Olivier Giroud’s magnificent bike kick shattered resistance at Atletico Madrid and earned Chelsea a crucial away goal on Tuesday, a 1-0 win giving Thomas Tuchel’s side a slight advantage in the Champions League the last 16. VAR showed that Mario Hermoso got the finishing touches, dealing a blow to Atletico’s hopes of reaching the quarter-finals. “I didn’t know what to think of the goal, I focused on hitting the ball,” said Giroud. “I love an overhead kick and I was just delighted to see the ball hit the back of the net. I had no idea whether or not I was offside.”
Diego Simeone’s side had so far put together a typically disciplined defensive performance, but Giroud’s moment of genius means they will have to score in London on March 17 if they are to avoid a premature exit.
He also continues a worrying drop for Atletico, whose La Liga lead is also in jeopardy after a four-game win.
“If you had told me in September that we would lose this first leg 1-0 and lead the league, I would have definitely signed for it,” Simeone said.
“The results are not good for us, so we have to work, work, work and work.”
Chelsea, meanwhile, have passed their biggest test since Tuchel was appointed at the end of January, backing a strong run against lesser lights in the Premier League with a polite performance against one of Europe’s elites.
“We knew their strengths and we dealt with them,” Giroud said. “We need to stay focused now and get the job done.”
Giroud’s 68th-minute goal was only the third Atletico conceded in 14 home games of the Champions League round of 16 under Simeone, although this game was only at home in name.
Restrictions imposed by the Spanish government meant the game was to be played in Bucharest instead of Madrid, despite the second leg remaining at Stamford Bridge in three weeks.
Tuchel admitted the change gave his team an advantage, but Simeone refused to complain on Monday, insisting he felt lucky to be playing during the pandemic, “whatever and wherever. is”.
Spanish clubs struggling in Europe
Their loss makes three out of three home defeats for Spain’s 16 Champions League sides so far, after Barcelona were beaten by Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla were beaten by Borussia Dortmund last week.
Callum Hudson-Odoi started for Chelsea, despite Tuchel criticizing the 20-year-old’s attitude against Southampton on Saturday.
Atletico started with Suarez, Joao Felix and Angel Correa, but an attacking formation has taken on a typically defensive form, with a six-man wall forming quickly past Chelsea in the early stages.
The first half was tight, each side could only create openings but failed to find the pass to try their luck.
Edouard Mendy’s heavy touchdown in the opening minutes almost gave Saul Niguez a tap-in, while Timo Werner’s tilted shot was stopped by Jan Oblak and Suarez thrown badly at the near post.
Chelsea looked most dangerous on the flanks, where Marcos Alonso and Hudson-Odoi pushed Atletico off. Atletico had room on the break but lacked precision to capitalize.
Felix came to life early in the second half, feeding Thomas Lemar then meeting the Frenchman’s cross with an acrobatic volley that flew over.
The game seemed destined to end scoreless only for Atletico to briefly lose form, allowing the instinctive Giroud to profit.
Alonso had moved away from Marcos Llorente on the left and his cross was diverted to Giroud, who brilliantly kicked the bike into the corner, but looked offside, only for the replay to show that it was was Hermoso from Atletico who had given him the help.
The goal was stuck and the Chelsea players celebrated, seemingly as surprised as anyone and thrilled with a valuable advantage.
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