Chelsea FC reached the UEFA Champions League first knockout round with two Group D games to spare despite a spirited display by now eliminated Club Atlético de Madrid, Didier Drogba's double proving enough for the visitors.
Having suffered a heavy defeat when these teams met at Stamford Bridge two weeks ago, Atlético put in an improved performance under new coach Quique Sánchez Flores, capped by two spectacular Sergio Agüero goals. The latter's fine volley gave them a second-half lead before Drogba headed Chelsea level with eight minutes left, then turned the game completely with his second strike six minutes later. There was time, however, for Agüero to reply with a free-kick, although FC Porto's win at APOEL FC left the Spanish side vying with the Cypriot champions for a UEFA Europa League place.
Chasing the victory that would have kick-started their UEFA Champions League challenge, Atlético set the early pace with quick and neat passing. Diego Forlán came closest to opening the scoring when he let fly a left-footer from distance that zipped wide. The English club soon responded and, following a defensive error, Michael Essien fed Drogba who lashed across the face of Sergio Asenjo's goal.
José Antonio Reyes, taking advantage of Quique Flores's decision to leave Maxi Rodríguez and Agüero on the bench, was giving an energetic display and the winger unleashed a curling effort that Petr Čech palmed to safety. Reyes also played a clever backheel for Cléber Santana to blast over from outside the area. Carlo Ancelotti's men – who had scored 17 goals without conceding in their four preceding matches – nevertheless threatened on the break and Frank Lampard sent the final opening of the first period narrowly wide.
Making his first UEFA Champions League appearance of the campaign following a three-game suspension, Drogba showed his eagerness to mark his return with a goal by striking a bouncing free-kick that Asenjo touched on to the upright. The Liga outfit's slow start to the second half prompted their new coach to introduce Agüero and the No10 immediately looked to cause the Chelsea rearguard problems.
The substitute had his intended impact in the 66th minute. Gaining possession on the left, Antonio López delivered a cross that John Terry could only head on to Agüero, who reacted unerringly by volleying into the top corner – Atlético's first group-stage goal and the first shipped by Chelsea in this season's competition. Drogba rifled an attempt wide as the Londoners strove to counter, yet the momentum was with Atlético and they would have doubled their lead had Agüero connected with Simão's centre.
Instead Chelsea pegged back the Rojiblancos in the 82nd minute, Drogba nodding in Florent Malouda's cross, before the lights went out on Atlético's chances of reviving their campaign as Juanito's slip allowed the Ivorian to score at the second attempt. Despite Agüero's last-gasp free-kick, it was Chelsea who progressed. Atlético, meanwhile, must target a win at APOEL on 25 November to ensure the consolation prize of UEFA Europa League football.