Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel praised his players for suffocating Atletico Madrid with relentless pressing as they beat Diego Simeone’s side 1-0 in Bucharest on Tuesday night in the first leg of their last 16 Champions League tie.
Olivier Giroud’s stunning overhead kick in the second half handed Chelsea the advantage going into the second leg at Stamford Bridge on March 17 but Tuchel was most pleased with how his players implemented their game plan and deprived the La Liga leaders of space and the ball. “We knew they were ready to suffer with eight people in the box. The intention was to keep the intensity high and we did that very well. We never let them breathe or come out for counter-attacks,” Tuchel told reporters.
“We wanted to dominate in the opponents’ half, to never lose concentration, not to make any easy mistakes and always be aware of quick counter-attacks for all their quality. It was a very disciplined performance, a deserved shut out.”
Tuchel has led Chelsea to six wins in eight games in all competitions since succeeding Frank Lampard in January but this was his most significant result. The performance showed the impact he has already had on the team.
The German said the players were following his methods well but they had to keep on practising their new-found style of play as if they were a band. “It’s like learning a new song, you have to repeat it and repeat it so it gets more fluid and more in the rhythm. It’s about repetition, we created a lot of situations where we could start attacks and I’m very happy with that,” he said.
“I’m confident because I see the will, the hunger, the desire. Today was one of the toughest challenges to open up a defence like Atletico but we can and we will not stop pushing the guys and encourage them to improve and keep going.”
Atletico coach Simeone said he felt the game had been tight and did not agree that his side had been second best. “Both sides worked really hard, there were really few opportunities to score and they took theirs, but apart from that it was really even,” said the Argentine, whose side have won only once in their last five matches in all competitions.
“But if you’d told me in September we’d be 1-0 down after the first leg of the last 16 in the Champions League and top of La Liga, I’d have signed up for it.”
Giroud broke the deadlock in the 68th minute with an outrageous bicycle kick which was flagged offside but eventually given following a lengthy VAR review as the ball had come off Atletico’s Mario Hermoso before Giroud hit it.
Joao Felix had attempted an overhead effort earlier in the second half but missed the target in one of few chances for Atletico. Chelsea looked more likely to find a second goal than Atletico did an equaliser but Tuchel’s side will be without Mason Mount and Jorginho in the second leg at Stamford Bridge on March 17 as they will be suspended after being booked. “We came here with strong intentions to win, play our game and we knew how to cause them trouble offensively,” said match-winner Giroud. “We have been strong at the back in the defensive shape and we’re very pleased with the win, it was a deserved win tonight.”
Atletico keeper Jan Oblak said his side had been too anxious in attack but insisted their spirits remained high. “In the dressing room I saw a team with its head held high and I’m convinced we’re going to improve,” he said.
Deprived of the usual raucous atmosphere they would normally expect for a European knockout game at the Wanda Metropolitano and forced to take a four-hour flight to the game, there was little sense of them having a home advantage. They played with little ambition or intensity and could not manage a single shot on target to bother Chelsea keeper Edouard Mendy. “I don’t think this is a crisis for us, it’s just a little different,” added Oblak. “In a difficult situation you see how strong a team really is and I’m sure we’re going to come out of this period and keep moving forward.”
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