Jose Mourinho's ultra-defensive tactics succeeded at the Vicente Calderon Stadium despite the exit of goalkeeper Petr Cech to injury in the 18th minute. Mark Schwarzer came on, with Cech's long-term replacement — Thibaut Courtois — playing in the opposite goal, on loan from Chelsea.
Atletico nearly broke through in the final 15 minutes as Raul Garcia and substitute Arda Turan sent headers wide, while Gabi Fernandez and Diego Costa forced Schwarzer into saves.
But Chelsea looked too strong at the back, despite also losing captain John Terry to an injury that will sideline him for the remainder of the Premier League season. The result will leave the English side feeling upbeat about its chances of returning to the final, two years after beating Bayern Munich on penalties.
Atletico, which is top of the Spanish league and hasn't been this far in Europe's top competition since 1974, needs a plan for breaking open a Chelsea defence that will be handicapped by injuries and suspensions in the return leg.
"We're not happy with the draw since we wanted to win at all costs. We're left with a bad taste in our mouth even if the series is still open," Gabi said. "We knew they didn't want to concede, but we tried to score through our best attacking football."
The second leg is at Stamford Bridge on April 30 with the winner playing either Bayern or Real Madrid in the May 24 final at Lisbon.
Chelsea striker Fernando Torres started on his first return to his boyhood club — but made little impact like much of his side's attack — as Oscar and Andre Schuerrle were left on the substitutes' bench. Eden Hazard and Samuel Eto'o were out due to injury.
"We had to be safe, don't concede and score in the chances you create," Mourinho said. "If you score a goal in one of those situations the result would be very good. We didn't, but this result means everything will be decided at Stamford Bridge."
Mourinho's game plan was not pretty, but certainly proved effective as the Blues stifled Atletico, whose best opportunity of the first half forced Cech out with an injured shoulder as he tipped Koke's wicked in-swinging corner kick over the bar. Schwarzer came on to chants of "Courtois" as Atletico supporters mocked Chelsea's decision to loan out the Belgian goalkeeper.
Chelsea should have been ahead moments later when Gary Cahill headed Frank Lampard's corner kick wide from inside the area, shortly before Ramires broke through — only for the Chelsea midfielder to fire wide.
Schwarzer was busy gathering failed crosses and long balls as the home side attempted to break through without success, while Chelsea's defenders did well to contain Diego Costa and block a series of shots, including the Spain striker's 41st-minute volley from inside the area.
After Lampard forced Courtois into a save to start the second half, Atletico slowly began to break through the Chelsea wall through efforts from Diego Ribas, who came off for Turan after an hour.
Terry picked up an injury after appearing to land awkwardly and made way for Schuerrle in the 73rd, while Atletico players grew frustrated with referee Jonas Eriksson. The Swede gave neither team leeway in a stop-start match featuring many fouls and also handed out a booking to Gabi that will rule the Atletico captain out of the return match.
Yellow cards for Lampard and John Obi Mikel means the Chelsea midfield pair will also miss the game at Stamford Bridge.
"We will fight, we will fight," said Mourinho, who said he now saw the Blues' priority as being Europe rather than the Premier League. "(Branislav) Ivanovic is back, Schwarzer showed we could trust him. If we have to play the kids, we have to play the kids."
Raul Garcia, who limped off at the end, headed a pair of chances over the top in the final 10 minutes, when Atletico pressed forward for a winner. Diego Costa was unable to direct his header past Schwarzer, who will now be vital for Chelsea's Premier League campaign, as the London club held on for a valuable draw.
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