in the wake of their neighbours.

Simeone has, in much the same way as Mourinho did in 2004, made his players believe that they are worth more than that.

Of course, the Argentine has transformed his team with rather less spending, but there are similarities in methodology.

Like Mourinho's first Chelsea side, Atletico's strengths are collective, derived from hard work, effective strategy and an icy composure.

At no point during this game would you have believed that Atletico were on the brink of such a momentous achievement.

Having taken a 2-1 lead and given Chelsea the challenge of scoring twice to save themselves, the Spanish league leaders kept their heads, kept their opponents at bay and then went and added another to remove the pressure.

In a game in which Atletico were supposed to be the naive upstarts walking into a Mourinho trap, they looked instead like veterans of this level.

Mourinho was impressed, and rightly so.

The Chelsea boss had certainly raised a few eyebrows with his team selection, choosing six defenders and playing David Luiz in midfield with Cesar Azpilicueta on the right flank.

As expected, Mourinho's plan was to wait for Atletico to come forward in search of an away goal and then punish them on the counter with the pace of Eden Hazard and Willian.

But it was Atletico who almost opened the scoring with an impetuous lob from Koke, positioned near the corner flag. Fortunately for Chelsea, the ball bounced harmlessly off the crossbar. A warning shot, and one that brought a response.

It took an unkind deflection off the legs off Mario Suarez, but Fernando Torres' first-half goal looked to have put Chelsea in a commanding position.

As Liverpool discovered on Sunday, there are few challenges tougher then breaking down a concerted Chelsea defence.

Or at least that was the theory.

Instead, Adrian Lopez was able to slot home from close range just before half-time when Ashley Cole and John Terry made a hash of Juanfran's cross and allowed the ball to roll to a man hardly renowned for his consistency in front of goal.

The home supporters were stunned into silence.

Their guests from Spain felt rather less inhibited.

SUPREME STYLE

Hazard said afterwards that Chelsea were a team geared up to play on the counter-attack, not the front foot, and that certainly seemed the case.

Fighting for their lives, they made precious few inroads until Terry's header was saved in supreme style by on-loan Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Moments later, they gave away a ridiculous penalty when Samuel Eto'o scythed down Diego Costa, who picked himself up and, after a lengthy debate about the state of the penalty spot, smashed a crucial goal past Mark Schwarzer. Arda Turan's strike 12 minutes later only sealed the inevitable.

Chelsea were undone, victims of silly goals and made to look inferior by a team that have been more than the sum of their parts all season.

They will look to rebuild over the summer, adding a finishing touch to their proven creativity and solidity.

Atletico, on the other hand, barely have time to think about Lisbon. With La Liga still wide open, Levante is now their priority.

They are three games away from a domestic and European double that seemed impossible last August.

And who would write them off now?

This article was published on May 2 in The New Paper.

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