Real Madrid traveled to Stamford Bridge for the second leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter finals with a two goal advantage over the London Blues, with the hopes to book their place in the final four of the competition. The Royal Whites succeeded in advancing to the final four of the competition yet again, making it their 11th semifinal appearance in the last 13 years — but the performance wasn’t quite in line with the scoreline.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side produced another 2-0 win but unlike the first leg they didn’t have the upper hand for large parts of the game and Frank Lampard’s tactical setup caused a lot of problems for Ancelotti’s men. Even in terms of the underlying metrics, the scoreline belies the match.
As is usually the case on big European nights, Los Blancos weathered the storm, solved the in-game problems and came out victorious at the end.
Let’s take a look at Madrid’s win at Stamford Bridge from a data perspective, understanding how Chelsea’s tweaks troubled Madrid and how Ancelotti managed them in the game.
Game Flow and Territorial Dominance
Looking at the gameflow map (a chart to showcase which side dominated periods of the game based on expected threat values (xT) accumulated during a running five minute window) for the match gives us an idea of what went on in the game. Chelsea started the game brightly and it took Madrid a while to figure a way around their plan.
Lampard’s gambit of a box midfield worked to a good measure for large parts till the 60th minute of the game. Madrid could not create good opportunities whereas Chelsea managed to get the ball into dangerous areas without capitalizing on the momentum. The London Blues were able to generate shots from their period of dominance and accrued an xG of 1 in the first half, compared to Madrid’s 0.43, and ended the game with a slightly higher xG than Madrid (1.9 compared to 1.8 for Madrid). However. the toothlessness in attack continued to haunt the London side.
Following some subtle tweaks in the second half from Ancelotti and slight drop off in energy levels in the second half from Chelsea meant the game opened up a bit as they were chasing the game. Madrid took full advantage of it and scored twice via Rodrygo.
The higher xG was accompanied with a higher share of the ball as well. Chelsea didn’t just see a greater share of possession (54%) but the possession was sustained in the final third. They registered a higher field tilt percentage (68.6%) in the game, signalling how they were able to alleviate issues from the first leg, where they were second best with the ball.
Their lack of effectiveness in front of goal and some incredible saves from ex-Chelsea man, Thibaut Courtois, resulted in them being unable to translate the dominant period on the scoresheet.
Chelsea started with the back 3 again but this time were in a 3-4-2-1 unlike the 3-5-2 from the first leg. This change was aimed at avoiding the sparse midfield from the first leg and creating an overload using N’Golo Kante and Connor Gallagher to form a box midfield and create a numerical superiority against Madrid’s three-man midfield.
The width came exclusively from the wingbacks, who had more license to attack in this second leg and the wide threat of Vinicius and Rodrygo was assigned to the wide CBs to deal with. This aggressive positioning pinned Madrid’s fullbacks back and with runs from the two #10s (Gallagher and Kante) helped exploit the spaces in the backline with runs into the channel.
Looking at Chelsea’s pass network, we can notice the overload on the right hand side, highlighting how they targeted one particular area of the pitch really well. Eduardo Camavinga often found himself isolated against multiple players on the flank.
Kante in particular was an integral piece in making it work and causing Real Madrid all sorts of problems. His runs in the channel between LCB (David Alaba) and LB (Camavinga) were key to chance creation for Chelsea. In the sequence above, Kante’s positioning facilitates a wall pass back to James, who can then make a dangerous cross into the box.
In this same sequence of play, we see an exact example of the overload on the right and the run into the channel from the ball-sided #10 (Kante in this case) that caused a lot of problems for Camavinga to deal with alone and resulted in crossing opportunities. This sequence again results in a very good crossing opportunity for the Blues.
If we look at the heatmaps for James and Kante in the game, this overload on Camavinga’s side becomes even more apparent. We can notice a higher volume of action from both these players towards their right (Madrid’s left) flank, with both players active higher up the pitch.
Carlo Ancelotti identified the problem areas and tweaked a couple of things that made Real Madrid much better in the second half. One of the main changes was Valverde’s switch to the other side to help Camavinga deal with Chelsea’s overload. The Uruguayan brought parity in terms of numbers and his workrate helped neutralize a lot of Chelsea’s threat.
Ancelotti spoke about this change in the post-match conference as well.
With 23 goal contributions this season, Rodrygo has the third highest direct goal contributions for Madrid. In 37 UCL games, Rodrygo has scored 15 goals and handed nine assists — one more than Brazilian teammate Vinicius Jr. He is already the ninth highest UCL goalscorer in Real Madrid’s history. The 22-year-old has an affinity for the big European stage but beyond his two goals at Stamford Bridge, his performance on and off-the-ball makes him a big differential in knockout games.
His pace to get to the ball before the defender on the first goal, his close control and understanding to initiate quick combinations in the final third capture the imagination, allowing him to wiggle his way through defensive lines and calmness inside the penalty box are very valuable assets. His awareness in central spaces and to provide support in attacking play is absolutely sensational.
His performance in front of goal has been under scrutiny a bit but the Brazilian has the awareness inside the box to occupy the right spaces and position himself well and that will always translate into goals in the long run.
Valverde was key in helping Madrid deal with the overload on their left side and helped out in tracking Kante’s runs. The Uruguayan grabbed an assist, with a run towards the box and a spectacular dribble at the edge of the box. His dribble at the edge of the box to beat two players and set up Rodrygo to score the most FIFA-like goal was excellent.
With Pajarito you always get a lot of running, ball carrying into space and defensive output to help bring parity across the pitch. His defensive output was brilliant again as he helped clear a lot of dangerous opportunities and recover the loose balls.
This game was another example of Madrid being able to be second best for spells of the game but with subtle tactical tweaks and great effectiveness in either thirds of the pitch, they always come out on top.
Real Madrid will now face Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City for the third time since 2020. City got the better of Madrid the first time while Los Blancos scripted an epic comeback last season. The City team look different than they used to, they seem to have become slightly more vertical and now have a goalscoring android up front for them.
This will be Ancelotti’s biggest challenge this season. Can Madrid conjure something special on a big European night again? Time will tell.