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Stalemate at the Calderon

Cesar Azpilicueta vies for the ball with Diego Costa, in Madrid, on Tuesday. (Getty Images)

Madrid: Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho returned to Spain with an ultra-cautious approach as his team earned a 0-0 draw with surprise Champions League semi-finalists Atletico Madrid in a first leg lacking in excitement on Tuesday.

The stalemate at the Vicente Calderon, which Atletico coach Diego Simeone believes gives Chelsea a slight advantage in next week’s return at Stamford Bridge, came at a cost for the 2012 winners, however.

Goalkeeper Petr Cech was ruled out for the season after hurting his elbow, captain John Terry limped off with an ankle injury and midfielders Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel earned bookings that mean they are suspended for the second leg.

Atletico, through to the last four of Europe’s elite club competition for the first time in 40 years, dominated their defence-minded visitors and pushed hard for a goal but failed to carve out the advantage they wanted.

Back in the Spanish capital for the first time since quitting Atletico’s city rivals Real at the end of last season, Mourinho set out to thwart the home team rather than attack them and the result means his side will be favourites to advance to next month’s final in Lisbon.

The Londoners lost Cech when he fell heavily and hurt his right elbow in the 15th minute but neither his replacement Mark Schwarzer nor Atletico ’keeper Thibaut Courtois, on loan from Chelsea, were genuinely tested in a drab affair.

There was another cracking atmosphere before kick-off at the 55,000-capacity stadium next to the Manzanares river where the fans have been flocking to enjoy what is easily Atletico’s best season in almost 20 years.

They are top of La Liga ahead of Real and champions Barcelona, whom they dispatched in the Champions League quarter finals, and closing in on their first domestic league title since 1996 when Simeone was in the team.

The former Argentina captain deployed an attacking formation against Chelsea with Diego Costa leading the line supported by Raul Garcia as Diego and Koke provided the creative impetus just behind.

Mourinho, by contrast, had containment in mind, with former Atletico captain Fernando Torres alone up front and defender David Luiz in a holding role in a five-man midfield.

Mourinho had instructed his players to sit back and try to catch Atletico on the break and they were happy to let the home side have the ball in a first half short on entertainment.

Chelsea were forced to make an early change when Cech was knocked to the ground by a tumbling Raul Garcia at a corner and he was helped off clutching his right arm, an injury that has ended his campaign.

Australian Schwarzer, 41, making only his second Champions League appearance, became the oldest player to feature in the knockout phase.

With almost the entire Chelsea team behind the ball, the hosts managed only one shot on target before the break, a weak Diego effort, and the visitors none.

Midfielder Mario Suarez flashed a long-range drive narrowly wide in the 34th minute and Costa had a volley well blocked by Cesar Azpilicueta but otherwise there was little goalmouth action. The second half was a similarly cagey affair and there was more bad news for Chelsea in the 73rd minute when Terry limped off after turning his ankle at a corner.

Atletico captain Gabi forced a decent save from Schwarzer in the 76th minute and Costa had a chance with a header late on as Atletico pressed for a goal.

Chelsea, though, held out reasonably comfortably and their players looked much the happier at the final whistle.               (Reuters)