It finished 1-1 between Real Madrid and Chelsea in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final at Valdebebas and it was a fascinating encounter in so many ways. We had many questions coming into it and now we have even more ahead of the second leg in London next week. Here comes a look at the questions that were answered and the new doubts this clash threw up.
1. 3-5-2 with Marcelo or 4-3-3 with Asensio?
You should never rule anything out with Zidane, but coming into this game it seemed there were just two likely tactical set-ups for this game. Either a 3-5-2 with Marcelo or a 4-3-3 with Marco Asensio. Zidane opted for the former, making this the 23rd defensive line used by Real Madrid this season. That’s right. Carvajal, Militão, Varane, Nacho and Marcelo hadn’t played together before. Not this season, not ever. And it sure looked like this was their first match together over the first 15 minutes. Chelsea caused Real Madrid’s defence all kinds of problems even before Pulisic’s goal. But, as the match went on, the Real Madrid back line got better. The rain actually seemed to help as the ball spun away from Chelsea on a number of occasions as they tried to counter attack. Eventually, in the 76th minute, Zidane switched to the 4-3-3 with the introduction of Asensio for Marcelo, made at the same time as Odriozola replaced an exhausted Carvajal.
2. Could Vinícius give Azpilicueta the same nightmares he gave Alexander-Arnold?
Vinícius has been one of the stars of Real Madrid’s Champions League campaign, but this time he was going up against a very different kind of right-back to Atalanta’s Joakim Mæhle and Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold. Unlike the other two, César Azpilicueta is a defender first and foremost. There isn’t going to be much space around the Spaniard to exploit, so Vini would have to do his work with pace and trickery. And, on a few occasions, he did. Yet, as was to be expected, the Brazilian wasn’t quite as impactful as in other games.
3. Would the referee look to punish Real Madrid for their Super League involvement?
Coming into this game, there was a wild conspiracy theory that UEFA had instructed Danny Makkelie to referee the game in a biased way against Real Madrid because of their Super League involvement. So, would that be the case? No, because it was a ridiculous suggestion on every level. Makkelie had a good game, making correct decisions. The only time he was really noticed was when his back stopped a Mount ball forward. Well done to him for dealing with the silly added pressure.
1. Will Zidane finally beat Tuchel next week?
This was the first Real Madrid vs Chelsea meeting in official competition since 1998, but the two coaches had gone up against each other before. Before tonight’s draw, there had been four previous Zidane vs Tuchels, a pair of 2-2 draws between Los Blancos and Borussia Dortmund in the 2016/17 groups, then PSG’s 3-0 win and another 2-2 draw in 2019/20’s groups. So, from five meetings four have now been draws and Tuchel has won once. The German seems to be a coach who knows how to score goals against Zidane’s tight defences. So, what will happen next week? Maybe it’s another draw and maybe one of these teams progresses on the away goals rule. That wouldn’t surprise me at all.
2. Will Hazard start the second leg?
It was in the 66th minute of the first leg that Zidane made his first change, replacing Vinícius with Eden Hazard. As mentioned above, this wasn’t Vini’s most effective night, although a lot of that is credit to Chelsea. Hazard didn’t do too much either after he came on. A few of his trademark 270° turns to move past defenders in tight spaces and a nice through ball for a late Odriozola-created chance, but little else. In my opinion, Vini fully deserved the start ahead of Hazard for this first leg, but what happens now in the second leg? Hazard now has today’s 24 minutes and Saturday’s 13 minutes against Real Betis and will surely be allowed to enhance his match sharpness further against Osasuna on Saturday. So, will the Belgian start the second leg? And, a slightly different question, should he? Whatever the answers are, the Hazard narrative will be brought up again and against over these next eight days.
3. Can Courtois start another run?
There was no clean sheet for Courtois tonight, but it wasn’t his fault. Maybe he would have been better staying put when the chance arrived for the Pulisic goal, but, honestly, he was just put in a bad situation. Over the night, the big Belgian made several important saves, none more impressive than the early one against Werner. He was great once again and we’ll see if he can start a new run of not conceding. When the Pulisic goal went in, that ended his run of 404 minutes without having to pick the ball out the back of his net. Now, he’s already back up to 76 minutes. Let’s see when he next concedes because he has been absolutely brilliant of late.