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Gary Lim
Saturday, Apr 26, 2014

Sports

Champions League: Risky game

The New Paper | Gary Lim | Saturday, Apr 26, 2014

Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa controls the ball during their Champions League semi-final first leg soccer match against Chelsea at Vicente Celderon Stadium in Madrid.

SEMI-FINAL, 1ST LEG

ATLETICO MADRID 0, CHELSEA 0

Once more, Jose Mourinho took things right to the edge.

Once again, the Portuguese got what he wanted: A goal-less away draw with Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League semi-finals.

This is the Chelsea mantra, in which only results matter.

This was also a performance so negative that it bordered on nauseating.

Don't take anything away from the players, who displayed extraordinary resilience, patience and tactical discipline to stick to the game-plan down to the minutest detail.

But the Chelsea manager is playing a dangerous game.

Any slight advantage - if there was any - he gained from the result seemed to have been erased by what transpired at the Vicente Calderon yesterday morning (Singapore time).

Petr Cech injured his arm while trying to keep out a corner-kick. Captain John Terry hobbled off the field with a foot injury.

Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel received bookings to rule them out of the second leg.

Injured Eden Hazard, their best player by far this season, was not even among the substitutes in Madrid.

In comparison, the suspension of Atletico skipper Gabi looks a relatively minor hiccup.

Chelsea, as dictated by circumstances, have to field a weakened team against Atletico at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday.

If given a choice, Mourinho will play his "kids" against Liverpool in a domestic top-of-table clash this Sunday, to protect what he has left.

After all, English Premiership glory, with five points separating them from the Reds and just three games remaining, appears a long shot.

It's the Champions League where they stand a better chance of winning, and it's only logical that the priority has shifted.

VULNERABLE

But the goal-less draw with Atletico that keeps Chelsea in the frame also leaves them just as vulnerable.

While Atletico may be frustrated and disappointed with their inability to breach the opponents' goal at home, it may be Chelsea's lack of an away goal that may return to haunt Mourinho.

Chelsea's primary task in the second leg, again, will be to stop Atletico's attackers from notching the all-important away goal.

Remember, Chelsea need to score two goals if Atletico score once, three if they score twice, and so on - a massive ask considering their appalling strike rate.

But the Blues need to find the net themselves too, unless they fancy running down a 120-minute clock and placing their hopes on a dreaded penalty shoot-out.

So, containment, a Mourinho forte, is no longer going to be enough.

He must strike the perfect balance between defensive solidity and offensive ambition.

But he must also be prepared for the ultimate retribution.

Should Atletico score the opening goal at Stamford Bridge, and commence with the same annoying time-wasting tactics that Chelsea employed to take the sting out of the game, Mourinho knows he has only himself to blame.

ATLETICO MADRID: Thibaut Courtois, Diego Godin, Filipe Luis, Francisco Juanfran, Joao Miranda, Mario Suarez (Jose Ernesto Sosa 80), Koke, Gabi, Diego (Arda Turan 60), Raul Garcia (David Villa 86), Diego Costa.

CHELSEA: Petr Cech (Mark Schwarzer 18), Ashley Cole, Gary Cahill, John Terry (Andre Schurrle 73), Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Frank Lampard, Jon Mikel Obi, Ramires, Fernando Torres, Willian (Demba Ba 90).

This article was published on April 24 in The New Paper.

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