- Premier League
Chelsea eliminate Atletico with draw but rue missed opportunity as Roma top their Champions League group
Chelsea 1 Atletico Madrid 1: Hazard's deflected shot helped the Blues back into the game but they could not get the crucial second goal to claim three points and finish as group winners
- Miguel Delaney Stamford Bridge
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The Independent Sport
Chelsea eventually draw the game, but not too much comfort, as this generally good performance could only give them a 1-1 draw against Atletico Madrid and thereby second place at the end of this Champions League group. That was a result of Roma beating Qarabag 1-0 at home in the group’s other match, a scoreline that also marked the end of something else: Atletico’s spell of supreme performance in this competition. They have failed to reach the knock-out stages for the first time since 2013, and have been knocked out in the first round for the first time under a visibly frustrated – and often frustrated – Diego Simeone. They just never really got going, as was emphasised by how Saul Niguez scored the opening goal they needed here just after Roma had scored in the Stadio Olimpico.
So much of this match was strange in that sense, and will be a strange feeling for Conte, too. He can be happy with his side’s performance – and especially that of the excellent Eden Hazard, who forced Stefan Savic's own goal – but not with a result that will leave them facing one of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, RB Leipzig or Besiktas from Monday’s draw. It’s better than not being in it, though, as Simeone is facing up to.
The oddity was that Atletico – and particularly a Simeone-fired Atletico – did not exactly start like a side who were in danger of their entire Champions League campaign coming to an end. While they dabbed a bit at Thibaut Courtois’ goal, it was Chelsea that did most of the attacking. Conte came good on his promise to play a strong side, as he no doubt saw the opportunity to knock out one of the sides who have dominated the latter stages of this competition in recent years. There wasn’t much evidence of how they did that in the first half, but there was a lot of evidence as to why they need replenishment and renovation. A much sharper Chelsea were regularly whizzing past them, and had by far the best chances.
Saul Niguez celebrates Atletico's opener (Getty)
Most of those involved Morata, who was regularly booed by the away support for his Real Madrid history, so seemed determined to give a bit back. He was generally keeping Chelsea’s attack moving with some typically clever touches, and also had Jan Oblak moving with one fine effort. The Slovenian goalkeeper – who has a claim to rival David De Gea and Courtois as one of the best in the world – also pulled off a fine save from a Davide Zappacosta attempt.
Again, the curiosity was all this action was happening at one end, given that at that stage Atletico needed just one goal to go through. The closest they had come was a blazed effort, and some clumsy Fernando Torres forays forward.
Chelsea of course had their own reasons for such pressure, given that they needed a win to guarantee top spot, something that was put into sharp focus in a key spell around the 56th minute where everything changed. As Roma scored at home against Qarabag, Atletico finally responded with a strike of their own, and Conte’s side were suddenly both one down and dropping down the table into second.
Eden Hazard's shot is deflected to pull Chelsea level (Getty)
Summing up the game as a whole, the Saul header had come largely against the run of play. Chelsea started the second half as well as they had finished the first, Andreas Christensen having a header saved by Oblak before Eden Hazard left two Atletico defenders on the ground with a blistering run only for his shot to be deflected over.
It was a former Chelsea player that finally got the Spanish side going, though, and not the one that got the most focus. Filipe Luis sent out the signal for Simeone’s team to start properly attacking with a 53rd-minute shot that popped off the post from distance, Courtois then saving Koke’s header. Within minutes, Atletico were ahead and this time Torres was central to it. He headed on Koke’s corner, for a completely unmarked Saul to head in. The Spanish star’s wild celebration was not that of someone who had looked up at the scoreboard in the last few minutes, however, given that it had just announced that Roma had gone ahead. Atletico were going out without a Qarabag equaliser, regardless of again winning here.
They wouldn’t even manage that, though, as Hazard – of course – forced an equaliser 15 minutes later. A spell of pressure ended with the ball coming out to the Belgian at the edge of the box, before he once more skipped past a dangerous challenge to drive the ball at goal. Stefan Savic tried to divert it, only to send it into his own net.
It should have been 2-1 just seconds later, as Fabregas broke free into an open Atletico half. A player who makes the ball move much quicker than his legs, though, he didn’t have the pace to get away from the Atletico defenders rushing back. The midfielder squared for Morata, who was once more denied by Oblak.
The goalkeeper didn’t have to do anything for Chelsea’s next big chance, as substitute Willian skied the ball after Hazard – again – had done supremely to set him up.
It meant Conte’s side has squandered a big chance to win the group as well as the game, but at least one big side is knocked out.
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