The lead-up to this Chelsea tie was nerve-racking. Despite Real Madrid’s attacking improvement this season, the specter of last season’s semifinal elimination by Chelsea still loomed large. However, in just three minutes Karim Benzema slew that ghost, backed up by a strong and focused performance from the entire team.
Unsurprisingly, Carlo Ancelotti went for what was arguably the most balanced lineup he could bring into this game, with Fede Valverde on the right wing to add some much-needed pressing work rate. Valverde completed yet another outstanding performance as he did against PSG, running from one end to the other of the pitch throughout the whole game.
The first half turned out to be a high-tempo, high-scoring affair. Chelsea created danger through a creative and aggressive Reece James. He was positioned very high up the pitch so that his dribbling and crosses into the box would have the highest impact.
However, James’ aggressive positioning had a major trade-off: it left center-back Andreas Christensen isolated against Vinicius and Benzema. And the pair would not think twice about demolishing the Danish defender (and future Barcelona signing).
Vinicius fired the first warning shot against Christensen by hitting the post in the 10th minute after a great counterattack. In the 24th minute, a FIFA-esque 1-2 combination occurred, with Benzema passing into space for Vinicius and dashing diagonally into the box to receive Vinicius’ cross and score a spectacular header for the first goal. Three minutes later, Luka Modric would deliver another precise cross to Benzema, who slipped in between Christensen and Thiago Silva to score the second goal.
After trading more attacks back and forth, Chelsea controlled the game in the last part of the first half, and their efforts were rewarded after another Reece James incursion saw Jorginho deliver a pinpoint cross to Kai Havertz, who beat Carvajal to the punch to score the 1-2.
In the second half, Tuchel adjusted, subbing out Christensen and moving into more of a back-four formation, with Ziyech as a right winger. This nullified the threat of Vinicius, who now had to face Chelsea defenders at a numerical disadvantage, with James and Ziyech staying back to defend more him frequently.
However, Karim Benzema, the bane of Champions League goalies, doesn’t care about your tactical adjustments. Two minutes into the second half, he forced a mistake from Edouard Mendy and Antonio Rüdiger when pressing and got the third goal of his hat trick. Yet another legendary night for the French striker.
The rest of the half saw no more Real Madrid shots, with Los Blancos conceding possession and initiative to Chelsea. Ancelotti simply refreshed the eleven with Camavinga, Ceballos, and Bale, while Nacho came in for an injured Militao. Chelsea outshot Real Madrid 11 to 1 in the second half, but despite Tuchel’s changes, they could not get another goal, with Lukaku once again looking like a far cry from the Serie A killer we saw in previous seasons. Courtois helped contribute to this with a couple of great interventions, including a stunning save against a shot from Azpilicueta from outside the box in the 50th minute.
All in all, the second half of the game was nerve-racking, but every Real Madrid fan can be happy with the end result.
Let us know what you thought about the game in the comments, and stay tuned for the player ratings and the podcast analysis!