Chelsea stumbled to a 2-0 defeat in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final clash with Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu.
Chelsea set up with a back five at the Bernabeu, looking to soak up Real’s pressure and hit them on the counterattack, and nearly boar the fruits of this tactic immediately. Joao Felix was released in behind by N’golo Kante in a rapid Blues counter, only to hit his shot at Thibaut Courtois, under pressure from the onrushing Eder Militao.
After this early scare, Real Madrid were able to gain control of proceedings and tested Kepa Arrizabalaga with a few ominous efforts before taking the lead in the 21st minute.
Dani Carvajal chipped a deft cross into the box, with Vinicius Jr reaching the ball first, poking an effort towards Karim Benzema, who slotted home with the goal gaping to give his side a deserved lead.
Chelsea nearly equalised immediately, only for Thibaut Courtois to pull off an outstanding stop from Raheem Sterling’s close range attempt.
Real Madrid continued to dominate the rest of the first period, with a goal line clearance from Thiago Silva the only thing stopping Los Blancos from extending their lead.
Things went from bad to worse for Chelsea in the second period, initially losing Kalidou Kouilbaly to injury, before Ben Chilwell was shown a straight red card for pulling back Rodrygo when he was the last man.
After Chilwells red card, the Blues tried to see out the game with minimal damage, however they were unable to do so. Some sloppy defending from a quick Madrid corner opened up some space for substitute Marco Asensio to sweep home from the edge of the box for his teams second goal of the night.
Chelsea tried to cling on for the remaining few minutes, and nearly found a goal of their own. Only for Mason Mount to be denied by his former teammate Antonio Rudiger, to condemn the Blues to defeat in Madrid.
Here are five things Absolute Chelsea learned from Wednesday’s defeat against Real Madrid
1) Tie slipping away?
Despite Real Madrid’s dominance of the match, they only lead the tie by two goals heading into the second leg at Stamford Bridge next week. Chelsea will have been hoping to come away from the Bernabeu with a smaller deficit, however, after Ben Chilwells red card, it felt like the Blues were always hanging on. Chelsea were roundly defeated in Madrid, however, a two-goal margin can be overcome, with last season’s quarter-final near miss testament to that. Chelsea may be down, but they are not out, and with the Stamford Bridge crowd behind them, there is still a slim chance that Frank Lampard’s men could yet progress.
2) Formation issues
Frank Lampard opted to change his team’s formation following Saturday’s defeat to Wolves, however, he was still unable to find the right formula against Real Madrid. Chelsea set up in a 3-5-2 formation at the Bernabeu looking to soak up Madrid’s pressure before hitting them on the break. On paper, this makes sense in a European away tie against elite opposition, however, Chelsea struggled to formulate sustained meaningful attacks with so few bodies allowed up the field, which only helped Real assert their dominance and control proceedings even more. Chelsea didn’t seem to know what to do when they entered the Madrid half, with their opponents being smart enough to limit their chances to counter. Frank Lampard and co will likely have to conjure up another plan at Stamford Bridge if they want to turn this tie around.
3) Vinicius Jr rampant
Despite others bagging the goals, it was the silky Vinicius Jr who caused Chelsea the most problems on the night. Vini Jr was directly up against Fofana and James in the game, and made his esteemed counterparts look amateurish at points. Fofana was booked for fouling Vini Jr early on, and never looked comfortable facing up to his jinking feet, whilst James was skinned for pace regularly as well. Vini Jr was the sharpest player on the pitch, with the lion’s share of his team’s attacks coming down his side, emphasised by his two assists. Chelsea will have to try and nullify the brilliant Brazilian in the second leg, otherwise, it could become another long night.
4) Chelsea avoid yellows but still end up with suspension
Chelsea had seven players in their matchday squad who were one booking away from a suspension in the second leg. Arrizabalaga, Silva, Koulibaly, James, Fernandez, Mudryk and Gallagher miraculously all avoided yellows in Spain, meaning they will be eligible for selection at Stamford Bridge. However, Ben Chilwell will not be. After pulling back Rodrygo when he was clean through on goal, it felt rather inevitable when the referee pulled a red card from his pocket. Chilwell has been one of the Blues’ best performers in recent weeks and was having a solid game at the Bernabeu before he was dismissed. He will be a big loss for Chelsea in the return leg, with Koulibaly possibly missing the fixture through an injury he sustained in the defeat as well. However with James, Silva and Fernandez all still available for selection, Chelsea will feel they may still have a chance to progress.
5) Silva returns
Despite the Blues’ frailties in Madrid, the seamless return of Thiago Silva from injury will have given fans some cause for optimism. Silva’s class and composure was evident at the Bernabeu, with the defender bailing out his team on numerous occasions. A calm goal-line clearance to keep out Vinicius Jr was another example of Silva using all of his experience on such a big occasion. Although Chelsea may have struggled, Thiago Silva’s ability to immediately hit top form after a layoff is both a testament to his class and one of the few positives the Blues can take from the game.
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