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Chelsea through to Champions League last 8 as Kante and Ziyech shine.

CHELSEA 2 Ziyech 34, Emerson 90+3

ATLETICO MADRID 0 Picture credit @UEFA 2020

CHELSEA are through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time in seven years, after goals from Hakim Ziyech and Emerson gave them a 3-0 aggregate win over La Liga’s leaders.

It was sweet revenge for the Blues against Diego Simeone’s side, who had seen them off at the semi-final stage in 2014 after a 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge, and in many ways Chelsea beat the Spaniards at their own game, defending resolutely and scoring with two swift and deadly counter-attacks.

Simeone’s men were second best all night and any chance of coming back was reduced when Stefan Savic was sent off in the final ten minutes.

Thomas Tuchel’s team selection may have raised an eyebrow, not least on the immaculately groomed visage of Olivier Giroud, who was dropped to the bench despite scoring the winner in the first leg and four goals in Chelsea’s 4-0 win in Seville before Christmas.

Tuchel chose Havertz to continue as a false nine, meaning Giroud had no problem social distancing in the seats, where Chelsea had only nine substitutes, three short of their allocation. Mason Mount and Jorginho were suspended, Thiago Silva and Tammy Abraham were injured and Andreas Christensen was ill.

The selection put responsibility for goalscoring on Kai Havertz and his fellow German Timo Werner, with Ziyech as playmaker. Yet the roles were reversed when Chelsea took the lead with a breathtaking counter-attack in the 34th minute. Havertz intercepted a loose ball deep in his own half and passed forward for Werner, who sprinted from the half way to the left of the penalty box before cutting across a low pass. Ziyech, who had run equally fast to keep up with Werner, swept the ball in with his right foot from 12 yards, through the legs of Jan Oblak. It was his first goal since October, when he scored his only two previous goals in the space of three days.

Chelsea just about shaded a frenetic first-half, but were lucky not to be punished when Cesar Azpilicueta pulled back Yannick Carrasco as the forward ran into the penalty box. Italian referee Daniele Orsato perhaps considered the Belgian’s fall too dramatic, and even VAR did not review the decision, which might have resulted in a penalty to Atletico or red card for Azpilicueta. Chelsea had a claim of their own before half time when Havertz went tumbling in the penalty area, but again Orsato was not interested.

It had been a breathless first-half and the intensity did not dissipate after the break. Ziyech sent Werner scurrying in on goal but the German’s shot was saved low by Oblak, who then tipped over a curling shot from the Moroccan.

Luis Suarez, however, had been a bystander for most of the first hour so it was little surprise to see him replaced by Angel Correa as Diego Simeone’s men went looking for goals. Moussa Dembele, the former Fulham and Celtic striker also went on and was involved in a clash of heads with Kurt Zouma that left the Chelsea man needing lengthy treatment.

Chelsea’s defence protected Edouard Mendy well for most of the game, and if they were breached, Ngolo Kante would appear as if from thin air to tidy up. The Frenchman was superb, living up fully to his reputation as the hardest-working man in football. Admirers have joked that Kante must have an extra lung, such is his stamina and ability to cover every blade of grass, and this was one of his best performances in a Chelsea shirt. Alongside him Mateo Kovacic showed the beat of a metronome to keep Chelsea ticking over, and those two won the midfield battle against Atletico’s formidable Koke and Saul Niguez.

The one area where Chelsea failed to shine was in their finishing, with Werner wasteful again. He was replaced by Callum Hudson-Odoi, whose first involvement was a tame shot straight at Oblak from a good position.

By that stage Atletico were down to ten men after Savic was sent off for an elbow into Rudiger’s ribs while waiting for a corner to be taken.

Even then Mendy had to make three good saves to keep out Joao Felix, who was as bright as Suarez was dim.

But Chelsea confirmed their place in the last eight when another swift counter in stoppage time enbded with a low finish from Emerson,who had only been on the pitch for a minute.

Now in the quarter-finals, and still unbeaten in 13 games under Tuchel, who would bet against Chelsea going all the way in Europe’s premier competition?

CHELSEA 3-4-3

Mendy 8; Azpilicueta 7, Zouma 7, Rudiger 7; James 7, Kante 9, Kovacic 8, Alonso 7 (Emerson 89); Ziyech 8 (Pulisic77), Havertz 8 (Chilwell 89), Werner 6 (Hudson-Odoi 82).

ATLETICO 4-4-2

Oblak 8; Trippier 6 (Lemar 69), Savic 6, Giminez 6, Lodi 6 (Hermosa 46); Llorente 6, Koke 6, Saul Niguez 6, Carrasco 6 (Dembele 53); Suarez 5 (Correa 59), Felix 8

Ref: Daniele Orsato (Italy)

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