Chelsea v Atletico Madrid: Jose Mourinho will be forced to get on front foot to reach Champions League final

To reach the final against Real Madrid, Mourinho’s side must forget the triumph at Anfield and move out of their comfort zone, writes Jack Pitt-Brooke

Three days after displaying one form of football brilliance, Chelsea must show a different one on Wednesday night. If Sunday in winning 2-0 at Liverpool was a perfect performance of reactive football, at Stamford Bridge they have another job, obliged to come out and beat an Atletico Madrid side who will themselves sit deep and try to counter-attack.

It is not precisely the scenario that Jose Mourinho wanted going into Wednesday night’s game as it forces Chelsea to adopt a style they are less adept at, the one thing that is just beyond their comfort zone, in coming out to unpick a regimented defence.

Chelsea, certainly, have a good chance of winning the game and going through – they are probably marginal favourites. Reaching a European Cup final is meant to be difficult, in demanding that teams adapt to different situations. But it is not going to be the type of game which Mourinho’s side excels at.

The performance at Anfield was exactly that. It was Chelsea’s best performance of Mourinho’s second tenure, even better than the 1-0 win at Manchester City in February, because of the intense momentum Liverpool came into the game with.

 

But Chelsea stopped them. With the back four tight and deep, and Nemanja Matic and John Obi Mikel sat just in front of them, the visitors starved Liverpool of space through the middle and forced them to go wide, which is not their natural style. Andre Schürrle and Mohamed Salah helped to impede them there, playing effectively as full-backs. Chelsea were also good enough on the break to score at the end of each half, for a well-deserved win.

Schürrle described it as the “perfect game” and he was right. Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager, said that it was “not difficult to coach, to just get 10 players right on the edge of your 18-yard box,” and he was not. If setting up like that was so easy, visiting teams would win at the Etihad Stadium and at Anfield more often. But they do not; only Chelsea have won at the former, only Chelsea and Southampton at the latter.

Sunday’s display may be the closest thing Mourinho has produced to arguably the signature match of his entire career. His Internazionale side went to Barcelona and, even after Thiago Motta’s first-half dismissal, limited the home side to a 1-0 win in the Nou Camp which sent Inter through to the 2010 Champions League final, which they won. Mourinho still speaks of that European Cup victory as the proudest achievement of his career.

On Wednesday night will be a very different game, though. Chelsea have a different obligation: to win the game. A defeat or a score draw takes Atletico through, while only a 0-0 stalemate sends the game into extra time. It leaves the tie perfectly balanced and Mourinho admitted, in the aftermath of the first leg in Madrid last week, that the draw was not as good a result as some thought. “If we score one goal in one of those situations the result would be very good,” he said of Chelsea’s few half-chances. “We didn’t.”

That was an immaculate defensive display from Chelsea, especially given their injuries, but it was not as complete a performance as at the Etihad or Anfield for the simple reason that they could not do it at the other end of the pitch.

Atletico were blunted, producing one of their least effective performances of an outstanding season. Like Chelsea, their best football is intense, organised, counter-attacking and ultimately reactive. On Sunday, a few hours after Chelsea’s victory, they produced a brilliant away performance of their own, winning 1-0 at Valencia to stay four points clear at the top of La Liga with just three matches left.

So if Chelsea are even slightly more open on Wednesday they will be playing far more into Atletico’s hands than they did in the first leg. There would be more space for Diego Costa or, should he play, David Villa, to attack. There  would be more room for Raul Garcia, Koke and Arda Turan to play with and, most probably, a better chance Atletico will score. “If they make space for us, we have to take advantage of it,” midfielder Mario Suarez said on Tuesday night. “That is what Atletico Madrid do in every game.”

It is in this type of game, of course, that Chelsea have struggled most this season. Their record against the best in the Premier League – two wins over Liverpool, two wins over Manchester City, four points from Arsenal – is exceptional. Their problems have come against the lesser sides, whom they have sometimes struggled to break down.

Chelsea have failed to score in seven of their league games this season, City in four and Liverpool in just three. This is the gap, however slight, between Chelsea and those other two teams. Where the west London side have lost ground recently has been in their failed attempts to get past sides who have set up to stop them from scoring: they lost 1-0 at Aston Villa and Crystal Palace in March, and were even beaten 2-1 at home by Sunderland earlier this month.

Mourinho has made clear why he thinks Chelsea have this problem, bemoaning his lack of “real strikers” after the 3-1 defeat at Paris Saint-Germain that nearly led to them being knocked out of the Champions League. With a player like Sergio Aguero or Luis Suarez – or, for that matter, Diego Costa – they would surely be in a far stronger position in all competitions.

But they do not and are still very dependent for game-changing ability on Eden Hazard, who should be back fit for the game, having limped out of the quarter-final second leg with PSG three weeks ago. Then Chelsea were obliged to pick open opponents at home and, of course, they ultimately did it, winning 2-0. However, they were not desperately convincing. The first goal was from a poorly defended long throw, the second, with three minutes left, a tap-in after a deflected shot. Atletico are a tougher team than PSG and the margins will be even finer.

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?