For Chelsea, it was difficult to imagine a more perfect evening. It had been easy to worry about the awkward nature of Atlético Madrid’s threat but the manner in which they contained the Spanish league leaders offered the latest evidence of the resolve that Thomas Tuchel has brought to the club.
Chelsea caught a break in the first half when the score was 0-0 on the night, César Azpilicueta putting his hand across Yannick Carrasco inside the area as the last defender and not being penalised. It looked like a penalty and a red card.
But Atlético could get little else going and it was difficult to remember Édouard Mendy having to make a save – apart from the late tip-over to deny João Felix. The blue line in front of him was robust and in front of that, there was N’Golo Kanté, who had one of those nights when he seemed everywhere; skating forward one minute, closing the door on Atlético the next.
Chelsea have conceded only two goals in 13 matches under Tuchel – a ridiculous statistic – and Atlético’s frustration was summed up when Stefan Savic aimed a dig at Antonio Rüdiger’s ribs towards the end, as they jostled at a corner. Rüdiger went down as if pole-axed and Savic was dismissed.
But what about Chelsea at the other end? Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner, the expensive summer signings, producing eye-catching moments, not least when the last two combined for the first of them to score the decisive goal and, for the first time in five attempts, Chelsea have won a Champions League last-16 tie. Emerson, on as a substitute, provided the gloss with a late breakaway finish. It was no more than Chelsea deserved.
The first leg had been a claustrophobic affair, shaped by Atlético’s reluctance to take risks and the impression that they would be happy with a 0-0. They did not get that, thanks to Olivier Giroud’s spectacular overhead kick, and so they had no choice here. They had to do something.
The prospect of an open game had not felt high at kick-off time, given Chelsea’s tightness under Tuchel and Atlético being, well, Diego Simeone’s Atlético. The Argentinian’s system had looked like a 6-3-1 for much of the first leg but he had to be more expansive here and he was.
Atlético squeezed high at the outset, eager to pinch possession and provoke in dangerous areas, and it was also noticeable that Simeone had asked his wide midfielders, Marcos Llorente and Yannick Carrasco, to play as such.
There are few touchline presences more animated than Simeone and, in the absence of supporters, his nonstop cajolings rang around the stadium. It really takes something to make Tuchel look like the quiet one in the technical area. Simeone is that something.
The Atlético manager was incensed at the non-decisions in the first half. Antonio Rüdiger barged into Luis Suárez just outside the area, on the right, but never mind the leniency there on the part of the Italian referee, Daniele Orsato.
It was in the 27th minute that it was most pronounced. Suárez tried to play in Carrasco only for Azpilicueta to read his intentions and move to usher the ball back to Mendy. Only he left the pass short and, with Carrasco clean through on goal, he grabbed at him. Down went Carrasco and it looked like a penalty. Furthermore, given that Azpilicueta had made no attempt to play the ball, he would have to be sent off if the foul were given. It was not. Mysteriously, VAR did not even check the decision.
How Chelsea finessed the reprieve. Shortly after Kai Havertz was booked for catching José María Giménez with an elbow in an aerial challenge, Tuchel’s team broke to seize control of the tie.
Their only previous flicker had been a spin and shot from Werner that deflected wide. Now they cleared an Atlético cross and, with Kieran Trippier on his heels, Havertz strode on to the ball before flicking on the turbo charger. The ease with which he accelerated away from Trippier was striking and Simeone lost himself in a funk. He could see what was about to happen. Havertz played in the overlapping Werner and his low cross invited Ziyech to finish low past Jan Oblak.
João Félix had advertised his gliding menace on 18 minutes with a burst away from Kanté and a move into the area before he was crowded out. Chelsea heeded the warning, working to shut off the angles towards him and pushing him into non-threatening spaces.
Ziyech’s goal liberated Chelsea and it was lovely to see Havertz enjoy himself on the ball. He seemed to have an extra half yard of pace while his touch was loaded with assurance.
Ziyech was good, too, all quick feet and incisive actions. He released Werner with a fine ball up the inside right channel – Chelsea would get more and more encouragement in behind Atlético – and it took Oblak throwing a firm hand down to deny him from a tight angle. There was also the moment when Ziyech took a low Reece James cross, got the ball out of his feet and curled for the top corner. Oblak’s tip-over was spectacular.