Olivier Giroud’s bicycle-kick on Tuesday broke Atletico Madrid’s resistance and earned Chelsea a crucial away goal, a 1-0 victory giving Thomas Tuchel’s side a slender advantage in the UEFA Champions League last 16.
Giroud’s acrobatic strike was initially ruled out for offside, but stood after the video assistant referee showed that Mario Hermoso had the final touch, delivering a huge blow to Atletico’s hopes of reaching the quarter-finals.
Diego Simeone’s side had put on a typically disciplined defensive performance until that point, but Giroud’s moment of genius means that they must score in London on March 17 if they are to avoid an early exit.
Chelsea passed their biggest test since Tuchel was appointed last month, backing up a strong run against lesser lights in the Premier League with a polished display against one of Europe’s elite.
Giroud’s goal in the 68th minute was only the third that Atletico have conceded in 14 home legs of the Champions League knockout stages under Simeone, even if this fixture was at home only in name.
Restrictions imposed by the Spanish government meant that the game had to be played in Bucharest instead of Madrid, despite the return match remaining at Stamford Bridge in three weeks’ time.
Their defeat makes it three home losses out of three so far for Spain’s teams in the Champions League last 16, after Barcelona were thrashed by Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla were beaten by Borussia Dortmund last week.
Callum Hudson-Odoi started for Chelsea, despite Tuchel criticizing his attitude against Southampton on Saturday last week.
Atletico started with Luis Suarez, Joao Felix and Angel Correa, but an attacking lineup took up a typically defensive shape, a six-man wall quickly forming in front of Chelsea in the opening stages.
The first half was tight, each side able only to create openings, but failing to find the pass to capitalize.
Edouard Mendy’s heavy touch in the opening minutes almost gave the chasing Saul Niguez a tap-in, while Timo Werner’s angled shot was saved by Jan Oblak and Suarez miskicked at the near post.
Chelsea looked most dangerous down the flanks, where Marcos Alonso and Hudson-Odoi pushed Atletico back. Atletico had space on the break, but lacked the precision to capitalize.
Felix sprang into life early in the second half, feeding Thomas Lemar and then meeting the Frenchman’s cross with an acrobatic volley that flew over.
The game looked destined to finish goalless only for Atletico to briefly lose shape, allowing the instinctive Giroud to take advantage.
Alonso had raced away from Marcos Llorente down the left and his cross was diverted backward to Giroud, who brilliantly bicycle-kicked into the corner, but looked offside, only for the replay to show that it was Atletico’s Hermoso who had given him the assist.
The goal stood and Chelsea’s players celebrated, seemingly as surprised as anyone and delighted with a precious advantage.
Also on Tuesday, it was:
‧ SS Lazio 1, Bayern Munich 4
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