It is all to play for in the second leg after a strong defensive performance from Chelsea ensured we are the first team to leave the Vicente Calderon undefeated in this season’s Champions League.
With two of Europe’s strongest rearguards in action, this was always likely to be a tight match and Chelsea’s clean sheet was earned despite losing Petr Cech to injury early on and John Terry later in the game.
Atletico had the chances, and a couple of good ones were wasted, but it was solidness rather than luck that kept the Spaniards at bay.
Three midfielders – Frank Lampard and John Mikel Obi, plus Atletico captain Gabi will be suspended for the second leg.
With Branislav Ivanovic suspended tonight, Cesar Azpilicueta moved back to the right with Ashley Cole coming in for his first start since the FA Cup fourth round in late January.
Mikel was in the starting line-up for the first time since the FA Cup fifth round at Man City and played in a three-man defence with David Luiz and Lampard. Fernando Torres was at the centre of a three-man attack with Ramires and Willian.
Atletico dropped David Villa and brought in Diego to play with Diego Costa in attack. Arda Turan was fit but started on the bench with Raul Garcia and Koke the wingers. Former Chelsea man Tiago was also among the subs.
There was much interest to see the plan Jose Mourinho had worked out to counter the Spanish league leaders, and it soon became clear that with Atletico known for their threat from wide positions, Willian and Ramires were going to give plenty of support to our full-backs when we were without possession.
The first shot was from Diego in a central position, but was soft and deflected wide.
A cross from Filipe Luis was easy for Cech to claim and when a ball did drop for Diego Costa to half-volley, Terry was in front to block. Moments earlier the Atletico striker and the Chelsea captain had exchange words after a challenge.
The early pressure on the Chelsea backline was eased somewhat by a series of fouls given away by the home side, a couple of them sheer clumsiness. Mourinho’s men then enjoyed a good short spell in possession to an increasing volumes of whistling from the home fans.
We were gaining a foothold in the game, but then on 17 minutes came a major setback. A corner from the left was swinging in on the target but was clearing the bar until Cech punched over. However it was at a cost as his landing was bad, and the medical team rushed on.
His game was over and after a few minutes of treatment he came off with what appeared a shoulder or arm injury. Mark Schwarzer, who had played for Fulham against Atletico in the Europa League final, came on. A Chelsea back five that had been unchanged for 13 games now had two personnel different.
Up the other end of the Vicente Calderon pitch, a Lampard corner was met by Cahill but the whistle was blowing for a foul as it dropped wide anyway.
David Luiz, who was doing well breaking up the home side’s moves, took a painful kick from Raul Garcia but was soon over it as Atletico continued to concede free-kicks near our penalty area.
Terry, who was having an outstanding game yet again, twice cleared as Atletico turned up the heat once more, the first time from a Diego Costa cross after the striker worked space past Cahill.
But then on 27 minutes Chelsea broke for the first real time in the game, Willian slipping a tackle on halfway and sending Ramires into space on the right. The Brazilian’s shot from an angle was wide of the far post.
Diego Costa headed over with Cole in close attention but Mourinho’s men weren’t allowing any easy chances. Atletico did go close on 34 minutes but it was from long-range, Mario Suarez’s well-struck shot extending Schwarzer but flying just wide.
With five minutes to go to half-time, Azpilicueta threw himself in front to Diego Costa to block a shot after a cross had been flicked on. When Diego shot straight at Schwarzer in stoppage time and then Schwarzer claimed a cross well, we had reached the halfway point without conceding.
A foul on Torres in between those incidents earned a free-kick just outside the Atletico area. Hopes of grabbing a lead on the stroke of the interval evaporated when David Luiz’s attempt was driven into the wall.
It was Lampard with the first shot after the restart but that was straight at Courtois, and the pattern of the game didn’t change.
After a scrappy few minutes, punctuated by free-kicks, Cole was back to head behind for a corner and it had been clear throughout that the home fans fancied their chances from set-pieces such as these. On this occasion Schwarzer claimed it confidently and when the Australian did less well punching out in open play soon after, he raced back in time to field Diego’s shot.
On 58 minutes, a Cole block tackle and then his run set us on the front foot and Torres skilfully snaked his way into range, but couldn’t beat Courtois.
Five minutes later, Lampard, who had just before been whistled up for handball, committed a foul near halfway that means he will miss the second leg. He was shown his third yellow card in this season’s competition.
There was miscommunication between Schwarzer and Mikel as a ball came deep into our box but we escaped, and there was a feeling the home support were starting to become a little anxious about the lack of a breakthrough. They were certain increasingly annoyed by what they perceived to be Chelsea players needing treatment unnecessarily. They were proved wrong on that when after his second stoppage in quick succession, Terry had to come off with Schurrle on and David Luiz dropping back.
Still Chelsea bodies were there to block and challenge when Atletico got into our area. After a Chelsea foul, tempers frayed and Mikel and Atletico’s Gabi were booked. Both will also miss next week’s return.
Schwarzer paddled the free-kick that followed round the post before the Spaniards missed one of their best opportunities yet – Raul Garcia heading wide.
With three minutes left on the clock, Diego Costa reached a cross in the six-yard box but his on-target header was blocked by the head of Cahill, the defending typifying Chelsea’s resolve at the back throughout.
Miranda was booked on 88 minutes for a foul on Torres just outside the area and as at the end of the first half, the chance was there for a late Chelsea goal, but this time David Luiz’s free-kick cleared the bar.
As the final seconds ticked past, there were two wayward attempts from distance from the Spaniards and one worrying break after our corner that was eventually repelled before the whistle blew.
Both these teams will have their reasons to believe they can come out on top in the second leg. It promises to be quite a night at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday.
Chelsea (4-3-3) Cech (Schwarzer 17); Azpilicueta, Cahill, Terry (c) (Schurrle 72), Cole; David Luiz, Mikel, Lampard; Ramires, Torres, Willian (Ba 90+3).
Unused subs Kalas, Ake, Van Ginkel, Oscar.
Booked Lampard 63, Mikel 74.
Atletico (4-4-1-1): Courtois; Juanfran, Miranda, Godin, Filipe Luis; Raul Garcia (Villa 85), Gabi (c), Mario Suarez (Sosa 79), Koke; Diego (Arda Turan 59); Diego Costa.
Unused subs Aranzubia, Alderweireld, Tiago, Rodriguez.
Booked Gabi 74, Miranda 88.
Referee Jonas Eriksson from Sweden