6th of December 2017

Second Group C spot for Blues after home draw (1-1)

The Blues brought Champions League group-stage campaign to a conclusion with a 1-1 draw against Atletico Madrid at Stamford Bridge but, having finished level on points with Roma, who beat Qarabag in the night's other fixture, it's the Italians who progress as group winners due to a better head-to-head record.

It was a night on which we deserved more than just a point having been the better side for long spells, and we were forced to come from behind after Saul Niguez had headed the visitors in front against the run of play early in the second half.

The equaliser arrived 15 minutes from time when Stefan Savic diverted an Eden Hazard cross into his own net, and the Blues passed up chances to win it late on through Alvaro Morata, Willian and Michy Batshuayi.

There were three changes to the side which overturned a deficit to beat Newcastle on Saturday, with Gary Cahill, Davide Zappacosta and Tiemoue Bakayoko returning to the starting line-up.

Zappacosta was brought in at the expense of Marcos Alonso and started at left wing-back, while Bakayoko formed part of a midfield trio, alongside N’Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas.

Hazard partnered Morata in attack once more, and there were two familiar faces – Filipe Luis and Fernando Torres – named in the visitors’ starting line-up.

With the Blues needing a win to secure top spot, and Atletico requiring three points to stand any chance of qualifying for the knockout stages, there was plenty to play for in the final group-stage game for both teams but, in truth, it was a slow start to the contest.

Our former striker Torres forced an early corner, which came to nothing, for the visitors, and when we were awarded a free-kick in a dangerous position after Jose Giminez had fouled Morata, Fabregas’s delivery dropped straight into the arms of Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak.

Lucas Hernandez earned the first booking of the evening for a cynical foul on Hazard as the Belgian eased away from him and moments later Morata, a scorer in the first meeting between the teams earlier in the season, curled a superb effort marginally wide of Oblak’s left-hand post.

It was Morata, constantly jeered by the Atletico supporters due to his links to their cross-city rivals Real Madrid, who went close again when he was picked out by a Victor Moses cut-back, but Oblak did well to make the save low down to his right.

As the half-hour mark approached there had been little goalmouth action to speak of, with Atletico enjoying plenty of possession but lacking a cutting edge and the Blues content to soak up pressure and hit the Spaniards on the break.

A trademark Hazard run, which took two Atletico players out of the game, was then brought to a halt just inside the box and despite the fact Bakayoko did well to retrieve the ball, his cross was too close to Oblak who was able to gather comfortably.

Nine minutes before the break we almost took the lead as Fabregas picked out Zappacosta with a delightful first-time pass. After bringing it under control the Italian cut inside and fired towards goal, with Oblak getting down quickly to make a fine save as the ball seemed set to creep in at the near post.

It remained goalless until half-time, with little to choose between the teams over the course of what was a largely uneventful opening 45 minutes.

Antoine Griezmann, a peripheral figure for the majority of the first half, stung the palms of Thibaut Courtois with a free-kick soon after the break, and from our next attack Oblak produced another fine save to deny Andreas Christensen, who had guided a header from a Hazard cross towards goal.

It was Hazard himself, at the end of another penetrating run, who threatened next, with his strike taking a deflection and sailing over the bar, and from the resulting corner Oblak denied Morata with a one-handed save.

Seven minutes into the second half Atletico went close to breaking the deadlock as Filipe Luis’s left-footed drive from outside the box struck the foot of the post, and the Blues had Courtois to thank for keeping us level as the Belgian displayed wonderful reflexes to leap back across goal and save Koke’s diving header from the rebound.

The visitors weren’t to be denied for long, however, as they opened the scoring moments later when Saul Niguez stole in at the far post to head home after Torres had flicked on a Koke corner.

It was a goal which came against the run of play and one which meant that for the second home game in the space of four days we would need to come from behind.

Shortly after the hour mark, and sensing the need for a change, Conte made his first substitution of the night, with Pedro replacing Bakayoko.

Pedro was quickly into the action, producing a burst of pace to get away from his marker and forcing Oblak into a save at his near post, and Christensen then glanced a diving header agonisingly wide from a Fabregas cross.

As Moses crossed into the box Pedro then back-heeled the ball towards goal, with Morata unable to apply the vital touch, but there was no doubt the introduction of Pedro, who was drifting between the lines and making himself difficult to pick up, had made an immediate difference.

The introduction of Willian, who came on for Zappacosta, led to Pedro moving out to a left wing-back role, with the Brazilian playing in an advanced midfield position, and with 15 minutes to play we were deservedly level.

As Fabregas’s delivery was cleared to Hazard just outside the box, the Belgian sprinted away from his man and drove the ball across the face of goal, where it was diverted into his own net by Savic.

Buoyed by the goal, our tails were up, and we should have turned the game on its head a minute later when Fabregas, who had raced in behind the static Atletico defence, teed up Morata who was denied by the feet of Oblak.

With 10 minutes left to play Conte made his final switch of the night, and his intentions were clear as Michy Batshuayi, who fired home the winning goal away in Madrid, came on for Morata.

A golden opportunity then went begging as Willian, who had been picked out by Hazard, blasted over the bar from the penalty spot, while at the other end a teasing delivery from the right-hand side rolled across the face of goal.

As the clock ticked down both sides were pressing for a winner, but would there be a late twist?

Batshuayi was desperately unlucky to see a brilliant curler fly just past the post after he had brought the ball down well and exchanged passes with Fabregas, and with numbers in our favour on the break Willian slipped the ball through to Hazard who had strayed offside.

In the end, we were unable to find the late winner which would have sent us through as group winners, but there was nothing to fault in terms of our overall display.

We now wait to see who we will face in the last 16 when the draw is made on Monday at 11am.

 

- Match stats:

Chelsea (3-5-2): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill (c); Moses, Fabregas, Kante, Bakayoko (Pedro 63), Zappacosta (Willian 72); Hazard, Morata (Batshuayi 80).
Unused subs: Caballero, Rudiger, Alonso, Drinkwater
Scorer Savic (own goal) 75
Booked Zappacosta 51

Atletico Madrid (4-2-3-1): Oblak; Gimenez (Vietto 79), Savic, Lucas Hernandez, Filipe Luis; Gabi (c) (Correa 78), Saul Niguez; Party, Griezmann, Koke, Torres (Carrasco 57).
Unused subs: Moya, Godin, Vrsaljko, Gameiro
Scorer Saul Nigez 56
Booked Lucas Hernandez 15

Referee Danny Mikelle (NED)
Crowd 40,875

 

- Match report by chelseafc.com


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