Olivier Giroud’s sensational overhead kick – awarded by VAR – handed Chelsea an important 1-0 away win against Atletico Madrid, putting Thomas Tuchel’s men in control of the last-16 tie.
In a predictably-tight encounter, Giroud acrobatically hooked home with 20 minutes left but celebrations were muted as the linesman’s flag was instantly raised. However, the ball had deflected off Mario Hermoso rather than Mason Mount, which was spotted by VAR, and after three minutes of deliberation the goal was awarded.
La Liga leaders Atletico were forced to play their home leg over 3,000 kilometres from Madrid due to Spanish restrictions on arrivals from Britain to control the spread of COVID-19 infections.
Thomas Tuchel was facing his toughest test since joining Chelsea but set up his team shrewdly in Bucharest, keeping a lid on Luis Suarez while controlling possession throughout. Atletico didn’t manage a shot on target as Chelsea put themselves in pole position to reach the quarter-finals. Tuchel will be without Mason Mount and Jorginho in the second leg at Stamford Bridge on March 17 as they will be suspended after being booked.
“We knew they were ready to suffer with eight people in the box. The intention was to keep the intensity high and we did that very well. We never let them breathe or come out for counter-attacks,” Tuchel said after the match.
“We wanted to dominate in the opponents’ half, to never lose concentration, not to make any easy mistakes and always be aware of quick counter-attacks for all their quality. It was a very disciplined performance, a deserved shut out.”
Chelsea had a good chance to open the scoring against the La Liga leaders just before 15 minutes, but Mason Mount’s whipped in cross skipped past the goalmouth just out of the reach of Timo Werner.
Atleti hit Chelsea on the counter just before half-time with Angel Correa finding space behind the defence, but Luis Suarez couldn’t deal with the short cross that came his way and the teams went to the break scoreless.
Diego Simeone’s side have led La Liga for most of the season but have experienced a dip in form in February and went into Tuesday’s match smarting from a shock 2-0 defeat at home to Levante after drawing two of their previous three games.
Giroud finally broke the deadlock before 70 minutes with a spectacular overhead strike that was initially ruled out for offsides, but after a video review was given when the ball was adjudged to have come off an Atletico player before it was hit into the back of the net.
Chelsea have now gone eight matches unbeaten since Tuchel succeeded Frank Lampard while Giroud is emerging as their Champions League talisman after scoring all four goals in the group-phase victory against Sevilla and a last-minute winner away to Rennes.
The result gives Thomas Tuchel’s side the advantage of an away goal going into the second leg on March 17 as they seek a spot in the UCL quarterfinals.