Here are our talking points from Chelsea’s excellent 1-0 victory away at Atletico Madrid on Tuesday night
Thomas Tuchel’s big night
It was supposed to be the acid test of Tuchel’s reign so far at Chelsea when taking one of Europe’s most-feared teams on the neutral ground in Bucharest on Tuesday night.
The fifth-best side in England were taking on the best side in Spain, a team that has perennially reached the latter stages of the Champions League against a side in Chelsea that hasn’t made it past the last 16 round in nine years.
But it was Tuchel’s side who outplayed their “hosts”, playing in Romania thanks to the Spanish government’s decision to not allow arrivals from England into their country. Chelsea were still the visitors regardless and they came away with a priceless away goal thanks to Olivier Giroud’s second half stunner.
You know what you are going to get from a Diego Simeone side as two managerial heavyweights clashed in eastern Europe. The Argentine likes his teams to defend stoutly and play on the counter.
Tuchel’s side like to have all of the ball and essentially wear you down, eventually finding the killer pass or cross to break through that defensive shield. That said, the match was still a struggle for Chelsea to create chances, as we have seen a fair bit since Tuchel arrived.
The goal came out of nothing when it didn’t look like a goal was coming as Giroud kept in the air to execute a fabulous overhead kick that beat Oblak. It was going to take a moment of quality to break the deadlock and that’s exactly what it took.
Tuchel has settled on his 3-4-1-2 system now and it has been working a treat. He is still yet to lose at Chelsea head coach and while goals have not flowed, they have been scored in every game apart from his very first against Wolves.
Goals are not being conceded either as the Blues have still conceded only twice since he took charge and one of those was an own goal. The other came five days ago.
I am super happy for my players and the team for such a big reward,” Tuchel said post-match.
“We actually can read it on the score line that we have the result against top opponents. It was very important that we are absolutely concentrated over all 96 minutes.
“That we also accept that it’s very hard to create chances, but we did all that and it was a very good team effort.”
For now, Tuchel can do no wrong and the decision to replace Frank Lampard with the former PSG manager is now looking like a shrewd move from Roman Abramovich, Petr Cech and Marina Granovskaia.
The trophy Abramovich craves most of all is the Champions League and while the Blues aren’t necessarily the favourites to win it, they have one of the most well-equipped squads to do so.
They are halfway there against Atletico and the Blues don’t need to be reminded that Simeone’s side can score away from home, see how they ended Liverpool’s reign as European champions last season.
But Tuchel can depart Bucharest and head back to London knowing he got it absolutely spot on against another elite level coach in Simeone. Chelsea outplayed, outperformed, outthought and outfought the La Liga leaders.
You’d have got decent odds from the bookies before the game on this one ending 0-0 so it was no surprise as we headed towards the 70 minute mark that the game was on a knife edge and scoreless.
Then Olivier Giroud popped up with the most spectacular goal that would prove to be the difference in a game that was always going to be decided by either a moment of individual brilliance or a mistake.
Mason Mount knew the Frenchman had scored, as you can see below.
Giroud’s overhead kick past Jan Oblak was a thing of beauty, despite the raw emotion of the celebration being somewhat diminished thanks to a near three-minute VAR check as the officials tried to work out who the ball had flicked up off.
It turned out it had come off the boot of Atletico’s Mario Hermoso, not Blues midfielder Mason Mount, and the goal was given.
The last time the veteran striker played a Spanish side in the Champions League, he helped himself to four goals against Sevilla. While not in Spain this time owing to coronavirus travel restrictions, he put another Spanish side to the sword.
Typically understated afterwards, Giroud said: “We know the importance of the away goal in European cups, that is why I was very pleased to help the team to win this game.
“We managed the game well and we were confident, but we faced obviously a great team and we were very, very committed.
“We knew their main strengths and I think we dealt with that. Now we just need to stay focused and finish the job at home.
