Graceful Olivier Giroud outfoxes cynical Atletico with unforgettable acrobatic touch of class

Sam Wallace
·24-min read
Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea, Champions League: live score and latest updates - Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images
Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea, Champions League: live score and latest updates - Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

There have been more prolific target-men over the years, and more combative exponents of the art, but none who have combined the prosaic parts of the job with the kind of unforgettable goals scored by that dashing Frenchman, Olivier Giroud.

His match-winning strike on this night, a glorious left-footed overhead kick against one of the most formidable defences in Europe, gave Chelsea and their new manager Thomas Tuchel, a standout victory for the new regime. This first-leg Champions League round of 16 away win against Atletico Madrid, played in Bucharest, means that in the return on March 17 in London, Chelsea will feel they have a very good chance indeed to make the final eight of the competition.

Not many English sides have found a way to beat the gloriously cynical approach of Diego Simeone at the club he has turned into a European force, and there were moments when Chelsea looked as if they too might run out of steam. Against a side that play six in defence when they are out of possession, which is how they prefer it, Tuchel’s players controlled the ball and then relied upon a moment of inspiration to win the game.

It came from Giroud. He was obliged to wait for the Video Assistant Referee Marco Fritz to decide that the last touch had been an intentional one from Atletico’s Mario Hermoso before Giroud – in an offside position – struck. His sixth Champions League goal this season puts him behind just Erling Haaland for goals in the competition. He had not started a game since the Premier League win over Sheffield United on February 7 but was the right man for this one. It was his original header won in the middle of the pitch that set Chelsea on the attack that ended in the goal.

“We were confident in our abilities, but not too confident,” Giroud said later. I didn’t know what to think about the goal [whether he was offside or not]. I just tried to focus on hitting the ball well. I love the overhead kick. I had no clue about being offside. [While the VAR review went ahead] Mason [Mount] told me he never touched the ball.”

Mount was another outstanding performer, although a booking after 55 seconds means that he misses the return leg through suspension. So too Jorginho, who picked up a yellow card as well. On Mount, Tuchel said later that the young Englishman had a big impact on the team. Now we play Man U, Liverpool, Everton, Leeds and this is good,” Tuchel said. “We cannot get too comfortable. We cannot get lazy. These games will push us to our limits and then we will think about solutions for the second game against Atletico.”

Chelsea's Mason Mount reacts during the UEFA Champions League round of 16, first leg soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Chelsea FC in Bucharest - ROBERT GHEMENT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Chelsea's Mason Mount reacts during the UEFA Champions League round of 16, first leg soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Chelsea FC in Bucharest - ROBERT GHEMENT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

At the National Arena in the Romanian capital, Simeone’s team had not a single attempt on target. Luis Suarez certainly played his role as agent provocateur but to no avail. Atletico’s Argentine manager has been limited by injuries to the likes of winger Yannick Carrasco, and defender Jose Maria Gimenez as well as the non-availability of the suspended England international Kieran Trippier. Even so this felt like a night when Simeone’s trademark negativity just seemed to swallow the team whole.

The leaders of Spain’s Liga are not out yet but they are most certainly a hard team to watch. They defended even when there was not much to defend. They are essentially an out of possession team and when they did not have the ball their wide midfielders Angel Correa and Thomas Lemar tucked in to form a back line of six.

For Tuchel there was a big call in leaving N’Golo Kante out the starting XI for such a significant game but it worked and then on came the World Cup winner for the critical period once the goal had tempted Atletico out. Without Thiago Silva they defended well, and ended the game with 59 per cent of the possession and around twice the number of completed passes. There were chances for Timo Werner – not quite the openings that demanded a goal but enough that a more confident player might have done something with.

Then came Giroud. Mount’s skill had opened Atletico earlier but this was their best move, coming down the left before it looked as if the Spanish side would clear the ball. Hermoso made a mistake hooking it back towards his goal and Giroud flung himself at it, a clean left foot connection and then a long Var review to confirm its legitimacy.

“If you see him on a daily basis you cannot be surprised,” Tuchel said of Giroud. “He is totally fit, his body is in shape and mentally I have really the feeling that he enjoys every day being a professional soccer player at this level. This is the level he needs to be. He trains like a 24-year-old. He’s a guy who is serious with a good mix of joy in training. He’s always positive. It’s a big factor for the group when he starts or comes from the bench. He has all these qualities and it’s good.”

