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Chelsea prove Champions League credentials by outplaying Atlético Madrid on their own turf

Atletico Madrid v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

It was perhaps fitting that the final play of the game, a 15-second 8-pass move with time running out, started with a foul on David Luiz. Chelsea’s center half, who had been moved into defensive midfield by that point, got the scoring started with a silly foul on Lucas Hernández, pulling the Atléti youngster to the ground in full view of the referee and gifting the home side a penalty kick. Now it was David Luiz who won the free kick to grant Chelsea the set piece opportunity, one that everyone expected Chelsea to simply lump into the box and hope for the best. We had five talls in the area (Cahill, Batshuayi, David Luiz, Bakayoko, and Alonso), but we also had other, better ideas.

Christensen played the ball short to Willian, who drove at his man, ostensibly looking for a closer spot and a better angle to cross from. Instead, he cycled possession to the right side , to a left back on the right wing via Kanté and Moses in the middle. Alonso also looked like he would cross, but instead dropped the ball back to Kanté, which is when the fun truly began. That it was Kanté to make the first key pass in the sequence was only fitting for the man who played more attacking football in these 90 minutes than in his previous Chelsea career combined.

Kanté’s pass found Bakayoko open but with his back to goal. Bakayoko’s first-touch flick for Alonso cutting in was perfect, as was Alonso’s right-footed low cross from wich Batshuayi made no mistake. Cesc Fàbregas missed a wide-open net from a similar position earlier in the second-half, so we could hardly take the finish for granted. It was literally the final kick of the game at 93 minutes and 13 seconds.

Chelsea had beaten Atlético Madrid. It was only the second time in 24 Champions League home games under Diego Simeone that Atléti lost. And it’s not like Chelsea stole the game; if anything, it were the Blues who would’ve felt hard done-by had the game ended in a draw.

Under the watchful eyes of Diego Costa in the luxury seats, the home side lined up in their usual 4-4-2/4-3-3 hybrid, with Yannick Carrasco and Saúl Ñíguez on the wings supporting the central striker pairing of Antoine Griezmann and Ángel Correa. Given their general inability to pose a consistent threat to Chelsea’s defenders, spending £50m+ to get Costa back suddenly made a lot more sense. With a strategy to stay compact and narrow and look to counter, Koke and Thomas played the midfield two ahead of Jan Oblak in goal and the back four of Filipe Luis, Diego Godín, Lucas Hernandez, and Juanfran.

Chelsea meanwhile opted for the new flavor of the season, deploying yet another slight variation of the 3-5-2 that saw Bakayoko sit as the anchor man and Kanté push ahead of all but Hazard and Morata up top. In the back, the usual title-winning six (Alonso and Moses at wing-backs and the three-man defense of Cahill, David Luiz, and Azpilicueta in front of Courtois) took their usual spots.

Atletico Madrid v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

If the game would’ve devolved into a defensive standoff reminiscent of Chelsea’s last visit to the Spanish capital (played at the Vicente Calderón instead of the sparkly new Metropolitano stadium), few would’ve been surprised. But that’s not how we do things these days. The Blues controlled proceedings from the first whistle to the last, and with a bit of luck, could’ve breached the home side’s staunch defense repeatedly. Before a bit of a late rally, Chelsea had been outshooting Atlético 15-to-5.

Only one those 15 managed to find the back of the net however. Others hit the post (Hazard), or went just wide (Morata at least three times), or were missed hilariously, even when all that was left to do was hit the wide open net, right, Cesc? Games at this level are often decided by the tiniest of margins, and after Griezmann converted the penalty — the correct call, but a highly inconsistent one with had come before — Chelsea were lucky to not go in at half-time down by two as Saúl Ñíguez, Atléti’s best player on the day, missed their best chance of the day.

If Chelsea’s first-half performance was commendable, the second-half was even better and it brought along some well-earned rewards as well. Morata got the Blues level on the hour-mark with yet another headed goal, this time from a Hazard cross and the slightest of touches to guide the ball past a frozen Jan “better than Courtois or De Gea” Oblak.

Chelsea still weren’t ready to call it good, with Conte keeping the starters on until the last ten, at which point he called for a line change up top (Morata & Hazard off, Batshuayi & Willian on), hoping that the fresh legs would make a difference. Even the last change of the day, which saw Fàbregas depart in favor of Christensen with five minutes plus stoppage time to go wasn’t as simple as adding an extra defender since David Luiz moved up into midfield (and thus was able to win the free kick at the end) and the youngster took the “David Luiz role” instead.

With the win, Chelsea take full control of the group on six points from six. Back-to-back games against Roma await, but first another massive clash, this time in the league, at home against Manchester City on Saturday (not much rest!), and then an international break (a bit of rest, for some). Regardless of what happens on Saturday, Chelsea have proven our Champions League credentials with this massive win.

Atletico Madrid v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

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