“I love overhead kicks and I was pleased to see the ball hit the back of the net.
“To be honest I had no clue about being offside or not, Mase [Mason Mount] told me he didn’t touch the ball so it came from the defender, but apparently I was not off. It is good for the team and good for me.”
Giroud was Chelsea’s top scorer on their run to winning the Europa League in Baku, scored crucial goals late last season after the first lockdown to secure a top four spot for Frank Lampard and is now delivering again in Europe.
The £18million Chelsea spent to bring him across London from Arsenal has been an incredible bit of business. It is well-known he is out of contract at the end of this campaign but on this evidence, Chelsea would be mad to let him go.
The 34-year-old showed the athleticism of someone ten years his junior to get off the ground and hit the volley with a swinging left foot past the stranded Oblak.
He is now Chelsea’s third leading goalscorer in European competitions with 18, moving ahead of Fernando Torres and behind only former manager Lampard and Didier Drogba in the standings.
Andreas Christensen fills the Thiago Silva void – and then some
Many Chelsea fans, and probably Tuchel, were hoping that veteran defender Thiago Silva would have been fit to play on Tuesday night to help combat the threat of the wily yet still prolific Luis Suarez and the lively Joao Felix.
But it mattered not as Andreas Christensen put in a commanding performance at the heart of Chelsea’s backline to help secure a precious away clean sheet to add to Giroud’s wonder goal.
In truth, Christensen would have expected a much tougher night in Bucharest than what actually transpired. Atletico are a defensive-minded team, of course, but they still know where the goal is.
However, they were almost too cautious and too defensive against the Blues, they were made to pay for their near complete lack of ambition. There were some important clearances that the Dane had to make late on as Atletico finally tried to make something of the contest but Edouard Mendy was a virtual spectator for the whole 90 minutes as Chelsea kept their opponents very much at arm’s length.
Christensen and his defenders, apart from one moment from Antonio Rudiger when he squared up to Suarez, refused to be bought by his tactics as the striker single-handedly tried to wind Chelsea up in a move that surprised pretty much no-one. He was probably bored and frustrated by Atletico’s monotonous negativity.
Christensen has been preferred to Kurt Zouma for his ability in a back three, whereas Zouma is clearly more comfortable in a two. There was surprise when the Dane was not in the starting eleven for the draw at Southampton but in hindsight, maybe it was a clever move by Tuchel to keep him fresh for Atletico and knowing Silva likely wouldn’t have made it.
When the Brazilian went down stretching for the ball Tottenham Hotspur Stadium three weeks ago, Blues fans feared the worst. The initial diagnosis, if a little optimistic, was that his thigh injury would only keep him out until the Saints game.
There was good news last week when Silva was pictured back in training but knowing how crucial he is to the team, Tuchel has held him back. It is excellent management from the German.
He cant fail to have been thrilled with how Christensen, who was a candidate to be sold in the summer, in January and also this upcoming summer, has deputised for the experienced centre half. He is in the position on merit and does Silva walk back into the team when fully fit?
Arguably yes but you’d feel a bit of sorrow for Christensen, who has performed so well in Silva’s absence and it’s not far off saying that the performance in Bucharest was a coming of age display for the defender who has never quite managed to hold down a regular starting berth in west London.
Christensen has been only conceded one goal when he has been a part of the side and that was the own goal Antonio Rudiger netted against Sheffield United. Only Takumi Minamino has breached Tuchel’s defence as an opposition player since late January and Christensen wasn’t on the pitch.
Absences for second leg
It was an excellent night on the pitch for Chelsea as they secured a priceless lead to take back to London next month for the return leg but it came at a cost for tow of Tuchel’s most important and influential players.
Mason Mount and Jorginho are both ruled out of the second clash with Atletico after picking up yellow cards in Bucharest. It was the third caution for both players of the competition this season, meaning they will have to serve a ban at Stamford Bridge.
