Diego Costa had his head in his hands at the last kick of the game on Wednesday. He had just watched his replacement and protege wander off with three points for Chelsea at his new home grounds, Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid.
Chelsea look ahead now to Saturday’s big game with Manchester City. They can do so with a sense of their Champions League hopes secured. At least for now.
Goodbye Vicente. Hello Wanda!
The Blues arrived in the Spanish capital—off a canter against a defenceless Qarabag—wanting to test their luck against a more formidable foe. And also to extend their lead at the top of Group C. Atlético Madrid owns a stout record against English clubs—lossless at home—and while still getting used to their surroundings, were willing for the result to stick to the expected schedule. Atlético’s new stadium still had that freshly built smell. It has hosted just two games prior. This night was the first proper test to break it in on a big stage. It was the first Champions League game at their new home ground for Atleti.
With that in mind, Chelsea packed the middle with their three man-midfield of Fabregas, Kante and Bakayoko and sprinkled that with a free-roaming Eden Hazard. The latter looked to finally shake off the cobwebs. It was a side that was built to counter attack and absorb any assault by the home side.
Fine start, bad defending
Chelsea had a great start, battering the Rojiblancos in the first half with Hazard pulling the strings. The Belgian even clipped the post once with a wicked long range shot. But all it took was a mindless tug from beleaguered centre-back, David Luiz, to gift-wrap the home side a life line into the game. Lucas Hernandez wasn’t being marked, he was being manhandled. It was little surprise then to see the Brazilian drag him to the floor with a shirt pull in the box. Antoine Griezman faced Courtois from ten yards out then. With an air of inevitability, the bleached-blonde Frenchman dispatched the ball comfortably down the middle. The home side came into the dugouts at half time, aiming to keep the result in their favour.
With Roma picking up a win in Baku earlier, Chelsea came out with guns blazing to try and secure at least a point. And it took 15 minutes for that to happen. Hazard picked up the ball near the left hand touchline and jinked his way on to his right foot. Juanfran closed him down. The Belgian responded by whipping in an exquisite cross for former “Los Blancos” striker, Alvaro Morata, to subtly direct with his head into the net. The Spainard made sure the home fans knew who scored it.
Parity was met and it seemed like Atlético Madrid wanted it to stay that way.
Angel Correa was flung off to bring on Nicolas Gaitan to add an extra number to Madrid’s midfield ranks. Later Simeone also brought on a third defender to attempt to nullify Chelsea’s attack.
The substitutions evened out the game. For a time it was a constant back and forth between the two sides. After a spirited performance by Hazard and Morata, the two deserved a rest. Conte brought on Batshuayi and Willian. The two took on the job to round off the game. The only real potential upset that occurred near the end was when former Blue, Torres, got tripped just inside the box by Bakayoko. Against the wishes of the majority in the stadium, however, an extra penalty was denied.
While some fans started to plan for their after-game travel home/pint, Chelsea received a last minute free-kick. The match was deep into stoppage time. The kick taken short by Willian. Kante and Alonso had a give and go to open up space around the box. When the ball eventually slid to Bakayoko back to goal, he deftly flicked the ball in front of the Spanish wingback who had caught the defence snoozing on the right hand side. Sensing that Michy Batshuayi needed to bolster his Twitter crusade for a higher FIFA 18 rating, he rolled it in front of the beaming Belgian for a tap in.
A moment later, the final whistle blew. 2-1 Blues. Antonio Conte freaking out on the touchline whilst the new stadium spilt out.
Atlético deflated. Chelsea elated.
Sky blue are the limit
Schedules like Chelsea have this week will make or break a season for some teams. Blues will look on to Saturday knowing that the Manchester City side have been smashing opposition teams for fun prior to the buildup.
Antonio Conte bemoaned the lack of rest in his post-match comments after the Atletico Madrid game.
“Honestly, in this case we are a bit penalised,” Conte said. “And I think it’s very important before taking a decision like this to analyse the different situations of the teams.” He then added, “Don’t forget, Manchester City played yesterday at home. We played tonight, away. For sure, we will return to London around 4am. To have only one day to prepare for this type of game is not right.”
In an ideal world, sans David Luiz, Chelsea will line up fairly similarly at home as they did in Spain. Pep Guardiola doesn’t really favor a conventional formation. He’d rather play a field of number 10s and wingers for fullbacks. Because of this, Chelsea will want to ensure that their midfield is protected and a midfield three, with two wing-backs, would best serve them. All of which finally depends on a successful recovery.
Short rest and shorter options for Chelsea
Chelsea have put themselves up against a corner. They don’t have many options in terms of backups in some positions. Marcus Alonso has Kennedy—a converted winger/striker—and Baba Rahman is injured. So it seems to me that Alonso will have to rest hard to make the Saturday game. Morata and Hazard are expected to start having being subbed off early against Atletico. However, if push comes to shove, Pedro, Willian and Batshuayi are the best and few options available to step into the breech.
Rudiger and Christsen both failed to add many minutes between them on Wednesday. That will open up an opportunity for the two of them to replace Gary Cahill and the suspended David Luiz against City. This puts a dent in anyone’s hopes that Aguero and the Brazilian were going to have another scrap. Although the Argentinian’s taxi accident and resulting injury will likely remove Aguero from Guardiola’s equations for some time to come.
Manchester City also have an existing injury issue stemming from one-man wing, Benjamin Mendy, pulling up with a potential ACL problem. That could force Leroy Sane, Danilo (likely) or—knowing Pep—Fabian Delph into that gap. Vincent Kompany and Ikay Gundogan have both seemed to have rejoined the recovery room after picking up injuries. It is unclear how long both are expected to stay there.
No matter how tough it may look for Chelsea, they have yet to lose a big game this season. Both sides have high-flying scorers, so it seems like Saturday’s top match will be a cracker.