Real Madrid continued their title defence against yet another English side — and familiar frenemy of the last three seasons — Chelsea in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League. The previous two matchups between these sides have produced the eventual trophy winners, with this being their third consecutive meeting in the UCL.
While Chelsea’s record against Los Blancos was good, their current season has seen them crippling towards the finish line so far, having changed managers three times this season already. They sit in 11th position in the league table and yesterday’s performance was in line with their league standings. They had failed to win any of their last four games coming into this fixture.
Los Blancos produced yet another strong performance at home in the UCL, running away 2-0 winners on the night, with goals from Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio. Ancelotti’s men gracefully juggled their way to yet another win in the UCL (just like he himself did on the touchline). This was the Italian’s 35th UCL win as Real Madrid manager, which is more than any other manager for the Royal Whites.
Let’s take a look at the performance from a data perspective and make sense of what went right for the reigning European Champions.
Game Flow and Territorial Dominance
Starting our deep dive by looking at the game flow plot, showcasing how much expected threat (xT) a team is able to generate in a running five minute window, to understand the dominant spells for both teams, a few things pop up immediately. Beyond the opening 10-15 minutes, Chelsea were unable to muster any good spells in the game. The London Blues found some joy on the break early on with the space in behind due to Madrid’s aggressive positioning but couldn’t convert it to good shooting opportunities.
However it was almost all one way traffic beyond the 30 minute mark.
Real Madrid accumulated an expected threat value of 1.38 compared to Chelsea’s 0.82. Entering good areas and sustaining pressure, Los Blancos translated that into multiple shooting opportunities. Chelsea’s keeper, Kepa, was called into action eight times during the first half alone, the most a Chelsea goalkeeper has had to face since the 2003/04 season.
Madrid didn’t just outshoot Chelsea 18 to 7 but they also accrued an xG of 2.3 compared to Chelsea’s 0.7, further underlining Madrid’s dominance. Ancelotti’s men could consider themselves unlucky to not have scored more and put the tie to bed.
Real Madrid didn’t just have the upper hand in possession, seeing 57% of the ball, but also managed to have sustained pressure in the final third. They had a field tilt (a metric to showcase the territorial dominance of a team) of 68.8%. The sustained pressure resulted in 30 penalty box touches compared to Chelsea’s 10 in the game.
Real Madrid never needed to move into the second gear against a timid Chelsea side who lined up in a conservative 3-5-2 at the Bernabeu. It was the inherent traits of the formation that worked in the hands of Madrid.
While the formation allows you to set-up and defend well inside the box, the expansive workload on the fullbacks to push forward and provide width, and the lateral space for the flat midfielder to cover often results in opportunities for the opposition in the wide areas, which is what happened here.
Real Madrid’s wing-focused approach was the perfect antidote for Chelsea’s setup, and having midfielders like Toni Kroos and Luka Modric allowed them to exploit the weakness easily.
Real Madrid lined up in a 4-3-3 with Toni Kroos as the deepest midfielder. Despite playing Kroos as the deepest midfielder, they weren’t troubled much and were able to retain and circulate the ball fairly well. The ever reliable duo of Kroos and Modric cruised through the game without ever really having to put their foot down full throttle.
The duo were at the end of the most passes received among Madrid players and had a healthy exchange of possession between themselves. Kroos-to-Modric and Modric-to-Kroos was Real Madrid’s most frequent passing combination in the game.
The pass network also highlights how Vinicius was a consistent out-ball on the left flank, allowing Madrid to pin Chelsea’s defensive line back and allow the fullbacks to push further up.
Chelsea’s 5-3-2 resulted in a disjointed pass network with a lot of their possession sequences channelled through Enzo. The Argentine World Cup winner recorded the most touches (105) out of all players and received the most number of passes (89) on the pitch yesterday and was responsible for almost 50% of Chelsea’s total xT value in the game.
Chelsea’s midfield of three also found it tough to provide lateral cover across the width of the pitch and Madrid used this in their favor. Carvajal often pushed up in these spaces and created a numerical overload in the midfield. Madrid often found it easy to find the fullbacks or wingers on the weak side and isolate them against the fullbacks creating problems for the backline.
The opening goal was a result of a similar scenario with Dani Carvajal pushing up into that space on the weak side before being found by Kroos with a switch.
Vinicius Jr is producing yet another monster individual season. In his last three games he has come up against fullbacks he struggled to stamp his authority over in the past (Juan Foyth, Ronaldo Araujo and Reece James) and dispatched them convincingly each time.
His 12 progressive carries and seven take-ons were a game high in both departments. He found a lot of joy attacking the box in the game. His 19 touches inside the penalty box were a single game high for the season and nine more than Chelsea’s entire team could manage. The Brazilian’s ball carrying proved a handful for Wesley Fofana and Reece James throughout the game, even forcing Fofana to get a yellow card inside the opening five minutes of the game.
He has now been directly involved in 20 goals (10 goals and 10 assists) in his last 20 UCL appearances, as he continues to be a game changer week-in week-out.
Benzema’s splendid 2023 continues as the Ballon D’or winner seems to be back to the highs of his previous season. With goals in each of his 9 UCL knockout games, the Frenchman has scored 18 goals in 2023, joint-most with Erling Haaland. Benzema showcased excellent linkup play and initiated great combinations with the wingers. The short passes right at the edge of the penalty box in his pass map highlight the multiple wall passes and quick combination with the wingers.
The talisman has proven to be a nightmare for English sides, having scored 20 goals against them, only behind Lionel Messi.
Kroos didn’t have to overdo anything during the game but produced a very good performance playing in a deeper role. His line-breaking from a deeper position and switches to the far side allowed Madrid to exploit the weaknesses of Chelsea’s 5-3-2 formation.
The German sniper posted a pass completion rate of 92.6% and his 13 passes into the final third were more than any other Madrid player. Kroos also helped recover loose balls along with his partner-in-crime, Luka Modric, as the duo recovered the ball 13 and 8 times respectively. The 33-year-old maestro was active defensively, attempting five tackles and winning four of them, both team highs.