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The Blues were the better team in the Spanish capital last week and are in a good position to reach their first Champions League final since 2012.
|Chelsea vs Real Madrid Information|
|What||Chelsea vs Real Madrid|
|Where||Stamford Bridge, London, England|
|When||Wednesday, 5 May 2021, 03.00 PM EDT|
|How to watch||Paramount+|
Chelsea will have been pleased with how their first taste of a Champions League semi-final since 2014 went last week. Christian Pulisic gave Thomas Tuchel’s side the lead at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, and although Karim Benzema brought Real Madrid level later in the first half, a 1-1 draw was a better outcome for the visitors than the hosts.
This tie could still go either way, but the advantage at the midway point lies with Chelsea. Back the Premier League side to beat their La Liga counterparts on Wednesday night to advance to the final of Europe’s foremost competition for only the second time in the club’s history.
It would not have been an easy decision for Roman Abramovich to make. Since the Russian oligarch bought Chelsea in 2003, few individuals have played as a big a role in their success as Frank Lampard. The club’s all-time leading goalscorer will always be a legend at Stamford Bridge for his exploits as a player, and most supporters were delighted with the work he did during his first season as Chelsea manager.
Abramovich probably was too, but nor was he shy in pulling the trigger when things went awry during the current campaign. Lampard was relieved of his duties towards the end of January, having been unable to address a dip in form that left Chelsea ninth in the table. Tuchel was handed the reins almost immediately, with Abramovich hoping that the German have a chance of reviving Chelsea’s hopes of a top-four finish.
He has done more than that. The Blues are on course to finish in the top four and qualify for next season’s edition of the Champions League, having lost just one of their 15 Premier League games under Tuchel’s tutelage. Remarkably, they have not even conceded a goal in 11 of those matches. Chelsea are also through to the FA Cup final, where they will face Leicester City on May 15.
The biggest prize of all would be the Champions League. Chelsea eased past Porto in the quarter-finals and can be pleased with how they performed in Madrid last week. The job is not done yet, but Chelsea are in an excellent position – both in this semi-final and the season as a whole.
Real Madrid are now underdogs to reach the Champions League final, but that will not bother them one iota. In a way, Zinedine Zidane’s side might actually be better suited when the expectation is reduced. That has appeared to be the case in La Liga this term, with Madrid going unbeaten against title rivals Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, and Sevilla. They have, however, lost to Levante, Alaves, and Cadiz in matches they were expected to win comfortably.
There are no doubts over the mentality of a team containing the likes of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Benzema, and Sergio Ramos, who could be back in the starting XI at Stamford Bridge. These are seasoned winners who know exactly what it takes to win the Champions League. There is no danger of Madrid freezing at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
There are, however, soccer-related reasons why Zidane’s men are in a less-than-ideal position ahead of the second leg. The concession of an away goal last week means the onus is on Madrid to take the initiative, and the evidence of the last two campaigns is that they are far more comfortable in the reverse situation.
There is also a broader question mark over Madrid’s attack. Benzema scored a fantastic goal in the first leg, but there are fewer sources of individual magic in this team than the one which contained Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale a few years back. Moreover, Madrid did not create much besides Benzema’s piece of brilliance last time out, and they have often been slow starters this season: Los Blancos have failed to score in nine of their last 14 first halves in La Liga.
A 0-0 draw would be enough for Chelsea to progress to the Champions League final, but it would be incredibly risky for Tuchel to try and implement a game plan to achieve that outcome. Chelsea will play their normal game, which handily features plenty of defensive solidity and tidy possession.
More likely than a scoreless stalemate is a Chelsea win within 90 minutes. The Blues could easily have emerged victorious in Spain last time out, and their confident display away from home is evidence that they will not be overawed by Madrid’s greater pedigree in this competition.
Chelsea’s attacking transitions, led by Timo Werner and Pulisic, could decide the match in their favor. The Blues can hurt Madrid’s defense if they break forward quickly and effectively, while N’Golo Kante’s intelligence and dynamism in the center of the park makes him a potential difference-maker.
There is plenty to admire in this Madrid team, not least in terms of character and nous, but it does not compare to the European champions of 2014, 2016, 2017 or 2018 when overall quality is being assessed. Chelsea under Tuchel have nothing to fear.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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