Chelsea booked their place in the Champions League quarter finals with a professional performance against a woeful Atletico Madrid side at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night.
A blistering first-half counter from the home team, which saw Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and goalscorer Hakim Ziyech link-up, followed by a Emerson late goal was the difference as the Blues never had to get out of third gear.
Stefan Savic would see red late on for a malicious elbow on Antonio Rudiger, who was superb on the night. How the scoreline was only 2-0 to Chelsea will be the question on everyone’s lips, but Thomas Tuchel and his men won’t care too much tonight as they celebrate a job well done.
From the outset it appeared that the visitors had come with a more positive gameplan than the bemusing defensive block they had deployed in the first leg, albeit that came as no surprise given they were chasing the result. The much admired starlet Joao Felix in particular was bright in the early stages, always looking to get at the impregnable Blues backline directly.
Indeed, the first chance would fall to Atletico as left-back Renan Lodi attempted an audacious lob from all of 25 yards – it’d take something special to beat the giant Edouard Mendy from there, who claimed comfortably.
In the tenth minute, Kai Havertz carved open the Atleti defence with a perfectly weighted through ball for Marcos Alonso to take on the run, but the Spaniard was always stretching and fired harmlessly into the side netting. It came in the middle of a period of patient build-up and control for the Blues, as 75% possession would attest to.
Felix again would cause panic bearing down on the Chelsea defence, only for the tenacious N’Golo Kante to make up the ground and get a vital foot in before the Portuguese had chance to get a shot away.
Another chance for the home side went begging after a miscommunication between Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner. The latter did well to eventually prod the ball towards the Atleti net, but it was no match for Stefan Savic who deflected the ball behind for a goal kick. Answers on a postcard on that one.
The halfway point of the first period would be punctuated by Antonio Rudiger making Luis Suarez aware of which of the two would win in a battle of strength. Suarez would make Rudiger aware of which of the two would win the Best Actor Oscar, as the Uruguayan was all too quick to try and buy a penalty as has come to be expected of him.
A couple of minutes passed and then it was panic stations at the back for Chelsea. Cesar Azpilicueta stepped in, passing back to Mendy but selling him well short. Recognising the danger, the Blues most experienced player cleverly tugged down Yannick Carrasco. Inexplicably, there was no VAR check. It was certainly theatrical from Carrasco, but penalties have been given for far less.
The 30th minute saw a yellow card for Havertz after he caught Savic with his elbow contesting an aerial ball. The referee would even the scores by booking Renan Lodi for a late challenge on James, ruling him out of the first leg of the quarter finals should Atletico progress – although he needn’t have been so concerned in the end.
Then came the moment many a Chelsea fan had been waiting for. Kante headed a long ball into the box by Atletico out as far as Havertz, who showed great strength and determination to get to the ball first. The former Leverkusen man lofted it through to German compatriot Werner, who brought it forward and kept his composure to square for Hakim Ziyech. The Moroccan magician fired a shot into Jan Oblak that was too hot to handle, and the aggregate lead for the home side was two.
Atletico tried to respond instantly. Marcos Llorente fired a driven ball across the bow, but no one was there to meet it. They’d come forward again, a headed ball only going as far as Felix who got a dangerous shot away. A sea of Blue took the sting out of it and Mendy was composed to hold on to the ball.
There was time for Croatian maestro Kovacic to go close with a shot that was hard and true before the referee called time on the first half. Diego Simeone would have no doubt been grateful for the opportunity to give his side a grilling, as the reality was that it looked like the Blues were the team needing the goals.
Whatever the Argentine said at the interval, it didn’t work. Once again, the Londoners looked the dangerous side. A trademark Timo Werner run had the German in space on the right flank, and it required a good hand from Oblak to deny him from an acute angle.
Chelsea fans will be pleased that Antonio Rudiger managed to extend his streak of ambitious long-range efforts, this time with a 35-yard scorcher in the 52nd minute that wasn’t a million miles away. Five minutes later, Ziyech would show his esteemed teammate how to keep it on target, opening his body up and forcing Atleti’s Slovenian titan to tip it over the woodwork.
Glenn Hoddle on commentary for BT Sport asked if there was three N’Golo Kantes playing for Chelsea on the night. You couldn’t blame Glenn for seeing triple – the Frenchman has been simply world class in the last few outings and this industrious performance was no different.
The visitors managed to fashion out a rare half chance, but the man affectionately known as Dave would get a foot in before Moussa Dembele could. The latter was recently introduced for Luis Suarez, who you could be forgiven for thinking had been left in lost luggage at Madrid-Barajas airport.
Werner was quick to break soon after, choosing to go it alone and fire over rather than play in Havertz. It prompted perhaps the most animated reaction from boss Thomas Tuchel all night, who was reserved by his usual high-octane standards.
The game settled into a non-descript pattern, which suited Chelsea down to the ground. The next chance of any note would fall to former Benfica man Felix, who stung Mendy’s palms with a ripper of a shot. In an unsurprising development, it was Kante who was there to sweep up and clear the lines.
Match-winner Hakim Ziyech would then make way for Christian Pulisic. The Moroccan had much to be proud of even beyond his first-half finish, and Chelsea fans will be hoping
It went from bad to worse for Los Rojiblancos as Stefan Savic would be shown a straight red card on 80 minutes for elbowing Antonio Rudiger. There was no doubt in referee Daniele Orsato’s mind, and the VAR review confirmed he was correct in sending off the Montenegrin centre-back for violent conduct. Callum Hudson-Odoi would take to the field for Timo Werner in all the madness, and his first touch was a shot on target at Oblak.
Late sub Emerson would provide the final flourish, finally putting Atletico to bed, although in the final analysis that had happened long before. Chelsea were full value for their berth in the quarter finals. They were in cruise control for the majority of the 180 minutes played between the two teams, and with hindsight any memories of pessimism after the Round of 16 draw can be laughed up. Los Colchoneros were poor, the Blues were excellent, and Chelsea are five games away from a Champions League final.