Champions League: Mourinho's Chelsea grinds out 0-0 draw at Atletico
There was nothing between the two sides in the first leg of the first Champions League semifinal, as Chelsea and Atletico Madrid drew 0-0 at Estadio Vicente Calderon. Here is what caught the eye on a tense evening in the Spanish capital:
Man of the Match: Jose Mourinho, Chelsea manager
Mourinho was back in Madrid for the first time since leaving Real Madrid last summer after three tempestuous years. He was up against counterpart Diego Simeone, with whom his last encounter ended with him being sent off in the Copa del Rey final. And amid all that, it came on the day that David Moyes was sacked at Manchester United, a job that sources close to Mourinho indicated that he had wanted last year. Mourinho's past and present were all too clear at the Vicente Calderon as he sent out a Chelsea team designed to defend. That it stuck to its task -- despite injuries in each half to Petr Cech and John Terry -- was credit to the Chelsea coach and his tactics.
But the game left us with two questions: Was it necessary for Chelsea to give us a throwback to the Chelsea of 2012, when the team defied all odds to get past Napoli, Benfica, Barcelona and Bayern Munich to lift the trophy two years ago? Mourinho was hailed a tactical genius by the British commentators during the game, but is 0-0 really such a good first-leg result away from home?
Given that away goals are the tiebreaker, you'd imagine that Atletico, which was the only team looking to score in this game (over 20 shots to Chelsea's five), would be happier with the outcome. One away goal at Stamford Bridge would have Chelsea needing two; and as Mourinho pointed out before the quarterfinal against PSG, it might have an extra half an hour to get the away goal if the game goes to extra time. Still, Chelsea kept a clean sheet, and for Mourinho, still the main story in Madrid, that was job done.
"Atletico needed to win this game and we stopped them from doing it," Mourinho told Sky Italia after the game. "We played a solid game. We frustrated Atletico, whereas normally they're the ones who frustrate others. I told our players not to keep the ball too much, because Atletico press well."
Moment of the Game: Petr Cech's injury
Goalkeepers were always going to play a major part in this game, with Chelsea owning Atletico's on-loan No. 1 Thibaut Courtois. But the opportunity to compare the Belgian directly with Cech lasted only 17 minutes. That was how long Cech was on the pitch, before going off injured after David Luiz shoved Raul Garcia into his ribs. Will Cech be fit for the second leg? It's too early to say, though the Blues will certainly hope so: not that Mark Schwarzer did much wrong, unlike on Saturday when his spill allowed Sunderland to equalize on its way to inflicting a first Stamford Bridge defeat in Mourinho's two spells at Chelsea.
Schwarzer handled every corner and cross well -- excepting one weak punch that fell to Diego Ribas, who could not get his shot in -- and can expect another game on Sunday. Chelsea is in the bizarre situation of facing EPL-leading Liverpool over the weekend, but it might just rest players ahead of this second leg while in the midst of a title chase. And look out for the lesser-spotted Henrique Hilario, whose last game was in August 2011, who could be on the bench at Anfield.
In fact, Liverpool was probably the biggest winner of the night, as midway through the second half, Luiz inadvertently trod on Terry's foot and the Chelsea center back had to limp off early. In his last Champions League semifinal in Spain, two years ago, he was sent off in the first half against Barcelona for a foul on Alexis Sanchez. This time, though, it was his own player who took him out.
How the Second Leg Shapes Up
Both teams will have very different midfields, not least because Chelsea's Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel and Atletico's Gabi all picked up yellow cards and will be suspended for the second leg on accumulation. If that doesn't leave many bodies in the Chelsea camp, the blow is arguably greater for Atletico, whose captain, Gabi, is the heartbeat of this side.
With Arda Turan now fit after his three-week lay-off, you can expect Atletico to set up in its usual 4-4-2 set-up, with Raul Garcia alongside Costa up front. Garcia was much more involved when he played centrally as Atletico pushed for the opener in the second period.
Chelsea will have to make changes, too. Will Cech and Terry make it? Who will replace Lampard and Mikel in midfield? Will Eden Hazard, out with a calf strain, inject the creativity and pace that Chelsea lacked in Spain?
This result leaves both coaches able to say they are happy with the result. It also leaves the tie on a knife-edge. Given the players available to either side, Atletico has the slightest of advantages -- even though, in European Cup history, the home side that draws the first leg 0-0 has only about a 33 percent chance of progressing to the next round.