NOW Jose Mourinho knows how Brendan Rodgers and Manuel Pellegrini felt after his Chelsea team smothered and stifled Liverpool and Manchester City. Watching the Champions League semi-final second leg, I couldn’t help but think that Atletico Madrid were doing a Chelsea on Chelsea. And I had to smile as I thought: “Diego Simeone has done a job on you, Jose.”
Atletico, a team that does not sport many household names, but one which looks destined to do just that, swarmed all over Chelsea from the first whistle, just like the Blues did when they pulled off big wins at Anfield last week and, a few weeks earlier, the Etihad Stadium. It’s not good-to-watch football but it is effective, as Mourinho’s teams have proved so often down the years. Having said that, I don’t think Mourinho necessarily got it wrong tactically, it was his team selection that let him down.
It was a mistake to play both Ashley Cole and Azpilicueta. Cole stayed in his left-back position, where he has done well in the past two big games, and Mourinho put Azpilicueta into midfield, where he looked lost. The midfield holding zone was crying out for John Obi Mikel – the impressive Nemanja Matic was ineligible – and, though Fernando Torres scored the opening goal, he again looked a shadow of the player who terrorised defenders when he was at Liverpool. Mourinho put Torres in against his first club, in front of the fans who used to idolise him, but it was a mistake. The player who accelerated away from players when in a Liverpool shirt, last night went past one before running into another.
Mourinho brought on another striker, Samuel Eto’o, who gave away a penalty, before turning to the one centre-forward who looks Chelsea’s most potent striker, yet who hardly gets a start, Demba Ba. I would have had Ba in from the outset, along with Obi Mikel and I wouldn’t have played both Cole and Azpilicueta. Atletico, having matched Chelsea at their own “thou shall not pass” game, went on to show they can expand their play, that they can hold the ball and pass it, whereas, when Chelsea needed some guile in midfield, it wasn’t there.
I have to say the result should make the final in Lisbon a more exciting affair. Real Madrid certainly won’t shut up shop – how could they even contemplate it with Ronaldo and Bale in the side – and Atletico have not got this far, as well as within touching distance of the La Liga title, by playing negatively. The loss of Xabi Alonso, one of the Real playmakers, to suspension is a blow to them, though. What on earth was he thinking when he clattered so clumsily into a Bayern opponent, knowing he was one booking away from missing the final?