After defeat at home – their real home – to Levante in the league on Saturday, Simeone’s side are in a sticky patch. "If you'd have said to me in September that we would be 1-0 down after the first leg of the last 16 in the Champions League and top of the Liga,” he said, “I'd have signed up for it.” He will, no doubt, have a plan for the second leg. But Chelsea have the away goal.

09:56 PM

Full time ATL 0 CHE 1

Terrific performance and victory from Chelsea won by a spectacular Giroud goal. Tuchel's work is plain to see. Their organisation and cohesion at the back is a significant improvement on his predecessor's work and to do waht they did to a Simeon team takes grit and guile as well as expensively-resourced skill. Great result for them and well deserved.

09:53 PM

90+5 min ATL 0 CHE 1

Chelsea are camped up by Atletico's left corner flag, earn a throw-in and Alonso is penalised for a foul throw giving Atletico one more minute to attack.

09:52 PM

90+3 min ATL 0 CHE 1

Kante pounces on a poor touch from Torreira and sends Pulisic on his way. Lemar has to trip him and Pulisic milks it for all he's worth. Booking for Lemar.

09:50 PM

90+2 min ATL 0 CHE 1

Chelsea are snapping into tackles and the wide centre-backs anticipate passes and pick them off. Excellent, aggressive defending by Azpilicueta and Rudiger.

09:48 PM

90 min ATL 0 CHE 1

Six minutes to be added on as stoppage time.

09:48 PM

89 min ATL 0 CHE 1

Chelsea force Atletico all the way back from their 18-yard line to Oblak as they hound them like a pack of jackals.

09:47 PM

87 min ATL 0 CHE 1

Chelsea make two more subs: Pulisic and Hvertz replace Werner and Giroud. Christensen holds off Suarez as the great Uruguay centre-forward tries to wriggle an opening to the right of the box, by hook or by crook. It was by crook, as he ended up fouling Christensen.

09:42 PM

84 min ATL 0 CHE 1

Atletico make a fourth sub: Vitolo comes on for Hermoso.

09:42 PM

83 min ATL 0 CHE 1

Saul was the third man taken off. Chelsea counter-attack. Werner on a solo raid down the right, tacking too far wide but still takes on the near-post shot and Oblak turns it into the side netting. Corner.

09:40 PM

81 min ATL 0 CHE 1

Triple Atletico substitution: Dembele, Torreira and Lodi replace Correa, Joao Felix and AN Other - the TV director neglects to tell us.

09:39 PM

80 min ATL 0 CHE 1

Chelsea send on Reece James for Hudson-Odoi before the corner which they defend well. Now Atletico switch to histrionic mood, demanding fouls for any tackle.

09:38 PM

78 min ATL 0 CHE 1

Llorente bounds down the right and slips a pass in to Suarez who shields the deflected pass out for a corner. Suarez nips Rudiger who is livid but the referee doesn't notice it.

09:35 PM

75 min ATL 0 CHE 1

Greater urgency from Atletico now, understandably, chasing after the ball and hurrying through throw-ins. They work the ball in from the left to the edge of the box for Correa from the throw to whack a half-volley at Rudiger who threw himself bravely in the way.

09:32 PM

73 min ATL 0 CHE 1

Double Chelsea substitution: Kovacic and Mount off; Kante and Ziyech on.

09:31 PM

72 min ATL 0 CHE 1

Superb finish and the ball was hooked over his head for the assist by Hermoso. He smashed it balletically with his left foot. Took 2min 52sec to award the goal.

09:29 PM

GOAL!!!!

Atletico Madrid 0-1 Chelsea (Giroud)

09:29 PM

70 min ATL 0 CHE 0

No replay is being shown while they determine whether the ball was hooked back to Giroud by an Atletico player.

09:27 PM

69 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Giroud beats Oblak with a brilliant bicycle-kick but the goal is immediately chalked off because he was about a yard offside. But did it come off a defender?

09:26 PM

67 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Mount sees a sliver of a chance to set Giroud free down the inside-right channel but, altogetyer now, overcooks his pass and Oblak gratefully gathers.

09:24 PM

64 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Jorginho is booked for a similar foul on Joao Felix after Chelsea lose the ball cheaply from the free-kick. He too goes in the book and, like Mount, misses the second leg.

Simeone is also booked for arguing for a harsher penalty for Jorginho.

09:22 PM

62 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Atletico are beginning to look the more fluent side on the counter and earn a corner after Llorente slides pass down the outside right that Rudiger has to take out of play. They take it short, Chelsea defend it with a tigerish press and Llorente kicks the ball straight at Werner. the ball breaks in Werner's favour and he is out of the blocks so Llorente hauls him down rugby-style. Booking.

