Finishing Not Good Enough As Chelsea Slip Up
With qualification for the last 16 of the Champions League assured, Chelsea went into tonights game, in a relaxed frame of mind. Not so for Diego Simeone`s Madrid team, who needed a win and a big favour from Qarabag against Roma in order to progress.
Conte only minimally rotates the defence these days, tonight`s line up was, possibly, his strongest. Gary Cahill, Andreas Christensen and Cesar Azpilicueta started, Cahill captained the side. Playing in a 3-5-2 formation, upfront the manager also went strong with Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata, the chosen two.
The tinkering came about in midfield, where Marcos Alonso was rested and both right wing-backs played. Victor Moses played on his familiar right side, whilst Davide Zappacosta swapped to the left.
Completing the lineup was Tiemoue Bakayoko in for Danny Drinkwater and Conte`s new 'top of the class` Cesc Fabregas.
Returning to Stamford Bridge was a striker who was well liked by the fans while he was at Chelsea. He was incredibly frustrating to watch at times, but he never gave up trying, and as a result he achieved so much. Since leaving he`s shown his support of the Blues on social media, I give you….Fernando Torres. Torres started the game up front along with Antoine Griezmann.
It was the Spanish side who started the stronger of the two, which was not surprising considering they needed the win. In fact Torres had the first real effort of the game, firing over, five minutes in.
Chelsea soon began to pick up the pace though, and as the half wore on Hazard, as usual, became a target of cynical fouling. First to pick up a yellow card for said offence, was Lucas Hernandez, who simply tripped the tricky Belgian as he broke into space.
Chances were being created on both sides as the game approached half-time but it was Chelsea that were very much in the ascendancy. Atletico were playing like a team that were very much resigned to their fate. The longer the game went on the less impetus they had. Half-time arrived with deadlock yet to be broken.
The second half began in a similar fashion to the first, with Madrid looking to find the goal they needed to have any hope of avoiding Thursday night football. The breakthrough almost came courtesy of ex-Blues left back Filipe Luis, when he struck the post. Thibaut Courtois saved Koke`s attempted header from the rebound.
That was a warning for Chelsea. Just as news came through of a goal for Roma, meaning Chelsea dropped to second in the group, Atletico scored. A corner was flicked on by Torres for the unmarked Saul to head in.
It wasn`t long before Antonio Conte made his first substitution of the game, hooking Bakayoko and replacing him with Pedro. Baka had not made a great impact on the game, his confidence maybe knocked by his managers recent lack of faith in him.
The change was a good one as Pedro upped the intensity. With Conte not wanting to lose, Willian came on for Zappacosta, who like Baka had struggled to find his form. It wasn`t long before the equaliser came and the source of the goal was no surprise. Eden Hazard fired a Cesc Fabregas cross through a gaggle of legs, low towards the goal and the ball deflected off Stefan Savic and in.
Still in second place in the group, they pushed on for the win. Chances came and chances went, Willian had opportunities but was not able to convert them. If there was to be a winner, it was going to be Chelsea.
Conte`s last through of the dice was the return of Michy Batshuayi, who came on for the final minutes of the game, replacing Morata. As the game petered out, Willian should have won it as should Fabregas. However, in the end, neither team found the winner.
Roma beat Qarabag, securing top spot in the group with Chelsea coming in second. The two teams both finished the competition on 11 points, with Chelsea having the better goal difference. However, in the Champions League, the groups` outcome is decided by the results of games between individual teams should they be level.
Chelsea should have won the game relatively easily, but a combination of poor finishing and good goalkeeping saw Madrid pick up a point, that ultimately did them no good at all.
Chelsea can look forward to facing one of PSG, Barcelona or Besiktas in the round of sixteen….Paris here we come.