1. A badly defended bouncing ball can undo the best plans
Even for a team as well organised defensively as Chelsea had been for the first 135 minutes, there can be a problem of over-investment. They were looking comfortable at 1-0 up before the error that cost them the crucial away goal, more than an equaliser, which destroyed their balance.
Adrian’s goal just before half-time was a hammer blow, undoing two and a quarter hours – and far, far more on the training pitch – of rigorous hard work and organisation, and throwing the tie in Atletico’s favour. Chelsea had started this game as well set-up as they were in the first leg but when Juanfran darted down to the by-line, took down Tiago’s cross and played it back across the box, they could not cut it out. In the time it took the ball to fly past Ashley Cole, John Terry and Gary Cahill, and fall to the lurking Adrian Lopez, who put it in the net. Of course, had Chelsea played another way, who knows what would have happened, and Mourinho’s defensive football has achieved unprecedentedly successful results. But this was a reminder that a bouncing ball can destroy the best-laid plans.
2. Simeone is a match for Mourinho as a motivator
When Atletico Madrid knocked out Barcelona in the quarter-finals, Diego Simeone said that “sometimes the best team does not win, it is the one who is most convinced”. Atletico are team full of very good players, of course, but they are more than a sum of those, playing with a shared fervour and commitment that is instilled by their manager. In terms of personality-strength he is the equal of Mourinho, and the Atletico fans have a banner sang that he is not the ‘Special One’ but the ‘Sime One’. He was as ferocious in and outside his technical area as his players last night, charging up and down the touchline in his black boots, suit, skinny tie and coat, a picture of convinced charisma throughout.
3. Courtois' defiant display will cheer Chelsea
If Chelsea are looking for positives from this evening the best one might be the performance of Atletico Madrid’s goalkeeper. Despite the emphatic final score, for the first hour this tie was very much in the balance and Atletico needed Thibaut Courtois, on loan to them from Chelsea, to keep them in it. At 1-1, Courtois made a brilliant reaction save down low from a John Terry header from a Willian free-kick. Even at 1-2, when Chelsea still had time to win the game, Courtois turned over a David Luiz header that came flying at him from the inside of the post. Beyond that, his command of the box under aerial pressure was immaculate. Whenever the Chelsea goalkeeping handover happens, and it could be this summer, the future is in safe hands.
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4. Atletico are ruthless when they sniff opponents' flaws
What Chelsea need more than anything else is a player like Luis Suarez or Sergio Aguero up front. Those two are probably unattainable so Diego Costa might be the next best thing. He is not quite in their technical class but he showed a strength of character and appetite for mischief here that must appeal to Jose Mourinho, who bemoaned his lack of “real strikers” after Chelsea’s quarter-final first leg defeat in Paris. The only time Costa stopped moving was when he went down with a muscle injury in the second half. Before then he was relentless, showing for the ball, winning it in the air and running in behind. Ashely Cole and Gary Cahill needed desperate blocks to stop him before he eventually scored, taking as much time as he wanted over his penalty – a sign of mental fortitude – before placing it perfectly in the top corner. Mourinho can only have been impressed.
5. Costa could be the man Chelsea need
The European Cup final, when Madrid goes to Lisbon, will be furiously contested. Real Madrid were obviously always going to miss Xabi Alonso, their organiser and leader, but that must be even more true against Atletico Madrid than it would have been against Chelsea. The lesson of this second half, when Atletico tore into Chelsea, is that they are like sharks sniffing blood as soon as they sense weakness. They saw vulnerability in Chelsea and went for the throat. Diego Costa was endlessly troublesome, while Koke and Arda Turan, puckish and mischievous on either wing, broke into the box repeatedly. With Adrian Lopez darting around between them they were a swarm of menace. Xabi Alonso, of course, is football’s finest fireman, a specialist at both prevention and cure. Without him, and with Sami Khedira struggling for fitness, there is a weakness in the heart of that Madrid team too. If Atletico sense it, they will be ruthless.
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