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Chelsea 1-1 Atlético Madrid: The Last Stand

A miserable Champions League campaign ended with a draw and relegation to the Europa League.

Chelsea FC v Atletico Madrid - UEFA Champions League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

ATM XI: Oblak, Giménez (Vietto 79’), Savić, Lucas, Filipe Luis, Thomas, Gabi (Correa 78’), Koke, Saúl, Griezmann, Torres (Carrasco 57’)

CFC XI: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill, Moses, Fabregas, Kanté, Bakayoko (Pedro 64’), Zappacosta (Willian 73’), Hazard, Morata (Batshuayi 81’)

This match required Atlético Madrid to win to even dream of Champions League progress. In order to win, you need to score goals, and Diego Simeone decided that former Chelsea man Fernando Torres was to start alongside Antoine Griezmann, whose form has improved wildly since the matchday five win against AS Roma.

Atlético’s usual Champions League game plan would not work in this match, as scoring was vital, so Atleti strove to keep possession and create as many chances as possible. In the first half, this strategy worked somewhat, with los colchoneros retaining possession but not creating enough scoring chances. Chelsea looked potent on the break, primarily attacking using Eden Hazard and Álvaro Morata, who caused many problems for backtracking rojiblanco defenders.

There was a penalty shout in the first half when Gary Cahill shoved over Torres in the box but the referee did not see a foul. Of the opportunities Atlético created, ex-Chelsea full back Filipe Luís was crucial in crafting chances to beat former Atleti keeper Thibaut Courtois. Atleti would go into halftime knowing they still needed goals in order to have a prayer to escape the peril they put themselves in, but they were nicely poised at 0-0.

The second half continued in much the same vein as the first, with Atlético asking questions but not penetrating enough to trouble Chelsea’s back three. However, as was the case in Simeone’s best Atleti teams, a goal would come from a corner on 54 minutes. The routine was sensational, as Koke took the corner, which was flicked on by Torres to Saúl at the back post, and he headed in another clutch Champions League goal. Unfortunately, the celebration was a bit in vain, as Roma had scored moments before. This meant Atleti now relied upon Qarabag to get a draw in Rome, which looked more and more unlikely.

After the goal, Atlético played their more comfortable style, sitting back and inviting Chelsea on to them. With this defensive unit, it was not a comfortable strategy, but it was an effective one as the English champions could manage opportunities only from set pieces. The first sub came just three minutes after the goal, with the assistant Torres coming off for Yannick Carrasco, a positive change to offer more energy and pace.

But Antonio Conte’s side kept coming and got their equalizer on 75 minutes. The goal came from a corner and will go down as an own-goal for Stefan Savic, who could do nothing with the ball Eden Hazard put in. It meant nothing in the grand scheme of things, as Roma maintained their one goal lead.

Three minutes later, Simeone got out the kitchen sink to attack Chelsea with, bringing on Ángel Correa and Luciano Vietto for Gabi and José Giménez, respectively. The changes helped in attack, but Atlético were now more defensively fragile. Atleti’s last good chance came from a corner on 90 minutes when Correa was hacked down in the box, but the referee decided it was not a penalty.

It is a tremendous shame to go out of the Champions League in this way. Atlético have nobody but themselves to blame, and had they won either Qarabag match they would be in the knockout stages. But they did not, and Atleti will have to settle for being Europa League favorites.