Champions League quarter final first leg, April 12 2023
Real Madrid took another step towards retaining their Champions League title with a rather comfortable quarter final first leg victory over Chelsea. Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio scored the goals to give Real a sizeable lead to take to Stamford Bridge, but in truth, Chelsea interim manager Frank Lampard may be relieved to have kept the score to two given his side were forced to play the final half hour here with 10 men after Ben Chilwell's 59th-minute red card. At the same time, Chelsea caused Real some problems and had chances of their own, too, so should take some belief into the second leg.
Lampard was part of a few unlikely Champions League wins in Chelsea colours in his playing days, and after this defeat, he was adamant his team can produce a shock win back in London next week.
"Special things can happen at Stamford Bridge," he said. "We have to believe. The door is open. It's up to us to kick it open. There's a bit of a lack of belief. The players don't know how good they are. There was some good in there. Next week will be a big fight. There are some details and mindset stuff, we have to be more positive. If we do that... I've been involved in those nights at Stamford Bridge."
SHOTS / ON TARGET
ATTACKS INTO AREA
EXPECTED GOALS (XG)
Real Madrid operated in a 4-3-3 shape, but with Chelsea rarely pressing high, the home side could be expansive and fluid in their shape. Right-back Dani Carvajal advanced, initially operating inside right winger Rodrygo, while right-sided number 8 Federico Valverde supported Carvajal (below) and rotated with centre-forward Karim Benzema when he dropped. Left-back Eduardo Camavinga held his position or moved into midfield to become a second pivot when required, with Vinícius Júnior holding the width on that side. Toni Kroos, Real’s deepest pivot, set the tempo of the team’s play and was also tasked with breaking up Chelsea’s counter-attacks with the two centre-backs.
Despite initially struggling to find a way through Chelsea’s midfield three, Real improved as the first half went on. Kroos dropped into the back line, allowing Real’s centre-backs to move wider, which helped them to step into midfield. Chelsea’s front two were pulled wider as a result, meaning Kroos was then able to penetrate forwards with his impressive passing. Real’s full-backs provided the team’s width, with the wingers moving inside to get closer to Benzema, and one of Valverde or Modric giving Kroos a central option to find to feet (below). The home side were then able to advance centrally and get the ball into dangerous areas around Chelsea’s centre-backs.
Relatively simple passes over Chelsea’s back line created the two most significant moments of the match. The first – from Carvajal – put Vinícius in on goal in the area, and Benzema pounced on the rebound after Kepa Arrizabalaga made a save. Then, early in the second half, with Real’s central midfield three operating slightly deeper – largely due a better spell in the game for Chelsea – space was created in behind Chelsea’s block. A similar pass to Carvajal’s from Valverde put Rodyrgo in on goal after some clever movement to pull Marc Cucurella out of position (below). However, Ben Chilwell pulled Rodrygo back and earned himself a red card.
Once Chilwell was dismissed, Chelsea formed a permanent low block, maintaining their back line of five. The central midfield three were then forced to over-cover in the central spaces, unable to jump out into the wide areas. Chelsea’s number 8s, N’Golo Kanté and Mateo Kovacic, had to remain closer to Enzo Fernández for longer as lone striker Kai Havertz could not prevent access into the inside channels. Instead, Chelsea allowed the pass wide, and then attempted to lock the ball on one flank, with Havertz trying to screen access back to the deepest central midfield players (below). Chelsea did a good job, however, with Real only able to finally break them down from a quickly-taken and well-worked corner.
Chelsea were set up in a 3-5-2 shape by Frank Lampard, and they dropped into a 5-3-2 structure throughout the first half. Their best chances game via counter-attacks after one of the central midfield three jumped out to press while also blocking access into Benzema. Once Chelsea had the ball, the front two, João Félix and Raheem Sterling, made wide runs into the space left by the advanced Real full-backs (below). Félix had a good early chance on the break, but in general the Chelsea players who did get forwards were isolated, so they struggled to build much pressure in the first half.
From their in-possession 3-5-2 shape, switches from left to right – especially from pivot Fernández – towards James were particularly effective, largely because Real left winger Vinicius rarely recovered all the way back. When James received high and wide, he pulled left-back Camavinga away from the central defenders. Whenever Kanté then ran inside Camavinga or supported close to James, Chelsea progressed well (below). This movement pulled one of the hosts’ central midfielders over towards the touchline, which created central space for Sterling or Félix to drop into to receive between the lines or attack crosses. Chilwell then attacked the far post as Chelsea managed to occupy each member of Real’s back line. However, they lacked cutting edge in the penalty area and failed to make their chances count.
Once Chelsea went down to 10 men, they dropped very deep and posed little or no attacking threat. Even when they had 11 players on the pitch, they had struggled with Real’s man-for-man high press, and this only got more difficult after they lost Chilwell. The hosts’ full-backs jumped out aggressively, pressing Chelsea’s wing-backs, and in midfield, there was a three-on-three battle. Both of Real’s wingers pressed inwards and when possible they pressed Chelsea’s outside centre-backs, Kalidou Koulibaly and Wesley Fofana, and even pressured Kepa. Chelsea were then unable to bounce their way through the press via their pivot, or clip balls over the press, with Sterling and Félix struggling to secure direct passes. When Chelsea went down to 10, it was all about damage limitation, and in the end they did a good job of keeping the tie just about alive. As Lampard suggested, they will need to do something special in the second leg if they are to stand any chance of progressing.
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Author: The Coaches' Voice