Atletico Madrid rose to the occasion and made their first Champions League final in 40 years after a commanding 3-1 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Diego Simeone’s men fell behind to a Fernando Torres goal but Adrian Lopez, a Diego Costa penalty and Arda Turan made sure the capital team setup an all-Madrid final against Real Madrid.
When the fat lady had already sung and taken her leave, as had the disappointed Chelsea fans, Atletico’s fans were still signing away. All 3000 of them rocked an otherwise desolate Stamford Bridge and reminded everyone that if there were any doubts as to what Spain had to offer outside of the Barcelona- Real Madrid hegemony, they were it. But all of this had been established long before Jose Mourinho had trudged off a defeated man, his 4th semi-final loss in as many years on Europe’s grandest stage, but the story few now remember is that prior to the arrival of Diego Simeone this team was languishing in mediocrity. In 2011, before the Argentine took his place in the Atletico dugout, the Rojiblancos were a mere 4 points above the relegation places and looked nothing like the determined unit they’ve looked since.
Mourinho has been hounded by critics for his team’s ‘negative’ display at the Vicente Calderon only a week ago but the Portuguese has made a name for himself amongst Europe’s elite on the basis of this pragmatism and knows full well that eye-pleasing football means little in the grand scheme of things if results don’t follow. Prior to kick off the Blues boss took a swipe at ‘philosophers’ in football and emphasized the importance of defending. After Chelsea’s resolute performance against Liverpool on the weekend, the 51-year-old once again set-up his side to not concede as Cesar Azpelicueta started on the right side of midfield meaning six ‘defenders’ in the starting line-up. Mourinho’s approach appeared vindicated as once again his side absorbed pressure and from one of their rare forays into the opposing penalty area they managed to break the deadlock. Willian had been one of the few attacking threats in the 1st leg but here he managed to make a much more substantial impact as he wriggled free of two defenders on the right before laying it off for Azpelicueta whose cross was turned in by Fernando Torres via a huge deflection. The former Atletico man must’ve wanted to make a point to his manager but here his pained expression spoke a thousand words, ‘I didn’t want it to be my beloved Atleti.’
The waiting game had begun as it had against Liverpool on the weekend. When would Atleti wilt?
But part of the Simeone revolution has been a change in attitude. Defeatism is a word that has long since been eradicated from this team’s vocabulary and replaced by bags and bags of courage. No heads dropped, Atletico just got back to business and soon enough they found the key to unlocking Chelsea’s door. Tiago – a former Blue who’s worked under Mourinho with distinction – played a lofted pass to the right where Eden Hazard was unaware of the overlapping Juan Fran and the Spanish winger squared the ball back into the danger zone where it evaded Chelsea’s defenders and fell to Adrian Lopez who made no mistake. The goal was a dagger into the heart of Chelsea’s carefully thought out approach of repelling as now they would have to finally take the initiative. The goal also jolted Mourinho from a position of comfort and he tried to make amends early in the 2nd half as Samuel Eto’o was brought on for Ashley Cole. In the previous round Mourinho’s substitutions had appeared inspired but here it would blow up right in his face. The Portuguese 1st watched Thibaut Cortois produce a sensational save to deny John Terry’s header and then watched in horror as at the other end Eto’o clumsily stuck out a leg to catch Diego Costa in the box. The Brazilian stepped up to the spot and took forever to take the penalty – even earning a caution for timewasting – but when he did, he hit it high into Mark Schwarzer’s net.
Later, both Simeone and Mourinho would speak of the penalty as the moment which changed the game but if anything it just highlighted the shortcomings of Chelsea’s approach from the 1st leg. Having relied so much on his defence, Mourinho now needed goals but the irony wasn’t lost on anyone as this is a man who has criticized his strikers all season long. One of them, Demba Ba came on, but it was Atletico who would increase their advantage even further and once again it was down Chelsea’s left, once again it was Hazard forgetting to take on his defensive responsibilities. Once again Tiago played the ball to Juan Fran and the Spaniard swung in a pin-point cross to Arda Turan who played ping-ball with the crossbar before turning in the rebound. Led by Simeone, the goal sparked wild celebrations on the bench as the Argentine had outplayed Mourinho in the yard the Portuguese had grown up in.