Nobody expected Chelsea’s Spanish inquisition.
Nobody expected Chelsea to play on the front foot from the first minute to the last.
Nobody expected Chelsea to completely nullify Atlético’s home dominance, especially after Griezmann staked them to the lead with a justified but still harsh-feeling penalty.
Nobody expected Chelsea continue pushing for the winner after Morata equalized and the minutes ticked away.
Nobody expected Chelsea to play the final free-kick around and work a wonderful opening rather than just lumping it into the box.
Those “nobodys” may be overstating the case a bit, but as it turns out, Atlético were there for the taking, Chelsea identified exactly how, and the players executed the plan Conte set out for them with great commitment and fantastic attitude. Afterwards, Conte was practically glowing with praise — at least as much as he’s capable of such a thing in front of the microphones.
“A good performance of my players and I am very happy. We must be pleased for the performance, the personality and the right spirit we showed tonight against Atletico Madrid.
“We went 1-0 down after the first half and it is very difficult when Atletico Madrid score to come back, but despite this we deserved to win. We continued to play with a good personality, kept our heads on the pitch in every moment of the game and we deserved to win against a really good team.
“I try to repeat to my players, to play at home or away doesn’t change, we must always play with the same personality and desire to play football and try to win. I think we are trying to do this. Last season we did this very well and won the league and reached the final of the FA Cup. Now we have this possibility to play a great competition like the Champions League and our mentality doesn’t change.
“This was a really big game for us and to play in this way means we are working very well. I am very pleased for my players because they deserve to play this type of game, above all to play in this way. You can win but if you only defend and counter-attack I think there isn’t the right satisfaction. Instead to try to play and show we are ready to play, it’s very important. The answer tonight was very positive.”
While I think there is plenty of satisfaction in winning through counter-attacks and defending as well, it is perhaps notable that Chelsea achieved this 2-1 result — just the second time in 24 games that Atlético lost a home match in the Champions League under Diego Simeone — on the front foot from the first minute to the last.
As far as statement wins go, it doesn’t get much bigger.
Of course, it’s easy to get carried away, so Conte circled back around to many of his favorite themes, including the long-term project of building “something important” in the SW6.
“I think we have to [go] game by game and above all keep the right humility. This humility last season brought us to win the league despite other teams being stronger than us. I think this season we have to keep the same humility and this type of game, this win, can increase our confidence but I repeat, our target is to try to be competitive.
“We know very well in this competition there are very strong teams, Atletico Madrid is one of these teams, and I think we are starting to build something important.
“Before we win this competition we must improve season by season, improve our team, experience. Don’t forget we are a very young team but we want to do our best in every competition and you know very well the Champions League is a big competition. There is a great desire to show we deserve to play this type of game.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
Conte is of course right, but I love the confidence of the “before we win this competition” statement. It’s not a question of “if”. It’s a question of “when”.