A cowering Atlético, with no other plan than to keep his clean sheet and scratch something to the contrary, came out of his forced exile in stunted Bucharest, emitting signs of a diminution that he had not given in this course. He was punished with only one goal, but Simeone’s team lost due to a manifest inferiority of their coach’s scoreboard. Nothing came out, despite the luster of the eleven with which he stood. The idea, timidly, did not match the names that the Argentine coach lined up. Atlético played something they seemed to have banished. Simeone returned to deliver the dominance of the ball and the territory and was sheared by a team that under the direction of Tuchel played with authority. Brave, without shunning the weight that his fearful rival gave him. He won well and left the straight tie for the return to London. There, Atlético must show a more ambitious face. This time it was an unexpected regression due to the trajectory that he had so far this season.
From the line-up it seemed that Simeone was shirtless putting all the great talents available to him. Lemar, Correa and João Félix sounded like a firm commitment to finesse, imagination and overflow. It was not so. Lemar was left lane and Correa completed when defending a line of six to close the right flank with Llorente and Atlético’s shameless retreat into his own field. Simeone put the overalls on an eleven who at first seemed to fit the tailcoat better.
Tuchel did tear his shirt for real, for alignment and style. He continued to condemn Kanté for not breaking the Kovacic-Jorginho couple and being able to put two forwards, Giroud and Timo Werner. A trade buoy and a satellite ahead of Mount. The alignment of Hudson-Odoi instead of James was also another chant of the German coach to attack.
Between what Tuchel has pushed his team to play in the opposite field since he took the reins of Chelsea and what Atlético cowed, the first act was played in rojiblanco territory. With Jorginho and Kovacic nucleating the circulations and Hudson-Odoi and Mount trying to sharpen them, sensing Lemar’s defensive fragility. The yellow that Mount saw, which will prevent him from playing in London, will be a relief for Simeone and his players. At 19 years old, the boy has in his head and feet how to do damage combining or cleaning rivals with dribbling. The same fate befell Jorginho. Another respite because the Brazilian was the head of the party. Of that superiority with the ball, Chelsea only rushed Oblak in a heeled shoe from Werner.
Atlético stayed in their few attempts to scratch something in the few times they decided to steal to arrive. He was able to do it at the start when Saúl intercepted a bad control from Mendy, but the dribble was long. Lemar also brushed the goal when Luis Suárez acted as class clever by swiping the ball from Rüdiger and Christensen on the baseline. His center could only be contacted by the Frenchman at the far post. Suárez also prowled the goal in a center from Lemar born from a prolongation of Saúl’s head that the Uruguayan himself opened for the Frenchman. Everything that Atlético did in attack wanted to be vertical, with little formality. A plan that fed little João Félix, Correa and Lemar. And less to Luis Suárez. At times they were seen sunk in the vicinity of the Oblak area. That that the signing of the Uruguayan had led to bring the team closer to the opposite area passed away. Atlético’s cowering skewed any possibility of generating a sufficient volume of offensive play. The little that Koke and Saúl weighed with the ball was also another sign of that squat team, which was entrusted to play with a clean sheet and the 180 minutes that a tie lasts. A very Simeone plan that ended up going wrong in the first stake. A disappointing proposition for a team that until recently commanded the League out of ambition and authority. His coach shrugged and paid for it.
The rojiblanco coach made no move to change anything in the second half, devoted to that approach that aimed more at London than at the Bucharest event. Neither did Atlético play at home, nor did he unfold as if he did.
Chelsea followed theirs. Bossy and sibylline to do the fouls he thought appropriate to avoid rapid transitions. And he found his prize in Giroud’s goal. The French nine hooked a Chilean from a rebound by Mario Hermoso that the VAR detected to correct the referee’s previous decision to annul the goal for offside. There were just over 20 minutes left and the goal seemed to goad something to Simeone’s players, who had not yet moved the bench. That effervescence did not last long. The entry of Kanté and Ziyech gave Chelsea oxygen and more control of the ball. Enough to win a game that went looking for him with more ambition and determination than his cowed rival.