09:17 PM

60 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Joao Felix starts and finishes an attacking move with a deft pass on the counter having taken Savic's long pass and turned. He slips it out to Lemar whose cross is headed back to the left of the penalty area where Joao Felix is first to it and launches a bicycle kick over the bar.

09:15 PM

57 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Atletico break and send numbers forward in support but once again final ball disease strikes again.

09:15 PM

55 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Alonso whips over a cross that Savic, diligently on sentry duty alongside his immaculately positioned centre-back partners, heads away. Back come Chelsea down the right and Hudson-Odoi takes on a 25-yard shot that cannons into Felipe and balloons up to give Oblak an easy take.

09:12 PM

53 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Mount picks out Werner with a cute inside-out pass to Werner who has peeled off to the left. Mount continues into the box with a near-post run, Giroud splits to the far post but Werner's cross hits the first defender.

09:10 PM

51 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Chelsea corner on the left after Correa snuffs out an attacking thrust down that flank. Mount takes it short to Hudson-Odoi who flashes over a menacing cross that Felipe diverts away with a towering header.

09:08 PM

49 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Suarez and Azpilicueta are spoken to after Suarez flicks out a leg to ensure he is fouled as he raced to trap a throw-in. When it's taken again, Hudson-Odoi comes straight through Suarez and you could hear the yelp back in Madrid. Obvious foul.

09:06 PM

47 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Atletico corner after a misunderstanding between Mendy and Azpilicueta. Lemar will take, bending it away from goal to the edge of the six-yard box. Mount stoops to head and is kicked on the forehead, a glancing blow, as he tried to clear. Free-kick.

09:04 PM

46 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Unfortunate phrasing from Glenn Hoddle who says if it's 0-0 here and Atletico score first at Stamford Bridge, it's leg-over time.

08:52 PM

Half-time

Stalemate so far - which is just the way Simeone likes it. Chelsea are doing OK, though, both wing-backs are playing well, Mount is as impressive as usual and it is Jorginho's passing, if anything, that is letting them down. Atletico squeeze the opposition and even when players find some space in the box, they get enough players between him and the passer that they exploit any imprecision by forcing him to play the most difficult of balls.

08:49 PM

45 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Bayern are flying against Lazio in the other game, 3-0 up at half time. No goals here as Mount hits the first defender with his cross after another decent move with Hudson-Odoi.

08:45 PM

43 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Atletico break at pace and Suraez links with Joao Felix and Correa to work a shooting opportunity in the box from an angle but they can't beat Mendy with Suarez's final near-post flick. Incisive ball, though, cut a path through Chelsea's hitherto solid defence down its left.

08:44 PM

41 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Marcos Alonso, whose form is a rebuke to Frank Lampard, whips over a cross from the left, picking out Mount who has done well to get away from Saul but he is caught in no man's land with his decision, hooking neither cross nor shot harmlessly back across the box and Atletico spring free.

08:41 PM

39 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Lovely nutmeg pass from Mount down the left into the box, Werner spins Savic and thunders a shot at Oblak from a very acute angle that the keeper bats away forcefully. Giroud was open.

08:40 PM

37 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Ach! Hudson-Odoi makes the perfect run, exploiting Rip Van Lemar's evening nap, to bomb clear down the inside right. Jorginho pings the diagonal but once again overhits it and it whistles past CHO's lunge and out for a goalkick.

08:37 PM

34 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Atletico match Chelsea in overhitting the 'release' pass over the defence. Suarez makes the run down the inside-forward channel but the scooped pass has too much boot leather on it and skips away from him and into touch after it lands.

08:35 PM

32 min ATL 0 CHE 0

And then Atletico snap into the high press, particularly when Chistensen tries to play out and Suarez gives him and Mendy the hurry-up.

08:33 PM

30 min ATL 0 CHE 0

So while they're holding their own, they're not really threatening Atletico.

08:32 PM

27 min ATL 0 CHE 0

This is what Atleti do. They stifle you and make the opposition force the play in very tight spaces. Hudson-Odoi makes the run down the right between Hermoso, operating as the left centre-back in a trio, and Lemar. But there's not enough room for him to get on to the ball unless the pass is immaculately timed and this one isn't, rolling out of play before he can reach it.

08:28 PM

25 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Excellent again from Alonso to get behind both Correa and Alonso to whip over an outswinger but Felipe cuts it out before it can reach the diving Giroud.

