To come unstuck against a table-topping side in Spain, which includes one of the world’s best goalkeepers and one of the world’s best strikers, is nothing to be ashamed of. But the manner in which Chelsea bowed out — conceding a ghastly three goals at their own fortress — was insurmountable, despite Torres giving the Blues the early advantage. What went wrong for Chelsea last night?
The answer is frustratingly straight-forward. Quite simply, Chelsea did not park the bus. The home side, famed for their defensive prowess, failed to utilise that exact strength of theirs. Instead, Chelsea opted to attack, and whilst admirable, it did not do the job.
Jose Mourinho has had to answer many critics of late regarding his style. He also now has to answer further questions as to whether he is a ‘nearly man’, because no other manager has lost in six Champions League semi-finals. It is a startling fall from grace for a man who could have written more positive history by becoming the first manager to win three Champions League trophies with different clubs.
But it was not to be. And, most baffling of all, it might be the Special One’s fault.
Right from the off, anyone could see Chelsea did not attempt to park the bus. Many were expecting Chelsea to keep it tight for 0-0 and then perhaps pinch a late goal to prevail by the single goal. But Mourinho, understanding that if Atletico did score it would be hugely significant, boldly opted to attack for the two goals which gives his side at least room for one mistake.
It back-fired spectacularly. Koke’s early shot was a warning sign, looping over Schwarzer before Chelsea were saved by the underside of the bar. It was to be the only real let-off.
But it could have panned out so differently. Chelsea had seized the initiative: Azpilicueta playing as right-wing looked an inspired tactic as the Spaniard set up fellow compatriot Torres to side-foot home past Courtois.
The Atletico back-line have been, by and large, impenetrable this season. Chelsea had managed it.
But Chelsea, ignorantly, refused to park the bus thereafter. Whether it was ego or tactical naivety by Mourinho, this was not the game to experiment. The huge majority of Chelsea players did not even look like they knew what they were doing, immensely uncharacteristic of a Mourinho side. Individual errors came from too many players ball-watching. Perhaps, had it been 1-0 at the break, Mourinho would have changed it at half-time. That result never came because Mark Schwarzer was caught in no man’s land and Cahill was caught ball-watching when he should have gotten closer to Adrian. Samuel Eto’o’s challenge on Costa was needless, and the entirety of Chelsea’s defence was again at sea as Turan tapped home a ball that, granted, found him fortuitously after a few ricochets and bounces. But you prepare for the worst and Chelsea just kept ball-watching.
In perspective, Chelsea did not deserve to go to Lisbon. The Blues are not even one of the top two sides in England, let alone top two in Europe. Atletico Madrid have been great this season in the league but to do great in Europe’s premier competition you would have thought you needed experience, something which Chelsea have in abundance relative to Atletico Madrid, who will play only their first major European final for 40 years. Despite this supposed superior know-how, Chelsea shot themselves in the foot. Regardless, it is a satisfactory achievement — semi-final of the Champions League and guaranteed top three in England — by a manager still trying to re-find his feet at Chelsea.
But quite frankly, this was a match which Jose Mourinho wanted to win without parking a bus. Maybe the media critics had gotten to him. His press conference words had already been thought up: “You philosophers who moan about a negative Chelsea, I hope you see that we can win whilst playing attacking football.”
It was there to be said. But his men could not deliver. In hindsight, perhaps had Hazard not been fit — he was hardly fully fit anyway — then Chelsea might have stuck more rigidly. But they fancied their chances, when there was nothing to be grasped.
And, with all probability, Mourinho ends his first season back home trophy-less. His defensive style can be justified, provided results follow too. It did not last night. A reaction is needed next season, where something must be won.