So, that’s it then. Goodbye Champions League, see you in February. Chelsea missed out on finishing at the top of their group thanks to a 1-1 draw at home with Atletico Madrid. Requiring a win in order to have any chance of going through to the next round, Atletico just did not create enough clear-cut opportunities of their own and spent the majority of their time trying to keep Chelsea at bay. They now drop down into the Europa League where Arsenal, so used to drawing the short straw, might run into Diego Costa and co.
Anyway, here’s what we thought of the game.
#1 Rest For The Weary
This was probably the first time in around 289 matches that Marcos Alonso was able to put his feet up and take a nap on the bench. Because of the lack of any viable alternatives at left wing back, Alonso has been running non-stop on the left and losing his effectiveness with every game. A well-earned rest allowed Davide Zappacosta to switch to the left and try to use his left peg for once. Moses retained his spot at right wing back, while Bakayoko came back into the fold alongside Kante and Fabregas. Captain Cahill replaced Rudiger in defence, with Christensen starting to become ever-present in addition to Azpilicueta. The dynamic duo of Eden and Alvaro ensured there was enough firepower. This was a much stronger lineup than most people expected Conte to send out. This was a team aiming to win.
#2 Tiemoue Trying Too Hard
Let’s get one thing straight – Tiemoue Bakayoko is not a waste of money and anyone who thinks he is, needs to start watching a different sport. Despite Ray Wilkins’ indignation, which was borne of his anger at the sale of the young and English Nathaniel Chalobah more than anything else, Bakayoko has more experience, more quality and more potential than Nate. Underneath those mistakes and the eagerness to impress lies an immensely talented footballer, who is still adapting to a new environment and a new style of play in a vastly different league, without having a pre-season with his new team. Against Atletico, Bakayoko did nothing to silence his doubters, conceding needless freekicks all over the pitch and then losing his man for the visitors’ goal. He was substituted soon after, but give the lad some time and he’ll prove his mettle. It might be next season before we see what he’s really capable of.
#3 Take A Chance On Me
Against a team like Atletico who were under pressure to win, Chelsea did not have any trouble creating chances at all. It was only when it came to converting them that we fell short. But you couldn’t say the forwards ‘squandered’ their chances. Quite the opposite, in fact, was true. The Atletico goalkeeper, Jan Oblak, acted as a one man wall in front of goal and kept out everything Chelsea could throw at him. That it took a deflection via his own man to beat him says it all, really. Chelsea had two of the most straightforward opportunities to score when Christensen put his header wide, and when Willian shot for the moon despite having plenty of time to place his shot anywhere within the frame of the goal. But that wasn’t his only ‘contribution’.
#4 Wasteful Willian
Willian has had a couple of really good games coming into this one, so it wasn’t a stretch to imagine that he’d keep up his form against Atletico. But alas, after he came on for Zappacosta, Willian reverted to the worst version of him. Apart from blasting his shot when set up by Hazard, his decision-making was appalling. Twice he had an opportunity to release the ball and create a goal-scoring opportunity, but each time he dithered and dallied and was too slow to play the pass, and the move came to nothing. Mostly, he was just getting in people’s way and stepping on his teammates’ toes. A great example of a wasted substitution, if ever there was one.
#5 Nice Guys Finish Second
In the other game in Group C, Roma beat Qarabag to move level on points with Chelsea and top the group on head-to-head results. So Chelsea came second, which usually means a tougher draw in the Round of 16. But seeing as how the other groups finished, we were going to get a strong team even if we topped the group. So no harm, no foul. Gotta beat the best to be the best and all that jazz.
The Blues now return to league action on the weekend with a visit to the not-so-happy Hammers, where David Moyes must be licking his lips at the prospect of facing an in-form Eden Hazard. Or not.