ANTONIO CONTE’S passage into the last 16 of the Champions League felt just like the match ball – a little flat.
A draw marks the end of a topsy-turvy return to the group stages for the English champions who made the mistake of playing like a team which knows it has already qualified.
Just a few seconds into the game the players rejected the ball for lacking bounce.
And while Chelsea played with plenty of swagger and created enough chances to have the game wrapped up by half time, they paid the price for not doing so.
Ultimately an own goal by Stefan Savic 15 minutes from time salvaged a point and condemned Atletico Madrid to the dreaded Europa League.
But it won’t have saved Chelsea’s players from a stern debrief by boss Conte in today’s team meeting before preparations begin for Saturday’s trip to West Ham.
The patchy performance certainly perplexed owner Roman Abramovich, who sat in his seat high in his executive box, scratching at his greying beard, wondering what was going on with his Jekyll and Hyde team of superstars.
Four wins and a draw in the last five league games keeps Chelsea in touch with the pack chasing Manchester City but Europe is the big prize that Conte wants this season because the leaders look out of sight already.
Chelsea were into the knockout stages before kick off but Conte demanded a win to keep the confidence high and momentum ticking along.
They were even gifted a handy little psychological boost when Atletico turned up late to the ground because their team bus was delayed in the London traffic, cutting short their pre-match preparations.
With the respective positions in Group C this really was a ‘must win’ game for the Spaniards, lying third and relying on a favourable result in the other match to give them any hope of qualifying.
Chelsea meanwhile, could relax and throw open the shoulders. Play with a definite sense of ease about the occasion.
They looked in control, keeping Atletico at arms length while looking threatening every time they broke free.
After a momentary scare in the fifth minute when Torres lifted a shot over the Chelsea crossbar from inside the box, there was little else from the visitors until the second half.
Former Chelsea striker Torres was sandwiched in between Andreas Christensen and Gary Cahill, overshadowed in every way.
In contrast the man given the task of leading Chelsea into a new era, Alvaro Morata, was enjoying himself without really putting a shift in.
On 17 minutes, he turned a shot just wide from 25 yards. Six minutes later he combined with Victor Moses in the most threatening move yet from the Premier League champions.
Moses, fit and raring to go again after a lengthy hamstring injury, burst down the right and cleverly cut the ball back straight into the path of his team-mate.
Morata slid to the ground, using his arc of descent to shoot with purpose straight at keeper Jan Oblak from eight yards out.
Morata bared his teeth again just sixty seconds after that.
This time from the left hand side of the box, he unloaded with a rising shot across the face of goal, forcing Oblak to stretch and tip the ball away with the best save of the match so far.
Torres meanwhile, was largely redundant. The man who cost Chelsea £50 million down and more than a million quid for each of his 45 goals after that in a disappointing three and a half years at Stamford Bridge, was a virtual spectator.
It was enough to send Atletico’s simmering boss Diego Simeone into overdrive in the dugout. At that time Azaerbaijani minnows FC Qarabag were holding Roma in the Italian capital and there was more to play for than his players suggested with not a single shot on target recorded in the first 45 minutes
Simeone’s half time pep talk had an immediate effect for just a minute into the second half Antoine Griezmann popped a shot straight at Courtois from a free kick.
Luis hit the post out of the blue soon after and Courtois quickly saved the follow up header from Koke.
The breakthrough came in the 56th minute and it was the first and last word from Torres.
A corner swung into the Chelsea box and he flicked the cross onto the far post where Saul Niguez was unmarked and nodded into an unguarded net.
Torres was substituted a few seconds later to warm applause from the home fans.
Chelsea equalised through a lucky deflection. Eden Hazard’s powerful shot across the face of the goal hitting the unfortunate defender and deceiving his keeper to make it 1-1.
Conte’s animated reaction underlined his sense of relief. He was fully pumped up – even if the ball and his players weren’t.