Real Madrid’s 3-1 win at the Stamford Bridge leaves them in a very promising position for their Champions League tie on Tuesday. So much so that Thomas Tuchel was resigned to a feeling that the fixture was over; he did not believe his Chelsea side were at the level needed to progress to the semi-finals; his post-match comments were explicit.
The mood and pessimism may have altered slightly after their 6-0 smashing of Southampton on the weekend – Tuchel certainly got the reaction he wanted; an energetic and ruthless display. Timo Werner and Mason Mount both grabbed braces (the former could have had more), while Marcos Alonso and Kai Havertz helped themselves to one each. On the other hand, Real Madrid played later that evening put in another professional display; not as many goals as Chelsea, but a very comfortable and controlling display against Getafe; a bottom half side who tend to give them difficulties. Yet, they looked confident – Vinicius Jr with a delicious outside-of-the-foot cross to set up their first goal, scored by Casemiro, and their second scored by Lucas Vasquez; marauding forward like a modern full-back. Both teams looked imperious in their own styles on the weekend, but who will come out triumphant on Tuesday?
The key to this battle will be who’s identity comes out stronger. Carlo Ancelotti managed to rest Luka Modric and Toni Kroos – an almost blasphemous occurrence; just ask Real Madrid fans about Ancelotti’s squad rotation. In their place were the future and the present; Federico Valverde and Eduardo Camavinga – both athletic and confident in carrying the ball, whereas the former veteran two like to control the game. However, Real Madrid would like to control this second leg, even more so now that they hold a somewhat substantial lead. This will most likely see that midfield trio of Kroos, Casemiro and Modric start but will have Valverde deployed on the right, who will tuck in and provide that much-needed athleticism and power. This worked to perfection in the first leg and should in theory work again; Chelsea will need to come out on the front foot – they’ll need to attack and so they will most likely leave gaps. This is where Valverde and Vinicius Jr can provide devastating counter-attacks and Karim Benzema can continue his imperious form in front of goal – a hat trick in the first leg has given his team a healthy lead and he’ll be hoping to add to his already impressive tally for the season; 37 goals and counting.
In contrast, Chelsea will be looking to the wide areas, a staple of Tuchel’s style. Reece James and Marcos Alonso will need to be at their best, not only in defending their flanks but also in attacking Real’s. Chelsea are heavily reliant on this style of play and they’ll be looking for Kai Havertz in the box, who seems to have found himself a proper role in the side and is reaping the rewards – The German scored in the first leg and on the weekend; He has 7 goals in his last 10 games. Romelu Lukaku will not be traveling with the Chelsea side, The 100 million pound Belgian, whose cursed return to Chelsea continues; He will not be able to make amends for squandering that brilliant-headed chance in the first leg to make it 3-2.
While Tuchel may want to deploy his tactics around the flanks, he will undoubtedly need to address that midfield battle; when on song Kroos, Casemiro and Modric can dismantle and suffocate the best of teams. It will be interesting to see if Tuchel looks to deploy Kante and Kovacic in the starting line-up and tries to stifle that midfield trio, as did Real Madrid’s previous opponents; PSG. But Chelsea along with all the aforementioned have another obstacle to face, and probably the most obvious one; this is Real Madrid in the Champions League, a competition even in their worst of times, they have an ability to give an extra 10 percent and pull out the extraordinary. Chelsea needs to be perfect and while doing so, they’ll need to fight off that ominous aura that Real Madrid seems to possess in this competition; their inevitable ability to get a result. An intangible force that Chelsea may not be able to control. Ninety minutes at the Santiago Bernabeu are indeed a long time; just ask PSG. The narratives and nuances are endless but it’s pretty simple really; Chelsea needs to replicate what their opposition has done on countless occasions for their second leg tie; A “remontada”. A comeback against the kings of comebacks; is pretty simple eh? Real Madrid will undoubtedly have other ideas, they’ll be looking to pounce on the break. Valverde and Vinicius their ammunition to drive them forward; to capitalize on Chelsea’s vulnerabilities chasing a historic victory – and their deadly weapon in Karim Benzema looking to provide the kill.