Chelsea are counting down the days to their Champions League round of 16 second-leg clash with Atlético Madrid.
The Blues won the first-leg 0-1 in Madrid, giving them a colossal advantage over the current La Liga leaders. An away goal is such a huge advantage, and the spectacular nature of the strike from Olivier Giroud could give Atleti cause to think they’re doomed.
What should worry them more, however, is the defensive structure Chelsea play with, because it’s enough to snuff out even a side as talented as Atleti. It certainly did in the first leg, where they held Atleti to six shots in total and a whopping zero on target.
That’s right, Edouard Mendy didn’t even have to make a save.
Now part of this was just a bad performance from Atleti, right? It’s hardly likely to happen again. After all, Chelsea aren’t that good defensively. Surely, it was just Atleti’s own incompetence that led to the clean sheet?
Well, not quite.
There can be no doubt that Atleti playing poorly helped Chelsea keep a comfortable clean sheet but the truth is, under Thomas Tuchel, the Blues are fast becoming a phenomenal defensive outfit. In fact, they already are.
Since Tuchel took over in late January, Chelsea have not lost a single match. They have won eight and drawn four of their 12 games played. And as if that wasn’t impressive enough, the Blues have conceded just twice in that time.
So, yes, that means they’ve kept 10 clean sheets. Two of them with Kepa in goal (so you know it’s serious). This Chelsea side shut down opponents for fun, and while they don’t carry with them the manic energy that Diego Simeone’s sides do, they are more capable of having the same suffocating and stifling impact on games.
It’s not fun to play Chelsea anymore. Tuchel has more than made sure of that.
Since the German took over, Chelsea have faced just 66 shots across 10 games in the Premier League, which is the fewest in that time. Their two goals conceded is also the best by some way (the next lowest total is seven conceded).
Chelsea vs Atletico Madrid odds (via William Hill):
- Chelsea: 5/4
- Draw: 11/5
- Atletico: 12/5
For comparison’s sake, although obviously it’s a different competition, in La Liga across the same time period Atleti have played nine games, conceded 89 shots (the sixth-most in the division) let in 10 goals (seventh) and kept two clean sheets.
With a settled trio of Antonio Rudiger, Cesar Azpilicueta and then usually Andreas Christensen or Thiago Silva, Chelsea line up across the back with athleticism, determination and positional discipline. Throw in a double pivot screen likely to contain the irrepressible N’Golo Kanté (71 tackles and 54 interceptions so far this season) as well as two hard-working wing-backs, and it’s easy to see why Chelsea are so strong in defence.
That is to say, what happened in the first leg possibly wasn’t a fluke. Chelsea are a monstrous defensive outfit and Atlético Madrid are not. Not anymore, anyway. Their massive lead atop La Liga’s standings owes much to them churning out wins earlier in the season while Barcelona and Real Madrid were spluttering and struggling as opposed to any genuine excellence on their part.
Luis Suárez gave Atleti a killer instinct to allow them to beat stubborn sides that look to frustrate them, but Suárez’s record in away games in the Champions League is notoriously terrible, and he is starting to show his age now (after his desire to prove how good he still was carried him through half a campaign). Now again, Suárez is very good, so there’s always a chance he could hulk out at the Bridge, but the fact remains he hasn’t scored in an away game in the Champions League since September 2015.
Joao Felix is obviously very talented, too, and Kieran Trippier is back now to restore a lot of the creativity to this Atleti side. So you can’t rule them out entirely. But let’s take a look at those defensive stats Chelsea have recorded again: two goals conceded in 12 games across all competitions. 10 clean sheets. Just 66 shots faced in 10 Premier League games.
Going into this Champions League second leg, one thing is abundantly clear: there is one defensive powerhouse in the match and it’s the boys in blue. So it’s honestly hard to see how Atleti could turn this tie around and, moreover, it’s also hard to see how anyone could break Chelsea down much at all for the rest of this Champions League season. Could the Blues be a surprise package?