Welcome to Masterpiece Theatre — Atlético Madrid style! I will rewatch and opine about memorable matches from the Diego Simeone era as we wait patiently for present-day Atlético to return.
The series continues with a look back at a Champions League semifinal second leg at Stamford Bridge, where Atlético had a chance to advance to a first European Cup/Champions League final in 40 years.
Diego Simeone’s men were marching to the league title as April turned into May. Raúl García’s 43rd minute goal at Mestalla on April 27 secured a ninth straight domestic win and ensured Atlético would stay top of LaLiga with three rounds to go. The Valencia win was sandwiched between these two legs against Chelsea — the first of which had ended goalless, even as Atleti recorded 69 percent possession and outshot José Mourinho’s side 25-6.
Mourinho regained John Terry and Eden Hazard’s services following injury layoffs, but Petr Čech left the Vicente Calderón with a season-ending shoulder malady. This left 41-year-old Mark Schwarzer to tend goal in West London on April 30. Gabi’s suspension loomed large over Atlético’s midfield — Simeone chose to start Mario Suárez in the captain’s absence, and he inserted goal-shy forward Adrián López into the lineup too.
I stood up, flipped on my dad’s television and watched Chelsea kick off. Atlético began quickly — on four minutes, Koke sent a stinging cross (shot?) off the post after his initial corner was cleared. Fernando Torres looked lively against his boyhood club, and the broadcast picked up Simeone’s screams as Atleti tried to launch an early counterattack.
The visitors had another opportunity on 19 minutes, when nice combination play between Filipe Luís, Adrián and Diego Costa ended with the Spain international forcing Gary Cahill to scramble the ball away just outside the six-yard box.
The first half continued without incident...until minute 36, when The Kid turned in Chelsea’s first real chance. Willian twisted his way out of trouble and Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross found Torres in a good position between Mario and Miranda. Torres appeared almost apologetic after his slick right-footed finish.
Adrián fired a warning shot with a 42nd minute header at Schwarzer — a warning Chelsea did not heed. Two minutes later, Koke kept alive an Atlético attack with a sliding tackle and the ball ended up at captain Tiago’s feet. Like a flash of lightning, the lead was gone — Tiago lofted a gorgeous ball to an onrushing Juanfran, who slid a cross beyond Ashley Cole to the back post, where a waiting Adrián smashed the ball off the ground into the top of the goal. It was his first goal since November, and he deserved it — though his touch was heavy at times, Adrián’s movement and link-up play had been outstanding.
Martin Tyler’s call, embedded in my memory:
“Now, Tiago...oh, Adrián López, 1-1. Chelsea just stopped. And Atlético Madrid have not just equalized, they’ve scored an away goal. As it stands, they’re going to Lisbon.”
Terry nearly headed Chelsea back into the lead on 53 minutes, but future teammate Thibaut Courtois made a diving stop to preserve the away-goal advantage. And Los Colchoneros would take the lead themselves on the hour, when Samuel Eto’o struck Costa’s right knee in the 18-yard box. The big man was booked for fiddling around with the ball on the spot, but he sent Schwarzer the wrong way and lashed the penalty into the roof of the net.
Atlético now were on top by some margin and charging toward a May 24 meeting with Real Madrid in Portugal. Costa was at his very best — a trash-talking machine chasing down every long ball. Mario played one of his better games in midfield, and Koke was a key playmaker in an advanced role (I really miss this Koke). David Luiz’s headed effort off the crossbar was all Atleti’s defense allowed for the rest of the match.
But it was Arda who polished off the result and sent the raucous away stand into raptures. The buildup followed a familiar progression — Tiago ball over the top, Juanfran cross after escaping Hazard, Arda stabbing the ball beyond a motionless Schwarzer. Simeone sprinted down the touchline, a celebration he would replicate at Liverpool nearly six years later.
In the end, Los Rojiblancos registered (per WhoScored) eight shots on target and completed 86 percent of attempted passes in a second half mauling of Mourinho’s men. Simeone had guided Atlético to a first European Cup/Champions League final since 1974, but as he so perfectly put it after full time:
“I want to thank these boys’ mothers for giving them big balls.”
CHE XI: Schwarzer; Ivanović, Cahill, Terry, Cole (Eto’o 54’); Ramires, David Luiz; Azpilicueta, Willian (Schürrle 77’), Hazard; Torres (Ba 67’).
Goal: Torres 36’
ATM XI: Courtois; Juanfran, Godín, Miranda, Filipe Luís; Tiago, Mario, Arda (Rodríguez 84’), Koke; Adrián (Raúl García 66’), Costa (Sosa 76’).
Goals: Adrián 44’, Costa 60’, Arda 72’