The La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid were held to a 0-0 draw by an ultra-defensive Chelsea side in the Champions League semifinal first leg. The main black marks for Jose Mourinho were suspensions to key players.
There were plenty of sub-plots brewing in the Calderon stadium on Tuesday night. Chelsea had lost the battle to bar goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois - who they loaned to their Spanish hosts - from playing, thanks to an intervention from FIFA. Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho was also returning to the city that gave him the unhappiest period of his career during the end of his tenure at Real Madrid.
Meanwhile, Chelsea's long-suffering and oft-misfiring Spanish striker Fernando Torres was returning to the club that launched his career - and where he is still celebrated almost as a folk hero. And Atletico Madrid themselves were playing in their first European Cup semifinal in exactly 40 years.
But the opening period of the game did not live up to this potential. Chelsea spent the first half successfully soaking up Atletico's energy and restricting the La Liga leaders to set-piece attempts. For Mourinho the opening was only marred by the early loss of goalkeeper Petr Cech, who fell badly onto his right arm defending an in-swinging corner and had to be replaced by Australian Mark Schwarzer.
With a strategy that involved needling their hosts with tetchy challenges and slowing the game wherever possible, the London team frustrated their hosts. Atletico applied plenty of pressure, particularly as the half wore on, but were largely reduced to sending in crosses that the likes of John Obi Mikel, John Terry, and David Luiz in the Chelsea defense were only too happy to keep heading clear.
The second half assumed a familiar pattern in the early stages - Atletico kept all the possession, but Chelsea manned their penalty area with discipline and kept the Spanish at arm's length.
Atletico coach Diego Simeone, seeking a new approach, brought off Diego on the hour mark, replacing the midfielder with the left-winger Arda Turan. But the Turk made little real impact on that side, and Atletico reverted to their plan of sending in crosses.
Their chances of success were increased when Terry was forced off with a foot injury in the 73rd minute. Mourinho brought on the German attacker Andre Schürrle and sent Luiz back into defense to plug the resulting gap, but the loss of the skipper sowed a little chaos in the Chelsea defense and Atletico managed to force a couple of openings. Most notably, Turan beat Azpilicueta to the ball at the far post from a long cross, only to nod the ball a yard wide.
But Chelsea remained defiant and defended strongly, even if the bookings for Mikel and Frank Lampard could prove costly when they miss the return leg in Stamford Bridge next week. Atletico for their part will be without their captain Gabi, who was booked after an altercation with Mikel.
"No, we’re not satisfied. But the tie is definitely still open," Gabi told Spanish TV channel TVE after the game. "It leaves a bad taste in the mouth, but the tie is still very open and we will go to Chelsea and try to win."