Analysis

The Debrief: Strength at the back and magic in attack gives Tuchel’s Blues the edge in Romania

We take a look over some of the notable statistics from last night’s Champions League victory against Atletico Madrid, with a focus on defensive discipline and a magical match-winning moment…

Olivier Giroud’s wonderful overhead kick settled a tight affair in Bucharest, an eye-catching goal that deserved to win any game of football, not least one played on the biggest of stages in Europe’s premier club competition.

It came following a lengthy VAR review for offside but ultimately proved the correct decision, just as Thomas Tuchel’s side proved worthy winners in the first leg of the Round of 16 tie.

Wary and wily with the ball

Dominating possession is nothing new for Tuchel’s Blues and not exactly the marker of success against the counter-attacking Atletico, as our German head coach made clear in his post-match interview. In fact, Diego Simeone’s side practically forego the ball to increase their threat on the break, content to sit deep and in numbers before springing forward with speed and precision.

Yet Chelsea were wary and wily to those possibilities, careful not to turnover possession in dangerous areas and then reacting swiftly to counter-press whenever the ball was lost. The strategy meant we restricted the La Liga leaders to not a single shot on target in the 90 minutes, their best moments actually coming from a couple of unforced errors.

Captain Cesar Azpilicueta was influential in that clean sheet, our first in the Champions League knockout stages since the 0-0 draw against Atletico in Madrid seven years ago.

No player on the pitch recorded more than his four clearances or won more than his six aerial duels, while he also made the joint-highest numbers of tackles among Chelsea players with two.

Against his countrymen, it was a rearguard display that led by example. In possession, the 31-year-old had a game-high 117 touches of the ball, helping the team slow down and speed up the tempo of the contest as required. His average position was higher than either of the other centre-backs and even left wing-back Marcos Alonso, highlighting the frequency with which he stepped into midfield to support the build-up play.

Alongside Andreas Christensen and Toni Rudiger at the back, our defensive performance made it a more routine night in goal for Edouard Mendy than it might otherwise have been. The Senegalese international’s fifth clean sheet is more than any other goalkeeper in the competition this season and means we’ve conceded just two goals in eight games under Tuchel.

Cutting through down the flanks

Unsurprisingly against an Atletico side that prove so stubborn and hard to break down in central areas, over 70 per cent of our attacks came down the flanks, with Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi proving effective in tandem down the right.

The young duo combined for one of our best chances of the first half, with Timo Werner inches away from converting in the middle. Overall, Mount attempted five dribbles and two key passes, both unsurpassed by any other player in the game.

A little further back, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic accounted for just over 17 per cent of the game’s possession and 212 touches between them. Only Mount completed more take-ons than the Croatian.

Oli’s quality shines through

It was from Alonso’s left-sided venture forward that the deadlock was broken 22 minutes from time, Giroud’s sublime effort finding the bottom corner and handing Chelsea a crucial away goal. 

Not only that, the goal took the Frenchman clear as our third-highest all-time scorer in European competition on 18 goals. Only Frank Lampard (25) and Didier Drogba (36) have netted more.

The winner came from one of the striker’s two shots on goal, the other ending up blocked, and from one of his 35 touches in the game, the lowest of any Chelsea outfielder, which just reinforces the old adage about quality over quantity.

Giroud's all-round work was also crucial to our attacking play as he dropped deep to link with midfielders. As the average positions graphic indicates, his movement into those pockets allowed Werner to play higher, while Chelsea’s overall focus came down the right.

Other statistical highlights

Chelsea had 11 attempts on goal, three of which were blocked and another three off target. Atletico had six efforts, none of which were on target.

There were no offsides in the game. The one that was initially given, against Giroud in the build-up to the goal, was chalked off by VAR as the final touch had in fact come off a defender.

We received two bookings, for Mount and Jorginho, who will both now miss the second leg.

This was our first win away from home in the Champions League knockout stages since beating Bayern Munich to lift the trophy in May 2012.

Chelsea have now won four consecutive away games in the Champions League for the first time since a run of five in 2003/04.

A good omen for the Blues; the victory was the 14th time we’ve won a first leg away tie in European knockout football and we have progressed to the next round on each of the past 13 occasions.

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