December 9, 2022

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How Chelsea can beat Real Madrid and reach the Champions League final

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Chelsea have already done much of the hard work in their Champions League semi-final with Real Madrid after taking home a positive result from the first leg.

The Blues left the Spanish capital with a 1-1 draw after Christian Pulisic’s 14th minute strike was cancelled out on the half-hour mark by Karim Benzema.

Nonetheless it leaves Thomas Tuchel‘s outfit in a healthy position ahead of the second leg at Stamford Bridge knowing that by keeping a clean sheet they will progress to their first Champions League final in nine years.

Christian Pulisic (10) scored an away goal in Madrid to slightly give Chelsea the upper hand

Christian Pulisic (10) scored an away goal in Madrid to slightly give Chelsea the upper hand

Christian Pulisic (10) scored an away goal in Madrid to slightly give Chelsea the upper hand

The Blues would reach the final in Istanbul with a goalless draw via away goals but Thomas Tuchel’s side are unlikely to play with caution as they target a victory which would rubber stamp a trip to the Ataturk Stadium in Turkey.

But Chelsea are not home and dry yet and can expect a response from the record 13-time winners in west London.

Here Sportsmail looks at the key tactical battles that will shape the Stamford Bridge showdown as Chelsea look to set up an all-Premier League final with Manchester City at the end of the month. 

Thomas Tuchel (back) watches his Chelsea side train on Tuesday at Cobham ahead of their second-leg Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge

Thomas Tuchel (back) watches his Chelsea side train on Tuesday at Cobham ahead of their second-leg Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge

Thomas Tuchel (back) watches his Chelsea side train on Tuesday at Cobham ahead of their second-leg Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge

Play to Werner’s current strengths

On paper it’s been a nightmare debut year for Timo Werner since his £53million arrival from RB Leipzig, with an autumn burst of goals being followed by six months where he has only found the net three times – and one of those was against League Two Morecambe in the FA Cup.

For the money paid, it’s not good enough and on the goals metric alone it makes it even more baffling that he continues to be picked over top scorer Tammy Abraham who has all but been frozen out of Tuchel’s starting XI.

Werner fluffed his lines again during the first leg when with just Thibaut Courtois to beat with a close range half volley he too casually fired straight at the Belgian. His chances to score in the second leg may be hindered further with experienced defender Sergio Ramos likely to return for Zidane’s outfit.

Timo Werner has not looked sharp in front of goal but has been key creatively for the Blues

Timo Werner has not looked sharp in front of goal but has been key creatively for the Blues

Timo Werner has not looked sharp in front of goal but has been key creatively for the Blues

Yet, Werner does have his uses in Tuchel’s system, with his pace and creativity an asset that can still be exploited to benefit the squad.

While he will still be counted upon to get into goal scoring positions and take his chances, the Blues could benefit from seeing him cover the left channel more to bring team-mates into play.

He has consistently made clever runs this term and in the Premier League has more assists (seven) than he has goals (six).

Having been largely anonymous for over an hour before being taken off in the first leg, he could be used as more of a left sided forward at the Bridge where his movement off the ball and passing ability have been impressive components of his game this season. 

Werner (partly hidden) missed an excellent chance to score for Chelsea in the first leg

Werner (partly hidden) missed an excellent chance to score for Chelsea in the first leg

Werner (partly hidden) missed an excellent chance to score for Chelsea in the first leg

Werner struggled to influence the game during the first leg, with stats provided by SofaScore

Werner struggled to influence the game during the first leg, with stats provided by SofaScore

Werner struggled to influence the game during the first leg, with stats provided by SofaScore

Target left flank

Werner doesn’t have to go it alone on that left flank either. Chelsea’s goal in Madrid came from the left side and with a similar line-up expected to be fielded again on Wednesday night, they may look for more joy down that flank. 

Madrid will be pleased to see even an out-of-form striker like Werner away from their penalty area but this is also where Christian Pulisic should come into play and fill the void left in similar fashion to how he did in the first leg where he looked a dangerous component in the six-yard-box – grabbing the opening goal too. 

Ben Chilwell is likely to keep attacking the left flank for Chelsea from his wing-back role

Ben Chilwell is likely to keep attacking the left flank for Chelsea from his wing-back role

Ben Chilwell is likely to keep attacking the left flank for Chelsea from his wing-back role

Ben Chilwell as ever will bomb forward from full back but the key contributors will come from midfield where the likes of Mason Mount and Jorginho can drift from to help overload the left side. 

This is a slight gamble as it would leave the Blues open to possible counter attacks down their right side especially if Marco Asensio is selected to help build their attack.

Chelsea can help neuter this counter threat though if they also start Cesar Azpilicueta on the opposite flank to Chilwell.

This can enable a back three of Andreas Christensen, Thiago Silva and Antonio Rudiger to shift across and cover Chilwell, with Azpilicueta dropping to hold the right side when the Blues build down the left. 

