The first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 tie between the two clubs was played in Bucharest rather than Madrid due to Covid-19 travel restrictions
The Champions League Round of 16 hasn’t been kind to Chelsea in recent years – the Blues have not made it beyond this stage of the competition since 2014.
Thomas Tuchel and his players are looking to change that this season, started with tonight game when they played the first leg of their tie against Atletico Madrid.
The Spanish giants have had a good season; they lead La Liga by three points and have a game in hand over second-placed side Real Madrid.
But Atleti had key injuries before facing Chelsea this evening – Jose Giminez, Hector Herrera and Yannick Carrasco were all ruled out – while their previously impenetrable defence is no more.
Tuchel opted for a quartet of changes to the side that started at St Mary’s on Saturday. Jorginho replaced N’Golo Kante and was deployed in a deeper midfield position behind Mateo Kovacic and Mason Mount.
Tuchel stayed true to his word about Callum Hudson-Odoi’s fleeting appearance on Southampton, immediately putting it behind him by naming the 20-year-old in his starting XI.
Chelsea other changes were in central defence and up front, with Andreas Christensen and Giroud coming in for Kurt Zouma and Tammy Abraham respectively.
Christian Pulisic and Kai Havertz were back on the bench after injury. N’Golo Kante’s 200th Blues appearance waited until the second half.
Atleti’s team bore three differences to the one that began their weekend loss to Levante. Felipe, Thomas Lemar and Joao Felix were the fresh faces.
In what was a predictably tight encounter against Atletico Madrid, it was a piece of individual brilliance that proved the difference between the sides.
Midway through the second half, the ball looped up in Giroud’s direction. A good 12-yards out and with his back to goal, he bicycle-kicked the ball into the ground and beyond Jan Oblak.
Initially disallowed for offside, VAR overturned the decision because the last touch had come off an Atleti defender. Just as in Seville two months ago, the classy Giroud was our matchwinner. It inflicted only a second home European defeat on Atletico in 30 games. The other team to beat them? Chelsea in 2017, of course!
The Blues will head into the second leg of this tie in three weeks full of confidence after a superb showing that married defensive grit, patience and that elite quality needed at this level.
Atleti did not manage a shot on target as we largely kept them at arm’s length to maintain Chelsea’s excellent start to life under Thomas Tuchel.
He will be hoping for more of the same when Manchester United visit Stamford Bridge on Sunday, but for now he and his players can toast a famous European victory.
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