Match statistics: Chelsea 2-0 Atletico Madrid
Kai Havertz to Timo Werner to Hakim Ziyech.
It is the combination many Chelsea fans — and board members — were dreaming of over the summer as the Blues spent in excess of £150 million ($209 million) to upgrade their attack.
And though it may have taken the trio until mid-March to combine for a huge, match-winning moment, the beauty of Ziyech’s goal against Atletico Madrid was worth the wait.
After N’Golo Kante completed a clearance from a corner, it was Havertz who played a delightful clipped pass into Werner’s path, who in turn drove into space before picking out Ziyech at the far post for a straightforward finish.
Chelsea broke the bank over the summer in a bid to not only challenge at the top of the Premier League table, but also in the Champions League, where its record has been underwhelming in the seasons since its 2012 triumph.
The experience within that side slowly dripped away, and it had only reached the quarterfinals once since, in 2014, before this campaign.
But under Thomas Tuchel, the club already looks like it could be a force on the continent again, particularly if its big-money signings have finally found their feet.
Tuchel has brought defensive solidity to the Blues, and they have now gone 597 minutes in all competitions without conceding a goal following their 2-0 win over Diego Simeone’s side at Stamford Bridge.
But they have lacked magic going forward, with the majority of their attacking players still suffering with a hangover from the final weeks of Frank Lampard’s tenure.
Perhaps it was fitting, then, that the man once dubbed “The Wizard of Amsterdam,” Ziyech, was the player to break the deadlock in a game where Atletico had caused Chelsea some early problems, most notably through Joao Felix.
The counterattack for the opener showed all the guile, speed and killer instinct that Chelsea has been missing in the final third, and if it is to truly challenge Europe’s elite, it will need show more of that to go with its defensive prowess.
This was Ziyech’s first goal following a 20-game drought, while Havertz has netted just once in his last 25 games and Werner twice in his last 27.
That is not to say that they have not been playing well of late, with Havertz seemingly reborn as a “false nine”‘ and Werner looking far more confident in recent weeks than he did under Lampard.
The former RB Leipzig man’s raw statistics for his first season in England — 10 goals and seven assists — do not look too bad, but the narrative around him continues to suggest he has flopped.
Here, though, he was a constant threat, using his pace to get in behind an Atletico back line that is not at the level of the Diego Godin-led quartet of the mid-2010s.
Ziyech, meanwhile, was pulling out all his old street football tricks as the game went on, and Tuchel will hope the Morocco international will be able to maintain this level heading into the final run-in.
This win, which was capped off in injury time by Emerson Palmieri finishing off another superb counterattack, was perhaps the best of Tuchel’s time with the club, and will give Roman Abramovich hope that he hired the right man to bring domestic and continental glory back to west London.
Having shown tactical nous in the first-leg win, the German boss yet again outcoached Simeone — the highest-paid manager in the world — in the return game as he became the first Chelsea manager to remain unbeaten through their first 13 matches in charge.
No team will want to face his in-form side when Friday’s quarterfinal draw is made, and having reached the final last season — albeit in unique circumstances — he has experience of navigating a path through the knockout rounds.
While that Paris Saint-Germain team was built through its attack, right now Chelsea’s foundations are in its defense.
But if the Blues’ summer buys can build on their performance here, then suddenly Tuchel could have a forward line capable of going one better than Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in 2020.
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