08:27 PM

23 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Chelsea are playing well but when faced with a defensive shape of 5-4-1 they are being forced into too intricate/high risk passing routines or taking long shots. Alonso opts for the latter but scuds it straight down Oblak's gullet.

08:25 PM

21 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Tuchel is knocking back water on the bench. Thirst work this head coaching. Chelsea try an intricate left-sided triangular passing routine 20 yards inside their half between Rudiger, Alonso and Werner and lose possession when Werner is eased off the ball. But Atletico do not commit enough men forward when Mount halts their probing with a trip on Lemar.

08:22 PM

18 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Chelsea corner on the left after Werner's cross is blocked by Koke. Mount takes it short to Hudson-Odoi who squares it to Jorginho and he tries to slide the ball down the left vertical line of the box to pick out Mount's stealthy run from the corner flag. But Jorginho, preferred to Kante who is on the bench, overcooks the pass.

08:20 PM

16 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Good play by Kovacic 10m in front of the D, shifting the ball out to the right and they work it back across via a one-two with Giroud to Werner who goes over on the left of the box. The referee signals that he doesn't consider it a penalty and a few seconds later VAR backs him up.

08:17 PM

14 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Suarez writhes free on the right, turns Alonso, eludes Rudiger and whips over a left-foot cross from the byline that arcs around Mendy and beats him and Hudson-Odoi has to be vigilant by sticking diligently to Lemar to stop him stepping in at the far post for a tap-in. Great defending from Hudso-Odoi,

08:15 PM

11 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Christensen advances through midfield, watches Atletico retreat and decides to have a crack from 30 yards and sends a shot into orbit. It was almost as if Atletico were inviting him to give them a goalkick, sitting back and saying, 'Go on, then.'

08:11 PM

9 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Atletico snap into the high press and win possession on the left. Lemar links with Joao Felix and the Portuguese sensation fires over a dangerous, bending, dipping cross that Marcos Alonso watchfully defends.

08:10 PM

7 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Not so much a low block from Atletico as underwater. Chelsea have a corner on the right but there's some delay for the referee to sort out some argy-bargy in the box. Atletico defend it solidly eventually and Llorente bombs up the right until Christensen runs into him and strongarms him, illegally, off the ball and off his feet. Free-kick on halfway.

08:07 PM

5 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Chelsea have the ball 30 yards from the Atletico goal but they find a bank of six and one of three between them and goal and they are eventually squeezed out of place by the Simeone smother-defence.

08:05 PM

3 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Error by Mendy after Azpilicueta is given a horrible back-pass, too powerful and on the half volley as he's closed down by Suarez. He hooks it hastily across to his keeper whose first touch is heavy but he manages to recover and stab it away before he's closed down and manages to avoid conceding a penalty, too.

Mount will miss the second leg - that card means a suspension.

08:03 PM

1 min ATL 0 CHE 0

Chelsea kick off, moving forward before losing the ball on their left. Atletico swep it forward to Joao Felix who skates through the centre-circle, having bypassed the Chelsea midfield and Mount has to race back to trip him. Yellow card within a minute.

08:01 PM

Out come the teams

Chelsea wearing the kit that has to have had one of the greatest load of old cobblers press releases of all time:

It's Sky blue with some random-looking flecks

“Building on the theme of the club’s new home look, the Blues’ changed colours celebrate the capital’s love affair with the craftsmanship of master tailors.“However, the away kit adds an injection of millennial swagger – perfect for the confident, emerging talents lighting up Stamford Bridge under head coach Frank Lampard.“ Arctic blue provides a tasteful base colour for the jersey, with darker shades making up a disrupted herringbone knit which covers the front and back of the shirt to create a compelling aesthetic.“A monochromatic club crest filled with a micro-herringbone pattern sits on the chest, alongside a dark blue Nike Swoosh.

07:55 PM

Are you ready?

Ce sont les meilleures équipes
Es sind die allerbesten Mannschaften
The main event.

Die Meister
Die Besten
Les grandes équipes
The champions!

07:52 PM

Tuchel talks!

We lack a little bit of precision and timing but maybe it is like an orchestra where you learn a new song and it becomes a habit to play it, on the way there is a lack of timing and rhythm.

It is normal, we are in the same situations often with a high number of touches in the box. Now is the next step in learning, to develop chances out of it.

