A moment of magic from Olivier Giroud as Chelsea leave Bucharest with an away goal and a clean sheet.
Following the emergence of COVID-19, football just hasn’t been the same – and neither is the Champion’s League. In addition to the match between Atlético Madrid and Chelsea being played behind closed doors, the fixture also took place in Arena Națională (Bucharest, Romania) – instead of Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.
Diego Simeone’s side arrived with the Argentinian manager having just 17 players to select from. Atlético travelled to Romania without a host of star players, such as Kieran Trippier, José Giménez, Héctor Herrera, and Yannick Carrasco.
Despite losing just 4 games so far this season, Madrid suffered defeat in their last game against Levante in La Liga. Simeone looked to bounce back in his European clash against Chelsea, by making 3 changes to his injury riddled side.
On the other hand, Chelsea have looked like a completely different team following the appointment of Thomas Tuchel last month – and are yet to lose a game under the German’s reign. Tuchel also made 3 changes to his Chelsea side, which also saw Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic listed on the bench following their brief side-line spells.
The two sides have played each other 7 times in European competitions previously – with both sides equally winning 2 games each – both scoring exactly 11 goals.
On arrival to Bucharest, Chelsea had 3 players who faced the possibility of suspension in the second leg of the tie should they see a yellow card in the game against Madrid.
One of these players was Mason Mount, who earned a place in referee Felix Brych’s book in the opening minute of the game.
Things nearly went from bad to worse for The Blues, as a heavy touch from goalkeeper Édouard Mendy nearly gifted Luis Suárez an early opener in the first couple of minutes of the game.
Fortunately for the Senegalese international, he managed to steer the ball clear and avoid contact to Suárez – as Chelsea were let off the hook early in the match.
Atlético were beginning to create as they came close on the 14th minute – with Suárez involved once again.
The prolific striker did brilliantly to make the best out of nothing as he kept the ball in play and flashed a pass across the face of goal. The Uruguayan was looking for Thomas Lemar, who looked set to convert for Atlético if it wasn’t for the presence of Callum Hudson-Odoi.
A few minutes later, there was a chance at the other end as Timo Werner wormed his way into the penalty area, before being tackled by Atlético defender Felipe. The German appealed for a penalty, but referee Felix Brych’s decision to deny one was supported by the VAR officials.
Overall, Atlético were set up well in their usual ‘low block’ system as they defended well in a rigid set up – whilst still pressing The Blues whenever they were on the ball.
Atléti however still posed a threat and looked dangerous at points in the first half.
On the 41st minute, Luis Suárez attempted to thread a ball through to Ángel Correa – who made a run into a dangerous position. Chelsea however once again recovered well, as they matched Madrid with a solid defensive set up of their own.
The first 45 minutes was exactly how many expected it to be – a cagey affair with a shortage of goals.
The game looked wide open, with both sides attempting to create chances that would only be shut down through their opponents stellar defending.
This theme was also apparent for the opening 20 minutes of the second half. Both teams understood the problem of conceding a goal and how costly it could prove to be in such a close, tight affair.
On the 64th minute, João Félix showed signs of life has he looked to break away into Chelsea’s final third. The highly rated Portuguese international was however stopped in his tracks by Jorginho, with the Italian picking up a yellow card that will also see him suspended for the second leg in March.
With Chelsea missing two first team regulars for their second leg against Madrid, it became crucial that they picked up a good result in Bucharest. To Tuchel’s joy, the script suddenly flipped on the 68th minute, as Olivier Giroud gave Chelsea the all-important away goal they desperately needed.
The Frenchman was in the right place at the right time as he converted a sublime bicycle-kick to fire The Blues ahead. Although Giroud was originally penalised for being in an offside position, VAR later overruled the decision, as the ball that found Giroud was initially played on to him by Atlético defender Mario Hermoso.
Going into the game, Giroud was averaging a goal every 28 minutes having already netted 5 during the current campaign already, however, this one would prove to be the most important of them all.
From here, Chelsea continued to grind their way through the rest of the game – leaving Bucharest with an all-important clean sheet and away goal against the Spaniards. It was an excellent display from The Blues, who are in an excellent position to qualify for the Quarter-Finals for the first time since 2014.
After the whistle:
Despite currently being sat top of La Liga, Atlético Madrid looked a fraction of the team that we know them to be. Simeone’s side was set up well defensively, but lacked creativity and any sort of threat going forward. Madrid will hope to improve before the second leg of the clash in March, and can also be next seen in action on Sunday evening, as they take on Villarreal in La Liga.
For Chelsea, its yet another win under Tuchel as the German picks up a valuable victory in his biggest challenge yet. It took a lot to unlock a solid Atlético defence, and a moment of magic from Olivier Giroud proved just that. Next up for The Blues is another difficult task, as they host Manchester United on Sunday afternoon in the Premier League.
Atlético Madrid 0-1 Chelsea.
- Giroud (68’).
BBC Sports player of the match:
- Olivier Giroud (Chelsea).
Atlético Madrid: Oblak; Savic, Felipe, Hermoso (84’); Llorente, Koke, Saúl (82’), Lemar; Correa (82’), Sequeira (82’), Suárez.
- Subs: Lodi (82’), Torreira (82’), Dembele (82’), Vitolo (84’).
Chelsea: Mendy; Azpilicueta ©, Christensen, Rüdiger; Hudson-Odoi (80’), Jorginho, Kovačić (74’), Alonso; Mount (74’), Werner (87’), Giroud (87’).
- Subs: Kanté (74’), Ziyech (74’), James (80’), Havertz (87’), Pulisic (87’).
Atlético Madrid (37%) vs Chelsea (63%).
Atlético Madrid (6) vs Chelsea (11).
Shots on target:
Atlético Madrid (0) vs Chelsea (5).
Atlético Madrid (5) vs Chelsea (6).
Atlético Madrid (9) vs Chelsea (21).
- (credit | BBC Sport).
- (credit | BT Sport).