Chelsea Get Beaten at Their Own Game as Champions League Dream Is Ripped Apart

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Chelsea Get Beaten at Their Own Game as Champions League Dream Is Ripped Apart
Matt Dunham/Associated Press

STAMFORD BRIDGE, LONDON—The European Cup will reside in Madrid for a 10th time come May after Chelsea succumbed to Atletico Madrid in their Champions League semi-final.

It wasn’t for want of trying that Chelsea failed to join Atletico’s city rivals Real in the Lisbon finale: On this occasion, the simple fact is they just weren’t good enough.

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Jose Mourinho had talked a good game ahead of this tie, suggesting almost that it was destiny the Blues would go all the way in the competition.

Destiny played a part at Stamford Bridge, but it was Atleti that fortune favored as goals from Adrian Lopez, Diego Costa and Arda Turan cancelled out Fernando Torres’ opener to secure a 3-1 win.

For the third time as Chelsea boss, Mourinho has now come up short at this stage of the Champions League—his fourth season in a row after semi-final defeats as Real Madrid manager.

In the past, it was Rafa Benitez and Liverpool who had outdone him, yet this time, defeat came at the hands of a manager more in his own mould: Diego Simeone.

Clive Rose/Getty Images

Indeed, it’s ironic that in this week of all weeks, Chelsea were beaten by a team deploying similar tactics to those that saw them defeat Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield on Sunday.

Mourinho and his players have been criticized heavily since, accused of parking the bus to get one over on their rivals.

It’s a criticism that has been wide of the mark.

Sure, there was a defensive ethic to Chelsea’s Anfield performance, but it was one that came with the intent to capitalize on Liverpool’s errors and to punish them at certain times in the game.

It worked masterfully; it was exactly how Mourinho would have liked.

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Simeone did the same.

Atleti’s performance was one worthy of reaching a Champions League final. Simeone’s players not only battled for everything, their endeavors eventually giving them the reward they deserved, they showed their class as a team as well as individually.

When Torres scored his opener on 36 minutes, it seemed nothing was going to stop the Chelsea train from rolling on. It had been close up to that point, although Chelsea were edging it.

The goal wasn’t the turning point, though. That came just eight minutes later when Adrian fired home the equalizer right on half-time.

It was a killer blow that deflated Chelsea, and they never recovered.

Had the Blues held out for the break, it would have been a different story. Instead, it was Simeone’s game plan that was getting the better of Mourinho’s.

Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

From that moment, there was only going to be one winner.

Adrian’s goal meant Chelsea were no longer in a position to bide their time. With away goals counting for so much at this stage, the tie was out of their hands, and the Blues needed to get their noses back in front.

With that intent came the gaps Simeone and his players had planned for. And just like Chelsea at Anfield, they ruthlessly punished their opponents.

It's one thing defending as a unit but quite another to expose a wounded opponent. Atletico showed they are the real experts.

For those Chelsea fans who are not au fait with their talents, they were getting both barrels.

It’s nights like this that remind us of why Atleti lead the way in La Liga: nights in which, regardless of the opponent, they grind out victories in the same way Chelsea have become known for.

Purists may lament their style, but let that be their problem. This Atletico team is going to the places Mourinho hopes to take Chelsea.

Clive Rose/Getty Images

For all the bravado we have witnessed since his Stamford Bridge return, facing Simeone’s side has highlighted all the more the shortcomings of this Chelsea team that Mourinho has been eager to point out for much of the campaign.

The Blues aren’t quite there yet. Being mastered at their own game only confirms it.

Now, they have a summer to regroup and build on what they have achieved in 2013-14. There may not be silverware to acknowledge it just yet, but that will come.

Chelsea are back on the road to becoming the force they were not so long ago. Right now, it’s Atletico’s time to rejoice, but this isn't the last we have seen of Mourinho's Blues.

 

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter @garryhayes

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