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Apr 29, 2014

How Atletico can crack Chelsea’s D

Will star striker Diego Costa be able to break through Chelsea's defense on Wednesday?

Much has been made of Chelsea’s defensive tactics in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal against Atletico Madrid, and even though the team’s bunker mentality led to positive results (a 0-0 draw on the road), manager Jose Mourinho has been derided for providing an unattractive brand of football in his quest for domestic and European titles. (The Blues used a similar strategy this weekend in a win at Liverpool.)

While the aesthetics of Chelsea’s game can be debated, semifinal opponent Atletico Madrid is tasked with finding a way to break through these defensive tactics, and manager Diego Simeone knows he needs to use a different approach than the patient, possession-based concepts he deployed in the first leg if he wants to bring Atletico to its first European Cup final since 1974.

Simeone must find more ways to create gaps in Chelsea’s defense to be successful, and those gaps will either come from the run of play or the drastic shift that occurs in defending set pieces. The hope for Atletico is that Chelsea will not be as conservative in the second leg and that the possible returns of Eden Hazard and Samuel Eto’o could potentially lead to a less defensive approach, though clearly Mourinho’s tactics will not solely depend on injuries or the immediate need to manufacture goals.

Here’s a look at how Atletico can break down a compact Chelsea team in order to advance to the UCL finals.

Let Chelsea have the ball

The key to breaking down a team that wants to defend is to actually force them to attack. This way, when a defensive-minded team like Chelsea inevitably does turn the ball over, a counterattacking team like Atletico has more opportunities to get forward and avoid having to create chances against a stagnant back line.

This concept was something that Atletico did not embrace in the first leg of the semifinal, and by accepting 69 percent of the possession in the game, there were fewer opportunities for the team to impose its own successful counterattacking style. As a result, Atletico’s competitive advantage of quickly throwing numbers into the attack was negated, and long spells of possession in Chelsea’s defensive half ultimately got them nowhere.

This does not necessarily mean that Simeone should allow Chelsea to at...