Real Madrid – Chelsea: Real Rescript The Remontada To Progress (2-3, After Extra Time)

If adversity is the real test of character, then this tie was where Thomas Tuchel’s managerial star could shine. His changes brought Chelsea to the brink of a fairytale comeback, but one should never count out the stardust of the old guard before the referee blasts his final whistle.

Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.

Real Madrid are no strangers to such a position of authority in a two legged European tie. Still full of members of the iconic threepeat team, this side is not synonymous with youth. Yet, European nights remain the stage for their aging stars to shine. A magical second half comeback at home to PSG paved the way into the quarter-finals, where a 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge avenged demons from the clash with Chelsea in 2021. Two goals to the good ahead of kickoff, they aimed to finish a professional job.

For Thomas Tuchel, 2022 has been a year where he has sought to preserve a fragile equilibrium. But ever since the return from the international break, the balances seem to have tipped against him. Two losses and the concession of seven goals is a grim record for an outfit whose stingy defense has been the hallmark of their success under the German. Casting the defense of the Champions League trophy into jeopardy, the guests required a mature display to have a chance of turning the tide in this contest.

If Tuchel wanted a stern response, a 6-0 rout of Southampton on the weekend was as good as they come. Timo Werner, Mason Mount, and Kai Havertz stole the show on the south coast, all earning places in the lineup here. Mateo Kovačić sat next to N’Golo Kanté in the middle of the park, facing his old club, and Marcos Alonso kept his spot on the left flank. Only Andreas Christensen would miss out after that victory on an opportunity to atone for the first leg defeat, making way for Reece James.

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti rested and rotated his options on the weekend. Ferland Mendy, Toni Kroos, and Dani Carvajal all came back into the fold after sitting on the bench against Getafe. To the inside of the right back was Nacho, who filled in for the suspended Éder Militão. Federico Valverde thus went back from midfield into his dutiful role on the right flank in place of Rodrygo.

Tuchel modulates the pressing scheme

A delicate strategic balance lay ahead of Tuchel. The concession of a goal would force his men, who even at their best tend not to be ruthless in the final third, to score three times. But the likelihood of having to create multiple chances to claw their way back into the tie required cautious proactivity.

Central to that task would be fixing the faulty press of the first leg. From the front, modifications were evident. Havertz had swept across the backline alone last week, but now he received help. Werner ran at Nacho from his outside while his compatriot stayed over to the right to take care of David Alaba. Alonso continually moved out of the chain of four at the back to press Carvajal, leaving his teammate Antonio Rüdiger to shift outward and latch onto Valverde. Chelsea duly locked down their left edge.

Another notable change was to the dynamics on the right. James’ typical shifting role as a wing-back in the first leg carved the pathway for Vinícius Júnior to torment Christensen. The Dane lost his spot on the team, but Tuchel also fronted up to a need to adjust. James held back to maintain a more even duel with the winger, leaving Loftus-Cheek as the main man to defend buildup options ahead of him.

8th minute: pressing sequence from Chelsea. Loftus-Cheek switches from covering Ferland Mendy to Kroos as the play shifts to the right. Werner closes down Nacho, who receives a pass from Thibaut Courtois, Mount marks Casemiro and the last line shifts out while James keeps an eye on Vinícius.

Tuchel’s men were far more effective in their work off the ball, rightly taking the early initiative with an attack on their left flank. Loftus-Cheek laid off the ball to Werner, whose knock-on steered the play into the path of an onrushing Mount. His teammate broke into the penalty area, neatly placing a half volley into the side of the net to half the deficit within a quarter of an hour of kickoff. Game on.

Chelsea find their flow

The opening goal illustrated another change from Tuchel to his men’s setup on the ball. He had tested Loftus-Cheek in a hybrid role floating between the zones of a wing-back and a central midfielder. If he moved inside, Havertz moved out to the flank, rotating to pin the fullback. The same interchanges continually affected Madrid’s right edge, where James also made a few prudent overlaps from deep.

15th minute: buildup to Mount’s goal. Havertz makes a deep run then drifts to the outer shoulder of Ferland Mendy. Circulation from Mount and Kovačić, free due to the pinning of Alonso, draws the midfield higher. Kroos’ man-orientation exposes the center, where Loftus-Cheek drops to combine.

The fluidity of rotations paired up with more guile on the ball from Chelsea. The hosts sat in a low block, relying on Valverde to offer cover in a back five. But unlike last week, Tuchel’s men probed the gaps in their shape more calmly to settle the flow, thanks in no small part to Kovačić, and contain Madrid. A mature showing before the break had set a platform from which the visitors could build.

Same again

Chelsea picked up from where they left off at the start of the second half, posing problems from the off. A collision in the box between Casemiro and Havertz might have earned the away team a lifeline from a penalty, but luck soon favored them. In the 50th minute, a corner saw James buy another set-piece from a ‘deflection’ from Modrić. Replays showed the defender had skewed his effort wide of the post, but Rüdiger pounced, leaping with expert timing to guide Mount’s cross into the back of the net.

Just past the hour mark, the improbable was now possible. Mount forced a turnover from Ferland Mendy to set away Kanté on the break. To his left, Alonso eluded Carvajal and hit a spiraling half volley at the stanchion. 3-2. The euphoria was to last briefly, but Chelsea were in the ascendancy.

Legends never quit

In the 75th minute, the comeback seemed complete. Kovačić threaded the ball through a gully to the inside of Carvajal to Werner. Speed, composure, and a slight deflection carved the path to the goal. Only a quarter of an hour stood between Chelsea and the last four. But legends never quit easily. The dying embers of a second leg set the stage for an artful assist from Modrić. With a trademark trivela, he found Rodrygo, whose first touch was a sweet volley past Édouard Mendy to enforce extra time.

Tuchel had incisively crafted a way back into the game with a high caliber plan, but his men were flagging at a crucial juncture. Above all, Kanté, sitting at the base of the midfield to sweep up danger, came off in the 99th minute. Conversely, Ancelotti stuck to type, subtly tweaking play from the dugout. Carvajal ably deputized as a central defender while Camavinga’s dynamism, industry, and passing, next to Modrić and Valverde, handed Madrid the tools to battle hard in the final half hour.

In the end, a familiar Frenchman won the war. Camavinga, full of industry and incision after his introduction, slipped a pass down the left flank for Vinícius. The winger bided his time, standing up the ball in the box. Rüdiger lost his footing; Benzema struck. The old guard had prevailed in this epic.


Chelsea’s conquest to capture the European crown for the second year in a row has run aground. To move into the semi-finals on the night, Tuchel’s men needed matters to go more or less fully in their favor. The first leg display ended up being costly, but the nous of their manager, who misses out on his first cup final in his time at the club, bodes well for the future after this painful but valiant exit.

Mounting another turnaround in a second leg, Real Madrid have found their way into the final four of the competition. Defensive frailties continue to harm this side at the elite level, but the indomitable strength of their talent from back to front has the tools to douse the hopes of more structurally sound outfits. A little luck does not hurt either, and Ancelotti will relish the challenge of going all the way.

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"Possession as a philosophy is overrated. Possession of the ball as a tool is underestimated." João Cancelo stan (19) [ View all posts ]


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