Mourinho Misses a Big Chance to Gain a Champions League Advantage for Chelsea

Nick MillerFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2014

Chelsea's Frank Lampard, left, and Chelsea's Mark Schwarzer greet their fans after the Champions League semifinal first leg soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Chelsea at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, April 22, 2014. The match ended in a 0-0 draw. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
Andres Kudacki

It's interesting how a manager's principles can change depending on the situation.

Back in January, West Ham came to Stamford Bridge and did their utmost to keep Chelsea out, to defend staunchly and collect a valuable 0-0 draw in what was at that stage a relegation tussle for the Hammers.

Jose Mourinho wasn't especially impressed. He said after the game, as quoted by the Guardian:

It's very difficult to play a football match where only one team wants to play, very difficult. A match is about two teams playing. This match was only one team playing and another team not. I told Big Sam that, because they need points, to come here and do it the way they did... is it acceptable? Maybe yes.

I cannot be too critical because, if I was in this position, I don't know if I would do the same. But at the same time this is not Premier League. This is not the best league in the world. This is football from the 19th century.

Those words sprang quickly to mind during Chelsea's goalless draw in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against Atletico Madrid, which was the "attritional" (or, if you prefer a less kind assessment, "boring") affair that many feared it might be.

However, while it was fairly foreseeable that neither side would exactly go all-out attack, it was perhaps surprising to see just how defensive Chelsea were.

Setting up in a 4-5-1 formation with three deep central midfielders and both Willian and Ramires asked to perform "functional" roles on either flank, Fernando Torres was ridiculously isolated up front, forced to feed on scraps and punted 60-yard balls he had little hope of controlling and doing anything particularly useful with.

Paul White

Mourinho said after the game, as quoted by the Times and ESPN journalist Gabriele Marcotti, that Chelsea had not intended to draw the game 0-0 but simply tried to prevent Atletico from winning it.

However, one has to question whether Chelsea's tactics actually worked. Of course, they didn't lose and thus to an extent achieved Mourinho's goal, but was this down to his tactics or more to do with Atletico's profligacy?

The Spaniards had 25 shots with only four on target, suggesting they had plenty of opportunities to score but didn't take any of them. A few of those spurned chances were down to excellent defending, but many were because Atletico simply didn't take the opportunities afforded to them.

The problem for Chelsea is that going back to London only requiring one away goal to go through to the final might actually suit Diego Simeone and Atletico rather well. They are a team who revel in playing on the counter-attack so will be relatively happy to sit back and try to hit Chelsea on the break, knowing a quick strike could be enough.

In addition, Mourinho will be without several key players for the second leg. Nemanja Matic will, of course, be ineligible, Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel will be suspended after collecting bookings in the Vicente Calderon, while there are injury doubts over Petr Cech, John Terry and Eden Hazard.

While Mourinho could not have foreseen all of those problems, it is possible that through his cautious tactics, he has missed a good opportunity to gain a big advantage in this tie.