Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone was the hero as he guided his side into this season’s Champions League final following a sensational 3-1 second leg victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The Argentinean coach has already led Atletico four points clear at the top of the La Liga table this season, and Simeone further cemented himself in the Madrid side’s folklore by leading his team into a Champions League final where they will now face city rivals, Real Madrid.
Following on from a goalless first leg in Madrid, the tie was finely poised with a place in the May 24 Lisbon final on offer against Real Madrid, who emphatically ended Bayern Munich’s title defence with an incredible 5-0 aggregate victory. And despite once again starting with a team focused on defence, it was Chelsea who took the lead in the first half when former Atletico striker Fernando Torres latched onto a Cesar Azpilicueta pass to finish from inside the area.
Aware they needed to equalise to keep themselves in the tie, Atletico wasted little time in taking the game to the hosts, with Adrian Lopez grabbing a crucial equaliser just before half time to send the Spaniards into the break full of confidence. And that self-belief was evident from the start of the second half, with Diego Costa – among the World Cup betting favourites to finish top scorer in this summer’s tournament – slotting home a penalty on the hour mark before Arda Turan tapped home 12 minutes later to condemn Mourinho to his fourth successive defeat in the Champions League semi-final.
And while Mourinho’s defensive tactics will be questioned following the defeat, Atletico midfielder Tiago – who was a losing semi-finalist with Chelsea in 2004 – hailed Diego Simeone for guiding the La Liga side into a Champions League final, in a season the club have continued to surprise the odds.
“Simeone has a lot to do with it. He has changed our mentality. We all work together, we work as a team. Playing like we play we are the strongest team in the world and we deserve what we have in this moment.”
“It was very important to go to half-time at 1-1. That’s the way we like to play,” said the Atletico captain.
“In that moment we knew in the second half Chelsea would have to play more and we would have more spaces in the defence, and we scored again. Of course it’s not easy to play here at Stamford Bridge but we knew Chelsea had to play more. They had to score a goal.”
With their Champions League hopes now put to bed for another year, Chelsea’s sole focus this season will be on attempting to win the Premier League. A 2-0 victory over Liverpool kept Mourinho’s men right in the title race with two games left this season, although it remains to be seen how the Blues bounce back from this painful semi-final defeat. Atletico, meanwhile, will be hoping to have secured an incredible La Liga title by the time they walk out in Lisbon looking to win the Champions League for the first time in their history.