Statement victories

Pulsating late win ruins Atletico's home streak

Substitute Michy Batshuayi embracing Antonio Conte after his goal sealed a 2-1 victory against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday. The Blues are now unbeaten in Group C of the Champions League.
Substitute Michy Batshuayi embracing Antonio Conte after his goal sealed a 2-1 victory against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday. The Blues are now unbeaten in Group C of the Champions League.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Chelsea

MADRID • Chelsea passed a major test of character by coming from behind to secure a 2-1 victory to ruin Atletico Madrid's emotional first European night at the Estadio Metropolitano. But they now face an examination of their stamina and quality when they host Manchester City tomorrow.

Michy Batshuayi's 93rd-minute winner meant that Atletico lost at home in the Champions League for the first time since 2015, with the substitute rendering manager Antonio Conte's repeated complaints about the strength of his squad somewhat moot.

Ever since the Premier League trophy was paraded around Chelsea for a fifth time last May, Conte has been stressing the need for major reinforcements to his squad to cope with the additional challenge of the Champions League. On Wednesday's evidence Chelsea have the quality, although whether they have the quantity to emerge triumphant from a long campaign remains to be seen.

The winner against Atletico - finalists twice in the past four seasons - came from Chelsea's 18th shot. That the goal came without Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata on the pitch confirmed a certain depth in the squad.

There will also be optimism about a first start together for Hazard and Morata, who look like forming a promising partnership. They combined for the equaliser on the hour mark, Morata's near-post header from Hazard's cross cancelling out Antoine Griezmann's penalty just before half-time.

It was only Hazard's second start of the season and the enthusiasm was clear. Morata also impressed, receiving back to goal, opening the pitch out or running beyond defenders.

The chances were Chelsea's, most of the control was too, even if possession was 50-50.

COURAGE ON DISPLAY

I am very pleased for my players because they deserve to play this type of game, but above all to play in this way with personality.

ANTONIO CONTE, on the hard-fought win.

"I am very pleased for my players because they deserve to play this type of game, but above all to play in this way with personality," said Conte. "You can win but doing it only by defending and counter-attacking there isn't the right satisfaction. To come here to play and want to understand where we are, the answer we had tonight was very positive."

BT Sport pundit and Chelsea legend Frank Lampard, a key part of the Blues squad that lifted the Champions League trophy in 2012, called the performance one of the best by an English side away in Europe.

"Can't think of one (that is better). Eden Hazard was spectacular but I don't think the performance was spectacular; it was so professional, the discipline in how they set up and credit to the manager for that," he said.

"Their work rate and closing down against one of the strongest teams, who are usually closing the other team down and then the quality of their forward play at certain times... to win there and perform as well as they did was a huge statement from Chelsea."

Chelsea take a commanding lead at the top of Group C with six points from their opening two games, ahead of Roma, who moved onto four with a 2-1 win at Azerbaijani Champions League newcomers Qarabag earlier on Wednesday.

Defeat for Atletico leaves them on one point and struggling to make it out of the group stages.

Chelsea's attentions will now turn their huge Premier League fixture tomorrow.

"Today was a very important test against a side that have reached the Champions League final in the last few years," Morata told BT Sport.

"We took the three points and now we can go home, relax and use the same mentality in the Premier League. It was a massive victory."

THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2017, with the headline 'Pulsating late win ruins Atletico's home streak '. Print Edition | Subscribe