Mount received his booking just 40 seconds into the game after bringing down Joao Felix as he bore down on the Blues backline.
Felix was also the opponent when Jorginho’s name was taken down by the referee but the Italian arguably stopped what looked to be a promising Atletico counter attack as he took one for the team.
Both players have been regulars under Tuchel, Mount didn’t start the Wolves game or the Barnsley FA Cup tie but that’s it, while Jorginho only missed the victory at Oakwell and was rested for the visit to Southampton at the weekend.
Tuchel said post-match regarding Mount’s ban and said: “And don’t forget also Jorginho, we will miss two crucial players, it makes things not easy for us.
But I am very happy with the performance of everybody, that includes Mason of course. Again, a good effort, a big effort, high workrate, high intensity like we are used to when he plays like this. He has a big impact on our team.
“Honestly, we now play Man Utd, Everton, Liverpool and Leeds, it is good like this. We cannot get comfortable, we cannot get lazy. These games will push us to our limits, then we will think about our solutions for the second leg.”
Tuchel has settled on a midfield pivot of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic since he took over which has left Kante out in the cold, though the World Cup winner was back to his best in the draw with Southampton and played a key role in keeping Atletico at bay on Tuesday after his 76th minute introduction.
Losing a player like Jorginho and replacing him with Kante is not exactly the worst fate that could befall Tuchel but you would expect Kante to get some more regular minutes over the next four matches before Atletico pitch up in London for the second game.
Mount’s miss will be more crucial though as he has often been the player that has looked most like unlocking the opposition defence in games in recent weeks after Tuchel left him on the bench for his opening game against Wolves.
Mount’s dynamism in midfield was a big factor in the reign of Lampard and now Tuchel, who is fully aware of how important the England international is to his side. None more so than on Tuesday night, despite being on an early booking and potentially a last warning as well from the official Felix Brych.
Atletico will have to come to Stamford Bridge and ditch their uber-cautious tactics next month as they have to score at least one goal to get back in the tie, so the inclusion of defensive machine Kante is no bad thing.
Mount’s absence will be more of a test though as Tuchel’s side has been struggling in what he famously calls the “last 20 metres” and will be hoping that the midfielder’s absence won’t be felt too much on March 17.
Callum Hudson-Odoi responds to Tuchel’s tough love
A lot was made of Tuchel’s decision to haul off the England winger just 31 minutes after coming off the bench against Southampton, despite Tuchel’s repeated attempts to play things down.
The 20-year-old was made an example of by Tuchel at St Mary’s despite his good start to life under the German tactician.
He knows exactly what I demand from him and when he doesn’t reach this level, maybe it leads to a hard decision,” Tuchel said at the weekend
“But there is no need to think in old-fashioned terms that this is the worst thing that can ever happen, no. Tomorrow, it’s already over and maybe he starts against Atletico.”
There is no better way to get over any lingering doubt you might have had as a player than your coach starting you in the very next game and a massive one at that in a Champions League last 16 tie.
Hudson-Odoi was positioned at right wing-back once again, where he has been given the freedom to express himself by Tuchel and is the main player offering width on that side of the pitch.
He had a good game defensively up against Thomas Lemar, tracking back effectively to help out Cesar Azpilicueta and played a big role in putting enough pressure on Lemar when the Frenchman should have had a simple finish at the back post with Edouard Mendy floundering in the middle of his goal.
Hudson-Odoi was also one of the Blues’ biggest threats going forward though they seemed reluctant to spread the ball wide too often. Olivier Giroud cut an isolated figure in the middle as the visitors didn’t play to his strengths.
But Tuchel showed just how highly he values Hudson-Odoi but throwing him straight back in from the start against Atletico despite his, in his head coach’s eyes, poor cameo at the weekend that didn’t meet expectations.
Hudson-Odoi will continue to get plenty of chances under Tuchel but the winger knows that he certainly will not be able to rest on his laurels or he will find himself out of the team very quickly.
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