From the very first minute at the Vicente Calderon last week, it was clear what Jose Mourinho was planning to do against Atletico Madrid.
The Chelsea manager’s strategy was evident: defend with 10 men behind the ball in the first leg, get a 0-0 draw, then be cautious in the second leg in London, pick up a narrow win and progress to the Champions League final.
Up until the 36th minute at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, the Portuguese’s ‘tactics’ were working just fine. Fernando Torres had just scored with the aid of a deflection and Chelsea had gone 1-0 up in the tie.
Then rallied Atletico, who have been one of the best teams to watch in Europe this season. Adrian restored parity on 44 minutes and Diego Costa – a summer target for Chelsea – scored from the penalty spot on the hour mark. Then 12 minutes later Arda Turn slotted the ball home after collecting a rebound from just yards out to wrap up the contest and the tie 3-1.
Football purists have since been mocking Chelsea and Mourinho, claiming that on Wednesday it was a ‘victory for football’. Indeed, over the two legs – and the course of the season by extension – Atletico were much better than Chelsea and did try to win the games rather than not lose them.
But things could have gone differently had Mourinho been more adventurous in the first leg in Madrid, according to Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola. The 47-year-old former Watford boss, who is regarded as one of the greatest foreign players ever to have featured in the Premier League, claims that the London club’s defensive approach in the Spanish capital was the main factor in their undoing.
‘It is always a risk when you go into the second game with a 0-0’, the Italian told Sky Sports. ‘If you're playing at home in the first leg of a Champions League game and you draw 0-0, then you are quite happy.
‘In the second game, the pressure is on the home team and it can become difficult for them. In my opinion, Jose was trying to be cautious in the beginning to try to do something more aggressive in the end, when the opposition was more tired - but it didn't work out.
‘Atletico Madrid is such a big team and in a perfect moment, so nothing could work against them - it's as simple as that. Sometimes when the opposition is so good then it's just part of football. On the day, Atletico were better’.