Eden Hazard’s deflected equaliser secured a point on the night, but was not enough to top our group as we head into the champions league knock out stages.
Both sides lined up in the same shape as the reverse fixture, when we triumphed in Madrid. So 3-5-2 faced 4-4-2 again. Antonio Conte chose to make two changes from the side that beat Newcastle at the weekend, with Zappacosta coming in at left wing back in place of Alonso, and Bakayoko replacing Danny Drinkwater.
Atletico needed a minor miracle to make it out of the group. They required Qarabag to win in Rome, as well as ensuring they took three points themselves. We simply had to match or better Roma’s result to finish top. Despite the slim chances of the Spanish side progressing, they started on the front foot and were clearly intent on going for the win. They immediately took the upper hand in the possession stakes, but were increasingly forced to play sideways, and struggled to make ground towards our penalty area. In truth, an almost textbook example of how to defend in a 3-5-2 system against that of our opponents was on display. The only chance the visitors were able to muster in the opening half of the match was a deflected Fernando Torres effort, which looped over the bar for a corner. Chelsea on the other hand, as perhaps we have been accustomed to in this formation, had the better chances on the counter attack. As we grew into the half we took some of the initiative back and forged chances of our own, and definitely looked the more likely to break the deadlock. Chelsea were finding it surprisingly easy to play through Atletico when we came forward, Christensen playing a great ball straight into Morata’s feet from half way as Hazard dummied it, The former Real Madrid man turned well, but his shot bent just wide. Fabregas was, as ever, picking out similar passes. Both out wide, and into Hazard, who was finding space between the lines of defence and midfield. Oblak saved from him again shortly after when Moses got behind and cut back to Morata. Zappacosta, enjoying a rare outing down the left flank rather than the right, was forcing Thomas Partey, the Atletico right-winger, to track back constantly, and causing problems down the left. He cut in onto his right foot to fire a low shot from the corner of the box to the near post, which Oblak got down brilliantly too turn it round the post. A fantastic save.
The second half continued with Atletico trying to take control, but again Chelsea were forging the better chances. Christensen had a header well stopped by Oblak, arguably the visitor’s best player on the night, while Hazard curled an effort just wide after breaking from midfield. Chelsea old boy Felipe Luis made the opposition threat seem more real when he fired a shot against the far post from the left side of the area, the match becoming slightly more stretched now as each team took turns to attack, a break from the sustained Atletico pressure.
As previously adhered to, the Chelsea defensive organisation had, to this point, been excellent. A combination of Bakayoko and Fabregas shuffling wide, and Zappacosta and Moses pressing forward had this far nullified the threat in wide areas, while Koke and Partey coming inside were well marshalled by our back three. Unfortunately, the well drilled rear guard action didn’t extend to set pieces, and we went behind after Torres won a near post flick from a corner in front of the west stand/shed end, and Niguez ran round the back untracked to nod home.
The pattern of play now changed, as Chelsea went on the offensive. It was Atletico’s turn to sit in. By now Roma were ahead against Qarabag, so we needed two goals without reply to top the group, as a draw and Roma win would see us tied on points, but Roma had the better of us in our ‘head to head’ fixtures, which is how UEFA chose to split teams who finish on the same points.
Attacking set pieces didn’t cause us the same problems as defending them, and we had three good chances. Christensen headed one over, Morata had one tipped over, and after a short corner put Fabregas in along the goal line, his delivery was headed wide by Christensen as he dived full length to meet it.
Pedro was on by now, and as usual had an almost instant impact, back heeling towards Morata, who’s shot was smothered at point blank range by Oblak.
Another short corner, this time from the other side (East stand/Matthew Harding) drew us level. Fabregas received it, and his cross was headed away to the opposite corner of the area, where Hazard picked it up. He burst into the box, and his left foot effort was turned into his own net by Savic. Fifteen minutes to go and it was game on.
The match was now very stretched as both teams sort a winner. Chelsea missed two great chances on the break. Fabregas playing Morata in one versus one, but Oblak again made a great stop, stretching his left leg out to block as he advanced from his goal.
Willian then blazed over from a Hazard cut back. Batshuayi was the third sub to enter the fray after Pedro and Willian, and looked lively. A great take, followed by a one-two with Fabregas lead to an excellent right foot effort that went just wide of the far post. That was to be our last chance though, and we’ll have to settle for second in the group. Our potential opponents in the knock out stages are limited, due to the high percentage of English sides that are group winners, but they will be one of Besiktas, Barcelona, PSG, or possibly Sevilla depending on the outcome of Liverpool’s group. It will be interesting to say the least.
Chelsea (3-5-2) 1 (Savic og 75)
Courtois; Azpilicuata, Christensen, Cahill ©;
Moses, Fabregas, Kante, Bakayoko, (Pedro 64), Zappacosta, (Willian 73)
Hazard, Morata, (Batshuayi 81)
Atletico Madrid (4-4-2) 1 (Niguez 56)
Oblak; Giminez, (Vietto 79) Savic, Hernandez, Luis;
Partey, Gabi, (Correa 78), Niguez, Koke;