Oli [Giroud] is the guy for the last 20 metres, we expect a higher game than against Southampton and we could find more space before the last line so we updated for faster strikers against them. Today we find our strengths, take the game to the opponents half and box and Oli is the guy for the last 20 metres.

And on Hudson-Odoi ...

It was forgotten an hour later. This is how we behave and there was no need to make it bigger than it was. It was my decision, it was a hard decision yes, I had my reasons. There is absolutely no reason why not to trust Callum from the beginning.

07:45 PM

Joe Cole on Mason Mount

07:29 PM

Hudson-Odoi returns: Why Tuchel was right to hook him

Predictably Thomas Tuchel caused a stir when he substituted Callum Hudson-Odoi during Chelsea’s underwhelming draw at Southampton, writes Jason Burt. But then in football substituting the sub is seen as taboo; a step too far by a callous manager; a humiliation of the player that upsets the dressing room.

Why is this so? Hudson-Odoi had been on the pitch for 30 minutes after coming on as a half-time replacement and, in the head coach’s eyes, had not done enough even if others felt he had helped turn the game back in Chelsea’s favour.

But Tuchel did not try and hide it as he accused Hudson-Odoi of lacking “energy” and “attitude”. He did not dodge the question; he did not sugar-coat the issue. In a game Chelsea were desperate to win it was not good enough.

You can read Jason Burt's weekly column here.

07:06 PM

Your teams in black and white

Atletico Madrid Oblak; Llorente, Savic, Felipe, Hermoso; Koke, Lemar, Saul, Correa; Joao Felix, Suarez.
Substitutes Grbic, Kondogbia, Torreira, Renan Lodi, Dembele, Vitolo, Camello, Garcia, Sanchez, San Roman.

Chelsea Mendy; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; Hudson-Odoi, Jorginho, Kovacic, Alonso; Mount, Werner; Giroud.
Substitutes Arrizabalaga, Kante, Abraham, Pulisic, Caballero, Zouma, Chilwell, Ziyech, Gilmour, James, Havertz, Emerson Palmieri.

Referee Felix Brych (Germany)

07:00 PM

Marcos Llorente fills in at right-back

06:58 PM

Hudson-Odoi redux; Christensen gets the nod to play in the back three

05:58 PM

Good evening

La Liga leaders Atlético Madrid take on Chelsea, fifth in the Premier League, in tonight's Round of 16 first leg at the Arena Nationala in Bucharest, standing in for Atleti's new Xanadudome because of Spain's Covid-variant- driven ban on entry for UK visitors. Chelsea have won on their only two visits to the stadium, beating Steaua in successive seasons in the first two years of Jose Mourinho's second spell at the club, the secnd one, in 2013-14, en route to semi-final defeat by Atletico, managed then, as now, by Diego Simeone.

El Cholo takes on Der Professor, still hankering after the club's maiden European Cup/Champions League following two runners-up runs under his management. Twin agonisingly late defeats by of all teams Real Madrid in Champions League finals in the 2014 and 2016 finals have stung acutely and continue to spark a fire in Simeone, who said: “Every time we play that competition and hear the anthem, the music brings pain. That’s our motivation.”

They were less than impressive in qualification, winning only two of sic games and drawing three to finish runners-up to Bayern Munich in Group A and their lead at home, as they chase their first Liga title since 2014 has narrowed to three points following their defeat on Saturday by Levante who kicked off the match in 12th.

While their gilded veteran-gifted rookie forward partnership of Luis Suárez and Joao Felix has thrived in domestic competition, Suárez has added neither a goal nor an assist to his tallies by the end of his time at Barcelona which stood at 30 and 26, including qualifiers with Liverpool and Ajax, respectively. He has scored twice against Chelsea in the past, though not in this competition, both of them coming as Premier equalisers home and away in 2012-13, the latter shortly after he had gnawed at Bransilav Ivanovic.

Chelsea, by contrast, are unbeaten under Thomas Tuchel and won all three away games in Group E back in the day of 'Frank Lampard's Chelsea', They will be without last year's finalist Thiago Silva in Romania but are in better fettle than Atléti who cannot call on the suspended Kieran Trippier and the injured José Giménez, Sime Vrsaljko, Héctor Herrera and Yannick Carrasco. Chelsea have not quite clicked under Tuchel yet, despite impressive results, and one suspects they will not until he has a full pre-season and signs a centre-half he trusts, other than Thiago Silva. But given the state of Atlético's injuries and absences,Chelsea have an opportunity that is too good to waste.

Join us for the team news at 7pm.