Atlético Madrid 0–1 Chelsea FC: Match Reaction
Chelsea deliver a mature and measured performance, take a crucial away-goal back to Stamford Bridge next month
By: Maxwell Argento
Thomas Tuchel’s Tactical Influence
The tactical rigidity on display thus far during Tuchel’s tenure with Chelsea in the Premier League was once again shown in Bucharest on Tuesday evening, his now standard 3–4–3 (or 3–4–1–2) formation used against Atléti in the first leg of their Champions League tie.
The base of César Azpilicueta, Antonio Rüdiger, Andreas Christensen with the double-pivot of Mateo Kovačić and Jorginho in front of them gives the wide men and attacking options for Chelsea the freedom to get on the ball and control the game without the fear of getting exposed on the break. Tuchel’s approach was spot on, and gave his team the chance to do two very important things: play through Madrid’s high press in the early stretches of the game (despite a few nervous moments), and dominate through possession as the match went on without being particularly worried about counterattacks.
Another brilliant choice from Tuchel was picking World Cup winner Olivier Giroud to lead the line. In a match where Tuchel more than likely anticipated having a bunch of the ball and needing someone to hold the ball up to get his team up the pitch or be an influence in each penalty box, picking his #18 for this match I thought was the right decision. His choice ended up being justified, Giroud’s moment of inspiration (in the form of an amazing bicycle kick that rippled Jan Oblak’s net for the only goal of the match) gave Chelsea their all-important, and deserved, away-goal.
Say what you will about Chelsea’s decision to sack Frank Lampard and bring in Tuchel, but this point cannot be argued: Tuchel’s experience (which obviously far outweighs Lampard’s) puts Chelsea on equal footing in finely poised matches like these, when they need a manager to effectively match wits against someone like Diego Simeone.
Atlético’s Conservatism Proves the Wrong Choice
After the high press gave Simeone’s men a serious chance to go ahead within the first handful of minutes of the match, I am confused as to why they then shifted into a low block throughout large majorities of the game, sometimes with six men along the back line. I understand wanting to be solid at the back and not allow Chelsea any serious chances in a more open game, but it almost seemed as though Atléti were a bit too conservative, giving the Blues more of the ball than desired, allowing them too many opportunities to grow into the game and gain confidence.
The tangible effect of this approach was that the flair players for Atlético (in the form of Luis Suárez and João Félix) were on the fringes of the match without any concerted period of time to put their stamp on the contest. The way to hurt Chelsea the worst is to put as much pressure on their back line (who are prone to the odd mistake) as possible, and sitting behind the ball allowed Rüdiger, Christensen and Azpilicueta the chance to let the game come to them with their backs to their own goal instead of being harried by Suárez in dangerous positions running towards their goal-mouth.
Simeone’s men will need to chase the game when they go to Stamford Bridge next month in order to advance in the competition, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they sit behind the ball for portions of the match and bank on their chances to score on the counter, because that’s just what Simeone’s men do. Chelsea should be elated if that (once again) ends up being the case.
Cobham’s Fingerprints All Over Chelsea’s Win
Other than Giroud, the two players in blue for Chelsea who made the biggest difference for their team on the night were players who have risen through the ranks of the club’s academy within Cobham and are now some of the first names on Tuchel’s teamsheet; Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
The former (despite picking up a yellow card, thus leaving him out for the second leg of the tie due to yellow card accumulation) has been my choice for Player of the Season for Chelsea, and has flourished in his role as a #10 under Tuchel. His tactical nous, eager running, and ability to start the press/counterpress from the hole in midfield is crucial to the German manager’s system, and his delivery from set-pieces almost always gives his more aerially inclined teammates chances to score in the opponents penalty area.
The latter has, by and large, hit the ground running under Tuchel and has found a home as a right-sided wingback, giving his pace and dribbling ability room to flourish up and down the flank. The mentality on display by the youngster cannot go unnoticed as well, the substitution controversy between him and his manager last match now in the rearview mirror after a spritely performance on Tuesday. The twenty year old having to stomach getting taken off not too long after coming on as a substitute himself and then getting thrown right back into the squad against one of Europe’s elite takes a load of maturity, and shows why Tuchel has given him so many opportunities since his arrival to West London.
With matches against Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton and Leeds lying in wait in the Premier League before Atlético come to Stamford Bridge, the continued fine form of both young Englishmen will be a necessity for the Blues in the coming weeks.
Chelsea square off against Manchester United in a Premier Leagues battle between English giants on Sunday, Feb. 28 at Stamford Bridge. Kick-off is at 11:30am EST.