Chelsea is now the favorites to reach the Champions League Final after reaching the semi-final stage and holding an away goal advantage from the first leg against Real Madrid at the Alfredo De Stefano Stadium.
What a turnaround the blues are experiencing, from appalling performances that could have cost them a place among the top four in the League to just one match away from reaching the final of the UEFA Champions League for the third time in the club’s history and the first time in nine years.
The victory over Bayern Munich will be treasured forever by Blues fans as one of the club’s most historic moments. Defeating a German side on penalties in their backyard doesn’t get much more poetic.
Although the squads are completely different, there are some parrels between Chelsea’s past and present.
Both sacked a manager mid-way through the season. Andreas Villas-Boas was relieved in 2012, Frank Lampard in 2021. They finished top of their respective Champions League groups, despite a domestic wobble in the Premier League.
Roberto Di Matteo inherited a strong squad, with the likes of Drogba, Terry, Lampard, Ashley Cole and Petr Cech still around. Tuchel did the same. He was offered a plethora of talent and big summer signings to play with after Lampard left.
A significant step towards this newfound belief was after defeating Atletico Madrid both home and away. Although, the semifinal tie far from done and dust as their opponents have a deep-rooted hold in this competition, but here are some reasons why Tuchel and his boys can dream.
Tuchel Finally Has Chelsea Playing His Style:
Chelsea is no longer playing like the team Thomas Tuchel inherited from Frank Lampard. What was once a leaky Chelsea defense has now been amongst the strongest in the Premier League since the German touched down in London.
What was once an ineffective offence has now become more reliable, if not a wrecking ball, game in and out similar to Manchester City.
Where before goalkeepers were inconsistent but talented, now two world-class keepers sit ready to defend the opponent’s opportunities. Such has been the effect of Thomas Tuchel and his views on the game since venturing into the Premier League.
Under Frank Lampard, the club spent massively on young and prospective talents, but they turned out to be out of sorts and there was uncertainty in the dressing room. Lampard may not be entirely at fault, but his inexperience cost him the job, it can be an unforgiving job.
Tuchel has had a real influence on his team, such is his tactical discipline of knowing when to attack and how to defend as a team without the other department outweighing the other.
An example was against Real Madrid, after scoring an away goal in their Champions League match, one had the sense that at the very least, the game would end in a draw and the Blues would take an advantage going back to London. Under Lampard, the discussion would’ve centered on how to score enough away goals to counter the defensive liability.
While the second leg of the semifinal match will be intense and full of consequence, this is a club that is fully stocked for this exact circumstance. Few clubs around the world have the layers of talent and skill that Chelsea has.
In a game of this calibre, the defence is just as important as the attack. Most times the attackers are the celebrity and take all the praise at the end of a good victory, but the defence deserves as much praise too.
Chelsea has conceded a total of nine goals in 21 matches since Thomas Tuchel took over. Five of those goals came in a single game against West Bromwich Albion but to be fair to the Blues, all of those goals came after Thiago Silva was shown the red card in the 27th minute of the game.
Chelsea is currently one of the most solid defensive units in Europe and coupled with Real Madrid’s attacking woes, there’s every chance that Los Blancos could be shut out entirely. Real Madrid will need to produce something special to cut through a resolute Chelsea backline.
With the Champions League away rule, the tie is slightly in Chelsea’s favor. They have managed to shut out teams at home especially the big sides, shutting Real Madrid out shouldn’t be difficult.
A Balance Team With Hunger For Success:
The balance in this team has gotten rid of any shakiness. There’s clarity over what players are expected to do and the lent itself to making Chelsea a very organized unit. The beauty of this unfolds in Chelsea’s transitions.
They always have an adequate number of players going forward and while defending. While the wing-backs join the forwards and attacking midfielders in attack, the rest sit deep to nullify the opposition’s counter-attacking threat.
One of the major changes that Tuchel made to the system after taking over at Chelsea is switching from full-backs to wing-backs. The Blues have been playing with a three-man defence with wing-backs operating on both sides.
The wing-backs’ primary duty is to get involved in the attack and this helps Chelsea create an overload of sorts down the flanks. What this does is it constantly causes opposition defenders to be pegged back in their own halves.
There is a certain drive among the Chelsea squad and the sudden hunger to win trophies. With a place book in the FA Cup final against Leicester City, getting to the Champions League final is another level of achievement, and owner Abramovich will be highly pleased.
The Blues have a tough task ahead of them, but they have made it easier with their first leg display, all that is left is to show resilience against the competition’s highest holders.
Real Madrid’s Injury Concerns:
Real Madrid have quite a few key players on the sidelines, this was evident in the first leg and could still be a problem in the return leg.
Los Blancos have had to deal with 59 injuries this season and that is a lot from a team with no squad depth as its opponent.
The likes of Sergio Ramos, Eden Hazard, Dani Carvajal have been out for a long time, but the latter made an appearance against the blues last month but had a below-par performance and was substituted early, while Eden Hazard was a second-half substitute.
Ferland Mendy was sorely missed, as the likes of Christian Pulisic, Mason Mount and Timo Werner causing ageing left-back Marcelo all sorts of problems.
On Wednesday, Real Madrid could welcome back their injured players, but it is still not enough due to lack of match fitness and for what is at stake, Zidane won’t be taking his chances using unfit players against Chelsea.
Ex Players and Pundits’ Verdicts:
Former England international Glenn Hoddle has backed Chelsea to come out on top against Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final second-leg clash on Wednesday.
The Blues currently have the advantage heading into the return leg at Stamford Bridge as they managed to score an away goal to draw 1-1 against Real Madrid.
Hoddle believes Real Madrid are not at their strongest, and Chelsea should assert their dominance over Zinedine Zidane’s side as they did in the first leg.
“I said before the first leg that I thought over two legs they (Chelsea) would get through. They are not playing the greatest Real Madrid side ever. I think Real will have a stronger side at the Bridge on Wednesday than they had in the first leg and I think Chelsea are going to have to play well,” Hoddle told the Evening Standard”.
“But I thought there were major parts of that first leg where Chelsea were in control and should have got the second goal. Sergio Ramos will strengthen Real if he comes back in but I think Chelsea should be buoyant, they should be positive and I think they will win the game. They are playing with a lot of confidence and Thomas Tuchel has done a wonderful job,” he added.
Rio Ferdinand’s Prediction
Rio Ferdinand thinks Chelsea will defeat Real Madrid in the semi-final to reach the showpiece final in Istanbul. He also predicted Manchester City will beat Paris Saint-Germain in the second semi-final.
If Ferdinand’s prediction is accurate, this will be the second all-English Champions League final in three seasons. Liverpool and Tottenham competed in the 2019 final, which took place at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid.
“I think it will be a Chelsea vs. Manchester City final. I actually went the other way [beforehand], I thought it would be a Real Madrid vs. PSG final but not anymore.”
Today, Chelsea and Real Madrid battle it out for the second Champions League final spot. With the tie perfectly poised at 1-1, it will be a tight affair which could go either way.