The Blues once again showed an inability to marry defensive solidity with attacking ambition, and their lack of balance will likely leave them trophyless
By Liam Twomey
As he sullenly watched his Chelsea side being taken apart by Atletico Madrid from the Stamford Bridge touchline, Jose Mourinho’s mind might well have drifted back to the words he had spoken to the assembled media the day before.
“A team that doesn't defend well doesn't have many chances to win,” he insisted with defiance in his eyes. “A team that doesn't score lots of goals, if they concede lots of goals, is in trouble. A team without balance is not a team.”
For all the tiresome talk of parked buses and anti-football, this was a match which defied expectation. Or at least it did from the 36th minute, when Fernando Torres apologetically broke a high-octane deadlock against his former club. But the narrative of the faded Spaniard once again proving Chelsea’s unlikeliest of European talisman did not last long.
Instead, the story of the evening proved to be the kind of sloppy defensive mistakes which have all but derailed this team’s Premier League title charge and look likely to leave them trophyless.
It is a side of the game Chelsea have invariably got right on the big occasions this season, but it undermined them on the biggest of all on Wednesday evening.
Despite Mourinho’s obsession with “balance”, it is an ideal that has remained largely elusive since his return to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea’s most unwavering performances at the back against top opposition have been achieved by reverting to the kind of ultra-defensive football which underpinned the miraculous Champions League triumph of 2012.
It was the style which enabled them to shut down Diego Simeone’s men superbly at the Vicente Calderon a week ago, even if Mourinho’s unwillingness to as much as look for an away goal always seemed dangerous bordering on foolish.
But at Stamford Bridge the home side once again proved themselves incapable of marrying continued attacking intent with defensive solidity. At 1-0 Chelsea had the advantage but knew they needed more to be truly comfortable attempting to shut the back door on one of Europe’s finest teams.
The uncertainty showed in Atletico’s 44th-minute equaliser, when Tiago was allowed all the time in the world to chip the ball to the back post, Eden Hazard allowed Juanfran to drift beyond him to keep the ball alive, and three Chelsea defenders opted to mark the space rather than Adrian.
On 54 minutes, Mourinho elected to throw the dice earlier than expected and bring on Samuel Eto’o, and the striker committed the error which killed the game while far out of his comfort zone in his own penalty area.
Diego Costa smashed home the spot-kick within moments of Thibaut Courtois pulling off what Mourinho flatteringly described as an “impossible save” from John Terry’s header. Perhaps both of Atletico’s star men beginning next season at Stamford Bridge will give the Special One the balance he craves. Arda Turan's fortuitous third created a fairer reflection of the second-half superiority of Diego Simeone's men.
Chelsea can only reflect. Mourinho has lost his sixth Champions League semi-final in eight attempts, while his club have been vanquished by a team assembled with vastly inferior resources or experience at this level. Meanwhile, Terry's face at the final whistle laid bare the pain of a man who has been denied a second chance at personal redemption in European club football's greatest showpiece. He may not get another.
In one of the lighter moments of his pre-match press conference, Mourinho joked that he would be going to Lisbon for a holiday regardless of whether his team made the final. He might want to avoid booking the weekend of May 24.
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