FOOTBALL is a results business, so for Chelsea, it was a case of job done in Bucharest. But if it is also deemed to be an entertainment industry, then it was, at times, white handkerchief territory in the Arena Nationala at times.
Curiously, nobody has really considered the pandemic could be a competitive disadvantage for clubs that have to switch their home games to neutral – or Covid friendly – territory. Chelsea couldn’t go to Spain, so it had to played elsewhere. When they meet again in three weeks time, the second leg will be played at Stamford Bridge, hence Chelsea will have the upper hand in more ways than one.
In theory, UEFA should – in these difficult times – merely opt for a one-leg tie. The closing stages of last season’s competition were surprisingly successful and as a remedy to a major problem, the two-legged concept is not only unnecessary but also impractical in the current climate.
Atlético played the game as if they were an away side trying to earn a draw to take back to their place. They didn’t have a single shot on target in 90 minutes, a real indictment given Atléti coach Diego Simeone had Jõao Felix and Luis Suarez in his line-up.
For much of the game, the strategic approach of both teams made for an uninspiring event, although Chelsea left the Romanian capital content enough. Their coach, Thomas Tuchel, sat contorted in his airline seat, clearly unhappy for much of the time. Chelsea’s best chance in the opening 45 fell to Timo Werner, who continues to be praised to the nines even when he doesn’t score. There are shades of the stuttering career of Fernando Torres in Werner’s debut season, countless people trying to justify his large fee by highlighting his overall contribution when really, all they want is for the German to score goals – and plenty of them. If Werner doesn’t get 20 goals a season, will Chelsea persevere with their expensive capture from Leipzig?
Thankfully, Chelsea have options and considerably more invention in their line-up than Simeone was willing to reveal. The winning goal came from that old Cheval de bataille , Olivier Giroud, the 34 year-old former Arsenal player whose transfer across London has certainly been more successful, and more appreciated, than the contribution made by Chelsea old boys moving in the opposite direction. What a memorable strike, a bicycle kick that gave Jan Oblak no chance and even dumbfounded the VAR team, who tried to rule it out. The three-minute delay in determining whether it was a legitimate goal was worth it, as it would have been a shame if Giroud’s marvellous effort had been consigned to the great forgotten goals of all time!
It was niggly at times – Suarez returned to form with a cheeky pinch of Rüdiger’s “inner thigh”, which might have meant he was trying to gain an extra set of cojones, and he also tried to “game” his way through the second half. Great forward he may have been (perhaps still is) but the little Uruguayan is still a sly old dog.
It may not have set the world alight or prevented you from switching over to watch Bayern trounce Lazio, but it was one for the die-hards. Chelsea produced a classic away leg performance that positions them nicely for the second leg. In games between teams of the status of Atléti and Chelsea, played in empty grounds, the gap between home and away is smaller than it might have been before we evacuated the world’s stadiums. One tip for the TV pundits… it is “Atlético” not “Athletico”.
Photo: PA Images