Atletico Madrid suffered their worst UEFA Champions League finish since returning to the competition in 2013-14, as Tuesday's 1-1 away draw with Chelsea knocked them out of the competition in the group stage.
AS Roma defeated Qarabag 1-0, so the Italian side claimed the top spot in Group C by virtue of a tiebreaker with Chelsea. Atletico finished in third place, but their seven points may be enough to see them qualify for the knockout stages of the Europa League.
In the first match between these two clubs, the Chelsea midfield did an excellent job neutralizing Koke and limiting the extent of Antoine Griezmann's impact on the match to a penalty in the 40th minute. Atletico managed just four shots on target, with Griezmann and fellow striker Fernando Torres registering one shot apiece.
While Griezmann again struggled to make his presence felt, Torres played a role in Saul's goal to give Atletico a 1-0 lead in the 56th minute. From a corner kick, Torres headed the ball across goal to an unmarked Saul, who had a simple finish from close range.
OptaJoe noted the goal ended a lengthy scoring drought away from home:
390 - Saúl Ñíguez's goal was Atletico's first away from home in the Champions League in six and a half hours of football (390 minutes), since the Spaniard scored at Leicester in April. Call.2017-12-5 21:04:15
Had Atletico's one-goal lead held, they could've finished second in the group with a draw or Qarabag win in the other Group C fixture. Instead, Chelsea erased any doubt when they tied the game in the 75th minute.
Atletico failed to properly clear a counter, which allowed Eden Hazard to collect the ball just outside the 18-yard box. After taking a few touches, Hazard unleashed a left-footed shot at goal that deflected in off Atletico defender Stefan Savic. The Times' Henry Winter argued Savic's bad luck shouldn't overshadow Hazard's effort before the goal:
Henry Winter @henrywinter
Hazard, such skill, controlling the ball with his right, shooting in with his left, og by Savic. 1-1.2017-12-5 21:21:22
As bet365 highlighted, the Belgian attacker is experiencing a rich vein of form:
Eden Hazard: ⏱ 10 games ⚽️ 8 goals 🔥 6 MOTM 🎯 4 assists Unstoppable. https://t.co/57pc4WPBcW2017-12-5 21:27:05
Alvaro Morata nearly put Chelsea ahead shortly thereafter, but Jan Oblak made an excellent save in a one-on-one situation to keep Atletico alive. ESPN FC's Liam Twomey thought the sequence was emblematic of one of Morata's few faults:
Liam Twomey @liam_twomey
Morata has many strengths but, strangely, one v ones don't seem to be among them. Perhaps does better when he has less time to think? #cfc2017-12-5 21:22:50
Atletico manager Diego Simeone argued for a penalty in the 89th minute after Gary Cahill conceded a corner following a tackle on Angel Correa. Subsequent replays showed Cahill won the ball cleanly, so the referee was right to whistle for the corner rather than point to the penalty spot.
The resulting corner kick came to nothing, and Correa had a shot from outside the box sail high over the crossbar, which was Atletico's best chance to equalize before the final whistle.
While the result carried larger implications for Atletico Madrid, Chelsea will likely walk away more frustrated with their performance. A win would've put them top of the group, and they had plenty of chances to find a second goal—owning a seven-to-three edge in shots on target.
By finishing second, Chelsea face a worst-case scenario of potentially drawing Barcelona or Paris Saint-Germain. The draw for the round of 16 is Dec. 11. The first leg of the round of 16 will take place on Dec. 13 and 14, with the second leg playing out a week later.
Atletico, meanwhile, slip into the Europa League—a tournament in which they've tasted success within the last few years.
Dermot Corrigan @dermotmcorrigan
Last time Atletico went out of Champions League in group stages [09/10, with Chelsea also in their group] they won that season's Europa League.2017-12-5 21:40:59
As things stand, Atletico would qualify for the Europa League, but that may change after Wednesday's Champions League fixtures.
Considering Atleti could be joined by Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Napoli, the knockout stages of the Europa League should be an entertaining affair.