At the National Arena, Bucharest, Romania, Diego Simeone came out with the intent to negate the opponent with bloody-mindedness. There was plenty of Atleti players parking the bus, the midfield was tried to make stagnant and the spaces were blocked so that the Chelsea of Thomas Tuchel could not breathe. Then there was the provocation of Luis Suarez. But still, the plans of Simeone were disturbed by one spectacular strike by Olivier Giroud.

Thomas Tuchel gave Chelsea freedom to express themselves – liberated, Chelsea stood up to be counted. They refused to rise to Luis Suarez’s provocation and they punished Atletico’s grinding negativity.

The Blues were solid and professional at the back after recovering from a slow start, they were mature and precise in midfield and they were inspired when their first clear sight of goal.

Tuchel opted for a back three and in the absence of the big Thiago Silva, Andreas Christiensen impressed by limiting the passing lanes of Atleti, while Callum Hudson-Odoi was positive at right wing-back.

The midfield moved well to aid the front line and continued to challenge the negative tactics – Jorginho and Kovacic dictated the play while Mason Mount was inspiring.

Tuchel has transformed into a solid, well-drilled unit in under a month, and they passed their toughest test yet by out-thinking and outplaying Simeone.

At one point the frustration of Atletic was epitomized by Suarez testing Chelsea with his niggles off the ball and squaring up to Antonio Rudiger at one stage. Rudiger refused to be drawn in and Chelsea, who have a wonderful chance of progressing beyond the last 16 for the first time since 2014, focused on letting their superior football do the talking.

Joa Felix was the only player from Atletico Madrid who showed the intent to move with the ball and the fouls on his would cost the Blues badly because Mount and Jorginho would miss the return leg due to suspension – both received yellow cards. Felix could pose a threat with his movement and attacking runs behind the defensive lines.

Why Atleti were such stagnant on the pitch remained a moot question – they have so good attacking players at the center of the park and upfront that they could have exploited the skittish start of the Blues –  Edouard Mendy almost gifted Saul Níguez a calamitous goal after dithering with a back pass.

Chelsea’s goalkeeper got away with it. Soon, though, Tuchel was remonstrating with Rudiger and Marcos Alonso after they left a bouncing ball to each other on the right. Suarez nipped in, stealing possession before crossing for Thomas Lemar to poke wide with Mendy stranded.

Simeone decided to stay behind the ball and the Blues settled – gained more control over the ball and as the match progressed, their composure hinted, they deserved the away-win.

Chelsea enjoyed 71% possession in the first half, though creating chances was difficult. Timo Werner had their best moment, darting in from the left before testing Jan Oblak.

Tuchel’s work on precision in the final third was showing – Chelsea were running down dead ends and there always seemed to be a red and white shirt in the way. Atleti, organized despite the absence of Jose Maria Gimenez, compressed the space and it summed them up when Simeone was booked on the touchline.

Chelsea had nothing to fear and Mount refused to stop probing. In the 67th minute, a cross came into the Atleti area from the left. The ball looped up into the air, Mount challenging Mario Hermoso, who diverted it to Giroud. The 34-year-old produced a moment of genius, using his left foot to beat Oblak with a powerful overhead kick.

Although the flag went up for offside against Giroud, a lengthy VAR review confirmed that the final touch came off Hermoso.

“They invested a lot in young players and, after they saw the investment didn’t pay off, then they brought in Tuchel,” Simeone told reporters at Arena Nationala. “Since he came in, they have had a good change in their numbers.”

Meanwhile, Tuchel said to BT Sports, “We never let them breathe. We never gave them any chances to counterattack.”


But the job is not finished yet. Still, the Atleti threat remains with such a slender lead and still, Tuchel needs to work polishing his superstars – Timo Werner, Christian Pulisic, Kai Harvetz, and Hakim Ziyech.

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