Monday, May 23, 2022

Champions League: Three things Chelsea need to spark a historic comeback and defeat Real Madrid in Spain

After losing to Real Madrid 3-1 at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea have a mountain to climb heading into the second leg of their Champions League tie Tuesday (3 p.m. | CBS and Paramount+). The Blues were downed by an excellent performance from Karim Benzema, who scored a hat trick and saw Real through to victory. Chelsea were only able to score one goal which came from Kai Havertz despite producing a ton of chances and ripping off 20 shots on the night.

A stellar performance from former Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois and a César Azpilicueta shot that hit the bar are the only reasons why the tie isn’t closer. While Thomas Tuchel asserted that the tie was over after the first leg, it seems like the team took that as a message to improve, thrashing Southampton 6-0 over the weekend

Mason Mount and Timo Werner were central to the Chelsea show and they’ll likely need to show up again for Chelsea to have a chance at the Santiago Bernabéu. Below you’ll find three things the Blues need in their favor to pull off a comeback against Los Blancos.

1. Possession is the best defense

We all know how dangerous Real Madrid’s attack can be, especially at home. Vinicius Junior carved holes through the defense with balls over the top and Benzema didn’t need much to score thrice. That’s why letting Real Madrid have the ball at all is a bad idea. It may seem counterproductive to play a patient possession game in hopes of pouncing at mistakes, that’s especially true when you need at least two goals to force extra time.

It’s also worth pointing out just how vulnerable Real can be on the defensive end. They’re second-worst in La Liga with 11 defensive errors leading to a shot. Only four of those errors have turned into a goal, and that’s probably because Courtois has been a monster and has been able to prevent goals at an astounding rate. Chelsea showed that they can produce chances against this Real Madrid squad, but Tuchel can’t expect to defend as well as he’d like, especially away from home in hostile territory. The biggest question will be who starts on the left wing between Christian Pulisic and Timo Werner. And for what Chelsea need in the match, Werner wearing Madrid out with his speed and Pulisic coming in as a sub if things are close makes sense and seem like the obvious scenario.

Werner’s work rate means that he offers a little more if things aren’t going well in attack while his speed will give Dani Carvajal a handful. Pulisic can tend to flit out of games if he isn’t on the ball, which is why I’d go with Werner here as his pressing brings more to the table.

2. Unleash the wing-backs

Just as Chelsea’s best defense in this tie is their attack, their best attack in this tie is their defense. When conceding a goal doesn’t change much in the tie, it would make sense for Tuchel to start Reece James, Marcos Alonso and Azpilicueta at once in Madrid. Chelsea have scored 64 Premier League goals and 19 of those were scored by “defenders.” Behind Mason Mount, James and Alonso have been the most effective Chelsea players at creating chances despite the fact that neither have reached 1,600 league minutes.

Playing the most possession-based attacking lineup possible will give Real Madrid something to think about every time they lose the ball. Combining that with Werner and the space that Kai Havertz opens with his excellent movement should give Chelsea good chances in attack which will leave it to the front three to finish their chances. This also leads into the next thing that the Blues will need.

3. Lean into Mason Mount

No player is more important to Chelsea than Mason Mount. That’s especially true in the Premier League where Chelsea have gone  6-1-2 whenever he scores or provides an assist. In Champions League, however, he only has one assist as the Blues have been able to rely more on their defense and play him in deeper positions. Without Romelu Lukaku, who will not travel to Spain, Mount needs to be used as more of an attacker. He has the most shots taken and chances created on the team and winning what could be a shootout in Spain would be impossible without him playing a big role. 

Chelsea did come close to matching Real Madrid in the xG battle in the first leg (1.83-1.35 in Madrid’s favor), so it’s not like the gap was as large as the score suggested. When one of the best strikers in the world resides in Madrid, giving away chances is only asking for trouble. Limit those and there will be a chance for a historic comeback.

How to watch and odds

Date: Tuesday, Apr.12 | Time: 3 p.m. ET

Location: Estadio Santiago Bernabéu — Madrid, Spain

TV: CBS | Live stream: Paramount+

Commentators: Peter Drury and Jim Beglin (Sideline reporter: Guillem Balagué)  

Odds: Real +150; Draw +250; Chelsea +175; O/U: 2.5 (via Caesars Sportsbook)

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