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The Champions League semi-final between Chelsea and Atletico Madrid was a particularly interesting game as rarely do we see four goals in a game between two defensively excellent teams. It is even more rare that all goals are scored after the defenders fail to deal with straightforward situations.



The formations

Chelsea started in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but it had the traits of a 4-3-3 due to Willian - who started behind Torres in a number ten position - dropping deeper when Chelsea were bringing out the ball, due to Atletico's excellence at closing down the centre of midfield from Chelsea.

Chelsea started with six defenders in their line-up; David Luiz played in a holding role, and surprisingly, Azpilicueta started as a right winger despite Schürrle being fit and available for selection.

Atletico Madrid started in a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Adrián playing behind Diego Costa. Tiago and Mario Suárez played in the centre of midfield, Arda Turan was back on the left side of the team, with Koke on the right.

Source: Soccerway

The solid defensive shape of Atletico

Atletico Madrid did an excellent job at defending. They dropped off and played with a low block - meaning that they defended in their own half - but used pressing in one particular situation. What set off their pressing was when Gary Cahill received possession; the second he was about to receive a pass, he was put under pressure, with the team-mates closest to him cut off. Cahill had a poor game and lost the ball multiple times due to being targeted by Atletico.

Atletico defended in two close, narrow lines of four. Their principles for defending were as follows:

1) Prevent Chelsea from playing the ball into central areas in front of the goal. Tiago and Mario Suárez sat close to the defence, and dropped deeper every time Chelsea wanted to play the ball between the defence and the midfield, basically shutting down that space. In these instances, Adrián or Diego Costa dropped closer to the midfield to prevent a pass in case any Chelsea player would have been able to play himself free in central midfield.

Diego Costa and Adrián screen the passing channels to central areas, Mario Suárez drops a bit deeper.


Source: LiveFootballVideo


2) If Chelsea have the ball on the wing, defend in a numerical advantage. Against one man, this means that the winger dropped back to double up. If Chelsea had two players on the wing, the winger and the full-back were helped out by a central midfielder. If Chelsea put another, third man to the wing, a centre-back helped out the defending trio of Atletico.

Atletico's numerical advantage in wide areas.

Source: Soccerway

Chelsea were playing possession from side to side due to Atletico's success in closing down the central areas. They did this slowly, with horizontal passes instead of diagonals. In the early stages, this was completely acceptable; a diagonal is riskier, after all. On the other hand, these passes were covered effectively by Atletico, and Chelsea lacked penetration.

Chelsea played quite a few long balls to Torres from their own half. Miranda dropped with him all the time, with Mario Suárez positioning himself close to Torres and collecting the rebounds, or crowding out the ex-Atletico striker. 

Atletico denied Chelsea the chance to counter-attack. Even if both the Atletico winger and full-back from one side were in the final third, the full-back from the other side dropped back and came to the middle, assisting the two centre-backs. Even if the likes of Willian, Hazard or Torres won the ball, Atletico had them outnumbered - sometimes by quite shocking fashion. For example, in the 18th minute Torres and Willian were counter-attacking against six Atletico players.

Two goals before half-time

Chelsea took the lead after Willian beat two players at the corner-flag. The two Atletico players doubled up on him, and he should not have been able to escape the block. Chelsea took the lead despite Atletico looking the better team. This goal was a dream come true for Mourinho, he couldn't have hoped for a better scenario. Given how solid Chelsea were defensively in the first leg, they should have been able to keep their lead and progress to the final comfortably.

These plans were shattered as Atletico equalised thanks to another individual mistake right before half-time. Hazard was ballwatching, and failed to track the run of Juanfran behind him. The full-back played the ball back across goal, and Adrián finished the attack.

Chelsea switch to a 4-4-2

Mourinho decided to open up and move to a 4-4-2 formation very early in the second half - only nine minutes after the break -  by bringing on Samuel Eto'o instead of Ashley Cole. This move should have made Chelsea more dangerous in theory.

In my opinion, Mourinho would have been better off bringing on Demba Ba instead of Eto'o. Eto'o struggled for space, but Ba would have posed more of an aerial threat in the box. Atletico's weakness is in defending set pieces and crosses. Not to mention that bringing on another striker is not going to have the desired effect if you don't have a way of getting the ball into the final third.

Playing long balls from deep positions would have been a very high-risk strategy, but it would have given Chelsea a few chances to take back the lead. Eto'o gave away a penalty - which Diego Costa scored from - but this goal didn't change the game from a tactical point of view.

Chelsea displayed good ideas for beating the tight defence of Atletico on a few occasions. In the 63rd minute, Chelsea overloaded the right wing, and played a quick diagonal to the left, where Hazard was left alone with Juanfan. This was a rare occasion; Chelsea should have attempted to get their wingers one-on-one with the full-backs of Atletico more.


This leaves Hazard one-on-one with Juanfran. 

Source: LiveFootballVideo


Another feature of Chelsea's attacking play were the long shots of Ramires. He attempted multiple shots from outside the area. He was absolutely entitled to go for these shots, but on this day, Courtois was able to deal with all of them.

Hazard failed to track another run on the left wing, and this lead to the third Atletico Madrid goal. After this point, Atletico switched to a formation that resembled more a 4-3-3. Tiago sat in front of the defence, with Mario Suarez in front of him to the left, Koke to the right. The 4-3-3 is more suited to keeping possession than the 4-4-2; Atletico kept the ball, and basically ran down the clock.


The game was strange in the sense that it played out in a way that neither coach wanted it to. Simeone obviously wanted to avoid conceding first - or conceding at all - and his defensive plan was working perfectly, but a freak occurance gave Chelsea the lead. Mourinho probably imagined winning the game 1-0, but a mistake from Hazard allowed Atletico to equalise. Mourinho switched to a more open formation by sending on Eto'o early in the second half, Atletico continued to defend very well, and Chelsea couldn't crack them open. Another defensive mistake from Hazard led to the third goal of Atletico. All in all, the mistakes from the teams forced the coaches into situations that they would have wanted to avoid at all cost.

It would have been interesting to see what Simeone would have done if Chelsea were able to keep their lead. The fact remains that the changes of Mourinho didn't work, and Chelsea were beaten by an impressive Atletico side that achieved a lot due to their remarkable organisation.


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