Chelsea grab draw vs. Atletico but could regret not topping group
LONDON -- Three thoughts from Chelsea's 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid at Stamford Bridge...
1. Chelsea end Atletico's hopes but concede top spot
Chelsea will go into next Monday's draw for the Champions League round of 16 facing a possible clash against Barcelona or Paris Saint-Germain after being held to a draw at Stamford Bridge by Europa League-bound Atletico Madrid.
Atletico, beaten Champions League finalists in 2014 and 2016, finished third in Group C after Stefan Savic's own goal cancelled out Saul Niguez's second-half opener for Diego Simeone's team. But with Roma defeating Qarabag in Italy, even a win wouldn't have been enough for Atletico to qualify.
The draw proved costly for Chelsea too though, with Roma overtaking them and claiming top spot due to the failure of Antonio Conte's team to win at home. As a result, with four English teams confirmed as winners of their group and Liverpool in pole position to top theirs, the only opponents Chelsea can face in the round of 16 are Barcelona, PSG or Besiktas. Sevilla will also be in that group if they better Liverpool's result on Wednesday night.
Only time will tell how damaging Chelsea's failure to win this game might prove but for the second time in the group, Chelsea failed to win at home and that shortcoming must be eradicated before the knock-out stages if they are to have any hope of advancing much further.
2. Torres a shadow of his old self
Fernando Torres was given a warm reception on his first return to Stamford Bridge and then polite applause as he left the pitch as a 56th minute substitute, largely because he did so little to worry Chelsea during his outing. But for his glancing header, which teed up Saul's opener moments before he was taken off, Torres would have done nothing against his old club, but then most Chelsea fans would argue that his performance was no different to many he produced in a blue shirt.
Now 33, Torres is clearly in the autumn of his career and his has been a sad decline since he left Liverpool for Chelsea in a £50 million transfer in January 2011. Until that point, "El Nino" was one of the most-feared strikers in world football, a player with devastating pace and finishing ability, but his football slump was comparable to that of Tiger Woods on the golf course.
From being so impressive Torres simply lost it, but his time back at Atletico has at least given the former Spain striker a chance to end his career on a high. Yet with Diego Costa waiting in the wings to play next month following his protracted return move from Chelsea, Torres' days are numbered. It's not difficult to see why Atletico re-signed Costa. Had he been available for the group stages, Atleti may not have ended up in the Europa League.
Torres no longer has the pace or power of old and his finishing is now laboured and predictable. He's scored just twice all season, with both those goals coming against lowly Elche in the Copa del Rey.
Torres was a true great at Liverpool but his best days are a long way behind him and that was evident on Tuesday night.
3. Oblak shows why he could replace two former Atletico keepers
The rumour mill linking Real Madrid with Thibaut Courtois and David De Gea is rarely quiet for long and it seems inevitable that the European champions will eventually sign the No.1 from either Chelsea or Manchester United. If that does happen, the consolation for the two English sides is that Jan Oblak would be a top quality replacement and easily obtainable from Atletico Madrid in the event that they need to sign a new keeper.
With a £77.5m buy-out clause at Atletico, Oblak would not be too costly for either clubs (especially if they bank even more for Courtois or De Gea) and the Slovenia international showed once again at Stamford Bridge that he is a world-class goalkeeper. The 24-year-old made a series of crucial first-half saves to keep Atletico in the game before Saul's strike opened the scoring team after the break. Once Atletico were ahead, Oblak continued to defy Chelsea with some fine saves until he was beaten by a heavy deflection off Stefan Savic on 75 minutes.
Both De Gea and Courtois have become two of the best keepers in the Premier League after proving their ability as youngsters at Atletico and Oblak is clearly made of the same stuff as his two celebrated predecessors.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_