Chelsea parked the bus, but Atletico Madrid couldn’t break them down as they drew 0-0 in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final.
Diego Ribas was preferred to David Villa for the hosts, but Arda Turan was not deemed fit enough to start, so Raul Garcia supported Diego Costa in an attacking line-up. It was Atleti’s first European Cup last four clash for 40 years, but it was also a big night personally for Thibaut Courtois – he faced his parent club, much to Jose Mourinho’s disgruntlement. The Portuguese Coach meanwhile, gave Fernando Torres a start, as he returned to his former club for the first time since leaving in 2007.
As with the last round against Barcelona, the Rojiblancos came flying out of the blocks, looking to gain an early advantage. Unlike that Barca encounter though, their efforts weren’t hitting the target – as Diego fired an early shot wide of Petr Cech’s post.
Despite that initial burst though, the away team managed to hold ranks and turned the game into a cagey affair. It was all very stop-start, with niggly free kicks halting the play, and it wasn’t until the 15th minute that either goalkeeper was tested. A Koke corner went straight under Cesch’s bar, but the Czech shot-stopper did enough to tip it over.
In the ensuing collision however, the towering shot-stopper injured his ribs, and was replaced by the veteran Mark Schwarzer. The Australian however, was having a quiet night, as the Premier League outfit successfully broke down every Atleti attack, but were looking blunt up front themselves, with Torres cutting a lonely figure.
Diego Simeone’s men continued to be frustrated in front of goal, with John Terry and Gary Cahill heading away most crosses coming into their area. But they couldn’t do anything about Koke’s in-swinging effort on half hour. His ball hung at the back post for Raul Garcia, but the former Osasuna man could only nod the ball over.
The visitors were dropping deeper and deeper with every passing moment, and that freed up space for the Colchoneros midfielders. And it was with that freedom that Mario Suarez struck a sweet 30 yard curler towards goal. The youngster though, watched as the effort skimmed just wide of the goalkeeper’s out-stretched hand, and also the post.
After the break, Mourinho’s men finally forced Courtois into some action after 47 minutes, as Frank Lampard’s volley was collected well by the 21-year-old.
Like the first 45, it was still a bitty, tactical game – one in which Chelsea didn’t want to push men forward and Atleti couldn’t break through. But that almost changed on 55 minutes as Diego wriggled past David Luiz on the edge of the area. The ex-Wolfsburg playmaker however, could only fire straight at Schwarzer in, what was, the best chance of the match up to that point.
The Vicente Calderon faithful were urging on their team, but still the Londoners were holding a solid backline. With John Terry coming off injured however, that seemingly impenetrable defence now looked fallible.
And they almost broke the deadlock late on as a Gabi free kick went low to the goalkeeper’s right, but Schwarzer got down well to tip the ball around the post.
As they had been all night, Atleti were getting wide and trying to pump crosses into the box – but first Raul Garcia, and then Arda Turan, couldn’t find the target with back-post headers.
Diego Costa also went close in the dying minutes with a header, but the match remained goalless going into next week's second leg at Stamford Bridge.
Atletico Madrid 0-0 Chelsea
Atletico Madrid: Courtois; Juanfran, Miranda, Godín, Filipe; Mario (Sosa 80), Gabi; Koke, Raúl García (Villa 86), Diego (Arda Turan 60); Diego Costa
Chelsea: Cech (Schwarzer 18); Azpilicueta, Cahill, Terry (Schurrle 73), Cole; Mikel, David Luiz, Lampard; Ramires, Willian, Torres