Champions League: Chelsea limp toward final with expert defensive job


VICTORY at Stamford Bridge next week will send Chelsea into their third consecutive European final, after phase one of Jose Mourinho’s masterplan succeeded in Madrid.

The Portuguese manager will be without several of the stars that frustrated Atletico Madrid into submission last night for that second leg though, with goalkeeper Petr Cech and defender John Terry both limping off injured, while midfielders Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel will be suspended.

But Mourinho has carved a career on winning tactical duels when it matters most and his ability to keep potent striker Diego Costa so quiet in the Vincente Calderon Stadium must be mirrored in the return by formulating a plan to breach a defence that has kept five clean sheets in a row.

Chelsea did not deviate from their ultra defensive strategy throughout and the loss of Cech in the opening quarter of an hour, following a collision with Raul Garcia at a corner, made them even more determined to protect the goal of 41-year-old stand-in Mark Schwarzer.

Atletico’s vociferous supporters chanted the name of on-loan Thibaut Courtois as Cech left the field with a blanket wrapped around his dislocated shoulder, reminding Chelsea their other option between the posts was wearing home colours.

The Blues reduced their hosts to few meaningful efforts at goal in the first half. Garcia headed over Koke’s cross on 30 minutes, then Mario Suarez curled a 25-yard strike inches wide.

On the stroke of half-time Diego saw a low left-foot drive held comfortably by Schwarzer, the oldest player ever to appear in the Champions League knockout stages.

Chelsea registered their first effort on target immediately after the interval, but record goalscorer Lampard saw his strike from the edge of the box comfortably caught by Courtois.

Atletico continued to probe gently with Diego twice going close, while at the other end the home crowd’s former favourite son Fernando Torres jinked through the defence, though shot tamely at Courtois.

The blot on Chelsea’s night came in a turbulent 10-minute period that saw Lampard and Mikel both pick up yellow cards either side of Terry coming off after twisting his ankle following an apparently innocuous coming together with Costa.

Yet Chelsea continued to stand firm and Atletico were only able to sufficiently test the reflexes of Schwarzer on 76 minutes when Gabi’s deflected free-kick was pushed wide by the Australia veteran at his near post.

Garcia and Costa missed with headers as the clock ticked down, while the final act of the match saw David Luiz blast a free-kick just over the crossbar.