Today, in the first leg of the Champions League 2014 semifinals tie between Atletico Madrid and Chelsea FC, at the Vicente Calderon Stadium, a misfiring Atletico stumbled at home to a 0-0 draw with their English visitors, and their Portuguese coach, Jose Mourinho. This was nothing like their 2012 encounter.
This was an underwhelming performance by both sides with the strategic advantage not only going to Chelsea, but doing so in as embarrassing a manner as possible for Atletico coach, Diego Simeone. His poorly conceived tactics have Madrid going to Stamford Bridge with Chelsea holding all the cards. The one game he needed to have his troops doing what they had successfully done all year long, was the one he chose to have them play differently.
The game was a rough affair, as expected, but millionaire Swedish referee, Jonas Eriksson, who has officiated 112 international matches, did not seem up to the task of keeping things flowing without allowing the rough play to take hold. With no yellows handed out but a foul every 3:46 minutes it was going to be simply a matter of time before tempers and actions merged.
Playing without Oscar as a Chelsea starter or David Villa as an Atletico starter, the coaches had their own minds made up about how this one had to be played. The defensive minded Mou had his team waiting for Madrid to attack and attempting the long ball to Fernando Torres. Atletico's Simeone has his team taking the initiative both on attack and in possession while keeping a tight leash on Torres.
But the crux of the matter was that with 62% possession Madrid seemed to have only one play in their playbook--the cross. The one play all English teams are drilled mercilessly to defend was the one play that they could reliably expect to see develop attack after attack. It was the only play they had to stop. Unsurprisingly, they managed to stop Atletico from scoring so thoroughly that Diego Costa decided bicycle kicks were his best alternative while an equally desperate Diego kept firing at will from all angles hoping another bomb like the one he scored on Barcelona's Pinto would magically appear.
The game began with the hosts controlling the game until the 15th minute when what should have been a routine clearance ended with an awkward fall by Petr Cech who had to leave the game with an injury. From that moment on possession, while still in Madrid's favor, seemed to even out as the Chelsea midfield, featuring David Luis, and the usual defenders (John Terry and Gary Cahill in particular) were tackling tough and at times doing so if not recklessly certainly with a strategically emphatic.intent.
The Madrid side was playing so poorly that at times one wondered how they could be leading La Liga over the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona. When the sides went in, one would have thought Mou would tell his troops they were on course for his desired result while Simeone must have been at a loss for words.
The second half was played and ended the same way the first half did. No goals were scored. No imagination was expended, nothing short of a cross materialized on Madrid's offensive side, no major attacks bothered Thibault Courtois all game long, and of course five yellows were shown and a red should have been given (for two yellows on Frank Lampard who purposely handled the ball while already carrying a prior yellow).
In short, an uninspiring Mou-a-thon.