Atletico Madrid 0-1 Chelsea: Five things we learnt as Tuchel’s Blues grab sensational away victory

The celebration of Chelsea’s players as they jumped up and down in joy after Olivier Giroud’s sensational overhead kick strike against Atletico Madrid was symbolic of a great European away performance.

Thomas Tuchel’s side set up to make Diego Simeone’s men suffer, but as the German manager admitted afterwards, that’s what Atleti do. Although there were signs of the same possession based pragmatism that Blues fans have seen in recent weeks, Chelsea’s patience was rewarded.

Although with fans in the ground, either back in Atletico Madrid’s home stadium or in Romania, the agonising wait for VAR to decide the fate of Giroud’s spectacular attempt would have been frustrating. There was no let up in the Chelsea players expressing their emotions when the goal was given.

In Tuchel’s biggest test in charge so far he saw his Chelsea team come out on top against one of Europe’s powerhouses of the past decade. Whether it’s the same Atletico Madrid as the one in 2014, 2016 or in the early stages of La Liga this season is another question. Chelsea’s victory shouldn’t be undermined though.

A memorable performance

Chelsea’s first victory in a Champions League knockout game since beating PSG 2-0 in 2014 was memorable. It was always going to be.

A new, rejuvenated Chelsea facing the faltering, though ultimately dominant Spanish league leaders. The defensive prowess against a high-pressing energetic counter press. Tuchel’s team needed to make the most of all ball recoveries and retentions.

This was though just as much a collective effort as it was a tactical battle. Throughout the Chelsea side it is hard to look back and see a weak link. Edouard Mendy wasn’t tested by a shot on target all night, though tried his best to cause the defence issues with some slack touches.

Outside of Mendy though, Chelsea’s team effort was gargantuan. Specifically, the fluid but still warrior like showing from Andreas Christensen perhaps highlighted the mistake made by Tuchel against Southampton. The Dane has come in for some stick whilst playing in a back four but has looked comfortable and re-energised alongside two fellow centre-backs.

It was a smooth, ball playing and commanding showing from Christensen, who couldn’t call on the experience of Thiago Silva either. Nevertheless it was a brilliant shut-out from Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta alongside Christensen.

Elsewhere, Chelsea’s tenacity was rewarded around the pitch. Mason Mount, who will miss the second leg due to his yellow card within the first minute, once again encompassed everything that Tuchel and Chelsea identify as.

Any questions that may (but really shouldn’t) hang over Mount have surely disappeared. Here, he demonstrated his ability against an elite, respected side.

His solo run in the second half was everything that brought Chelsea this victory. Effort, desire, skill and tenacity.

Chelsea show their needle against Atletico Madrid

If there was one word that you couldn’t use to describe Atletico Madrid or their manager, it’s soft. The constant commentary references to a typically ratty, unforgiving and ugly Luis Suarez performance is no slight on the Spaniards. This is what Simeone loves.

His side have always known how to kill time, slow games down and get in and around their opponents. This is a given and nothing to complain about. They should be commended for having the bravery to use this gameplan to disrupt the opposition, and make it work.

But, Chelsea have been labelled soft at times. A team with no backbone . Tuchel’s new men picked their time to change things up.

Perhaps a standout moment that encapsulated this was Rudiger and Suarez going head to head, literally, behind the Chelsea goal. There was no evidence to suggest Chelsea became ruffled or unsettled in Romania. This is a big sign that Tuchel is already having a good effect on Chelsea. Though it would have been embarrassing had Chelsea rolled over and succumbed to their opponents inevitable gamespersonship.

The Blues will have known to expect a disrupted game. Sly kicks, frustratingly cynical fouls and relentless energy in every asset of the game. Dealing with this is another challenge, one that Chelsea raised themselves for.

Not allowing themselves to fall foul to psychological tricks, red mist or possession frustration. This was a mature, away European night for the ages.

Chelsea's team celebrating their victory over Atletico Madrid
Chelsea’s team celebrating their victory over Atletico Madrid

Thomas Tuchel reigns supreme over Atletico Madrid counterpart Diego Simeone

The Blues have history with Simeone’s men and the juxtaposing styles of play made for an intriguing watch. Although there was a significant lack of chances in the match, the tactical battle that pursued was an eye-catcher in itself.

Was this all very predictable? Yes. It wouldn’t have taken a rocket scientist to guess that Atletico Madrid would sit back in a low-block and look to counter-punch Chelsea. It also wouldn’t have been that brave to hazard-a-guess that Chelsea would look to dominate the ball and press their opponents back line when the possession was lost.

What was so impressive though was how easily Chelsea managed to limit the service towards the dangerous duo of Suarez and Joao Felix. Whereas, against Southampton there was a general consensus that Tuchel didn’t need an extra defender, that body at the back against Atletico worked a treat against the Madrid side.

It allowed Azpilicueta to push up into midfield on occasions to press the ball, Rudiger could cover for Marcos Alonso who held a high line and Chelsea didn’t allow their hosts to counter-attack consistently.

Although the Blue’s knew that their opponents would sit back, maintaining pressure and ensuring a siege feel to the game is a different challenge. One that on the whole, they managed.

It was a team effort in Romania, every Chelsea player stepped up to the challenge Atletico Madrid presented
It was a team effort in Romania, every Chelsea player stepped up to the challenge Atletico Madrid presented

Outstanding Olivier shines in Romania

The man for the big occasion. Chelsea’s Europa League specialist and now Champions League weapon. Giroud’s spectacular overhead kick was the moment of gold that his side needed.

Against a world-class goalkeeper in Jan Oblak it was going to need a special moment a that is just what fans got. Another of the commonly used commentary terms was referring to the Frenchman’s need to act as a ‘wall’ for the Chelsea players to bounce off of. He delivered.

Against three centre-backs himself, Giroud was tasked with leading the Chelsea line and making the most of any half chances he would get. To say it was a chance would take away from Giroud but, when it comes to the Frenchman doing this sort of thing, he’s made a habit out of it.

Atletico Madrid still have to come to England

This is a vital point. One that Tuchel wasn’t ignoring either. Chelsea are only halfway there. This is a gigantic victory but on its own, doesn’t get them through to the next round.

The away goal does mean that Atletico Madrid will need two goals to progress, but it isn’t close to being written in stone. With the likely returning players from injury and Chelsea’s own suspension issues, it isn’t worth planning for the quarter-finals yet.

This was an immense night and performance for Chelsea and Tuchel. They now have a mouth watering top four clash with Manchester United coming up at the weekend and Liverpool, Everton and Leeds still to play before the return leg.

For now, Chelsea have given themselves a great chance of progressing and are in a better position than many would have expected before kick off in Romania.

Written and edited by Tom Coley @tomcoley49

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