Champions League: Atletico Madrid tops Chelsea, seals all-Madrid final
Jose Mourinho's Champions League semifinal misfortune struck for a fourth consecutive year, as Atletico Madrid beat Chelsea 3-1 at Stamford Bridge to earn a final place in Lisbon against neighbor Real Madrid. It will be the first time two teams from the same city have competed in a European cup final. Here is what caught our eye from Wednesday's result in London:
Man of the Match: Tiago Mendes, Atletico Madrid
There was not quite the fanfare surrounding the return of Tiago Mendes to Stamford Bridge that we saw in the round of 16 when Didier Drogba returned with Galatasaray, but the effect was altogether more decisive.
Atletico fans concerned about the suspension of Gabi, so important to the midfield this season, needed not to have worried; Tiago was a steady presence in the center of the field, and his vision set up the visitors' first and third goals, with floated cross-field passes releasing right back Juanfran behind Eden Hazard on both occasions.
Tiago was a Premier League winner under Jose Mourinho in 2004-05 and spoke before the game of the similarities between his ex-boss and Diego Simeone, for whom every decision paid off perfectly in London - from the call to start Adrian Lopez, the first goalscorer, ahead of Raul Garcia, and to restore Arda Turan, scorer of the third, to the team.
"When you think of both you immediately see not just the figure of a coach, but of a leader," Tiago told El Pais last week. "These are two very similar teams and two coaches who know exactly what they are playing for. Mou puts himself inside your head. Simeone instils an idea in you too."
If it was a clash between the two coaches, there was only one winner.
Mourinho, it might be said, was even panicked into making a substitution too early, bringing on Samuel Eto'o at 1-1 with 40 minutes still to play. Was he chasing the game too early? It was Eto'o who conceded the second-half penalty which as good as killed the contest.
A word on the penalty scorer, too: Diego Costa gave John Terry a bruising encounter in Madrid and, though he had little to feed on here, it was the same story. If this was a job interview for a role at Chelsea next season, Costa passed with flying colors: he has the physique, power, and eye for goal that reminiscent of Didier Drogba in his pomp - just the type of player, in fact, that would fit perfectly into a Mourinho side.
He also showed impressive composure with a nerve-wracking penalty. He struggled to keep the ball from rolling off a divot on the penalty spot, and was booked for taking over a minute to spot the ball. As the time passed, the Chelsea players surrounded him to increase the pressure, and indeed his thinking time before the kick. When it came, the kick was decisive: even though he had missed four penalties this season, Costa smashed the ball into the roof of the net. That made it 2-1 but it was Turan's goal, Atletico's third that was created by Tiago and Juanfran, that provided the coup de grace.
Moment of the Day: Adrian gets the away goal
Fernando Torres' opening goal did not change too much for Atletico, which, penalties aside, always needed an away goal to progress. That its goal came so soon after Chelsea's summed up the story of the day in London, where subway strikes left fans relying on buses, just a few days after Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers accused Mourinho of parking "two buses" in front of its goal in last week's win at Anfield. So we waited two hours and six minutes for one goal between these teams, then two came in seven minutes.
Adrian's equalizer was a huge turning point, coming one minute before the halftime break and requiring Mourinho to push for a second goal. It could have been avoided too, coming as the result of a series of defensive errors, starting with Hazard losing Juanfran at the far post, Terry and Ashley Cole failing to cut out the cross, and Adrian with the time to hit the ball into the ground and see it canon into the top corner.
Adrian's selection was another perfect decision from Simeone: he provided more pace on the counter than Raul Garcia, but also has a a habit of making it count in the big games, as he was fantastic in the win over Barcelona in the last round. The fact that he had gone 21 games without a goal? No problem.
Thibaut Courtois, playing his first game at Stamford Bridge, nearly three years after signing for Chelsea, also reacted smartly to a John Terry header soon after the goal, and the more Chelsea pushed, the more secure Courtois looked. He did need the post to save him from a David Luiz header. But when Mourinho looks back at the game, he will know that the loss of concentration just before halftime changed this tie.
How Atletico Madrid stacks up against Real Madrid
No one would dare admit it, but you would imagine Real Madrid would rather have faced Chelsea than its local rival in the final in Lisbon. Since Diego Simeone came to Atletico Madrid, one of his greatest achievements has been to end his team's curse against Real Madrid: a run of 25 games and 14 years without a win.
That came in the Copa del Rey final last season - ironically when Mourinho was coaching the side - and since then, Atletico has beaten Madrid at the Bernabeu (1-0, Diego Costa) and drawn 2-2 at Estadio Vicente Calderon. In between there was a Copa del Rey semifinal that Real Madrid won 5-0 on aggregate.
Despite that, Simeone is proving himself a master of the cup competitions, winning the Europa League and European Super Cup (against Chelsea) as well as the Copa del Rey. His Atletico side is unbeaten in Europe this season and has only conceded six goals in 12 games.
Will it be able to keep a clean sheet against Real Madrid, and the might of its Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale combination? We have just over three weeks to find out, but if the story of this European season is that counterattack has overtaken possession-based play as the dominant tactic, then this final will continue that narrative.