Chilwell is likely to help overload that area of the field along with midfielder Mason Mount

Chilwell is likely to help overload that area of the field along with midfielder Mason Mount

Chilwell is likely to help overload that area of the field along with midfielder Mason Mount

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Stifle Madrid’s midfield trio 

This was a key part of Chelsea’s success in the first leg, with N’Golo Kante putting in an excellent performance to prevent Luka Modric and his attacking midfield partner Toni Kroos from ever having major influence on the game.

The duo along with the more defensive Casemiro have an almost telepathic understanding of their own and each other’s roles under Zinedine Zidane and have been Madrid’s key central trio for half-a-decade, winning three Champions League titles in that time.

Yet like a Jack Russell going after a tennis ball, Kante swarmed Modric and Kroos in the first leg, intercepting and robbing the Madrid midfield of possession and this severely limited the open play threat of the Spanish champions.

Madrid's Luka Modric (left) and Toni Kroos will hope to have more impact in the second leg

Madrid's Luka Modric (left) and Toni Kroos will hope to have more impact in the second leg

Madrid’s Luka Modric (left) and Toni Kroos will hope to have more impact in the second leg

Kroos especially found himself constantly hounded down by N'Golo Kante in Madrid

Kroos especially found himself constantly hounded down by N'Golo Kante in Madrid

Kroos especially found himself constantly hounded down by N’Golo Kante in Madrid

Once more the French midfielder will be tasked with a similar job in the second leg, but will have to be wary of Zidane having done his homework and found a way to target a weakness – perhaps a long ball game?

Madrid are unlikely to resort to this though, especially for the vast majority of the match and they may be more likely to try and release play down Chelsea’s left side, given Kante has a tendency to line up on the right of midfield.

Either way it will be a nuisance for Madrid to deal with and if Kante can produce a similar performance to the one in the first leg it would play a significant role in helping the Blues keep Madrid at bay. 

Casemiro is part of a very experienced Madrid midfield trio

Casemiro is part of a very experienced Madrid midfield trio

Modric will hope to have more of an impact at Stamford Bridge

Modric will hope to have more of an impact at Stamford Bridge

Along with Kroos, Casemiro (left) and Modric (right) from part of a strong and experienced central midfield trio for Madrid who will look to dictate the play at Stamford Bridge

Keep Benzema quiet

You don’t need a scouting team to know that stopping from Madrid from scoring means cut off the supply to Karim Benzema.

With 71 Champions League goals, another strike at the Bridge for the French striker would take him past Madrid legend Raul and move behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski.

Even with Madrid’s midfield failing to click in the first leg, Benzema was still a nuisance, and with his one clear cut chance buried an equaliser from close range with an emphatically struck volley after controlling the ball well in mid-air.

Karim Benzema's 71st Champions League goal in the first leg came from one of his few chances

Karim Benzema's 71st Champions League goal in the first leg came from one of his few chances

Karim Benzema’s 71st Champions League goal in the first leg came from one of his few chances

The 33-year-old also hit the outside of the post from 25 yards with a shot that just evaded the top corner meaning Chelsea can ill afford to allow him space outside of the box either.

Man-marking him would solve that issue but it could leave space for Madrid’s midfield trio to exploit and is unlikely to be a route Tuchel will explore at the risk of dragging his players out of position.

Chelsea largely prevented Benzema from having much impact in the first leg, at least from open play, and will likely try a similar set-up in the hope of doing so again.

 If Benzema is kept quiet it’s hard to see where Madrid’s goals are going to come from given fellow forward Carlos Vinicius endured a quiet first leg before his withdrawal just after the hour.

The 33-year-old pounced with an excellent volley inside the box following a Madrid corner

The 33-year-old pounced with an excellent volley inside the box following a Madrid corner

The 33-year-old pounced with an excellent volley inside the box following a Madrid corner

Wise up on set-pieces 

If there was one concern on Tuchel’s mind coming out of the first leg it was Chelsea’s approach to defending Real Madrid’s set-piece.

From open play the Spanish side created very little, but they constantly proved a threat from the dead ball.

It appeared to be an area of the game where Madrid had been working on, with their equaliser coming from a short corner worked back to Marcelo, whose far post delivery was nodded into the penalty box, finding Benzema who pounced to fire home.

Three Chelsea players were beaten to the air with headers in that move, while another couple were left flat footed by Benzema’s movement hinting Madrid could have a physical advantage for crosses into the box.

Chelsea will have to be wary from Real's set-pieces and look to charge down any loose balls

Chelsea will have to be wary from Real's set-pieces and look to charge down any loose balls

Chelsea will have to be wary from Real’s set-pieces and look to charge down any loose balls

Toni Kroos varied his deliveries though, with another drilled cross into the box seeing Raphael Varane glance a header just wide across goal, while a floated cross although headed clear could only find Benzema on the edge of the box who had a shot blocked.

In a physical battle in the air there is not too much Chelsea can do but there are ways they can reduce Madrid’s impact from set-pieces. Key will be dealing with any ball played to the edge of the box where Marcelo could have an influence.

It will be up to the likes of Kante to charge down the full-back who looks keen to chip balls back into the box towards the posts where Madrid’s physical prowess can help them bully the Chelsea defence and give them perhaps their best chance of scoring.

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