Real Madrid and Chelsea star in a unprecedented duel in the Champions League one step away from the desired final in Istanbul, with the experience factor in favor of the Madrid team, in their ninth semifinal of the last eleven of the tournament, but the obligation to find solutions to their lack of punch against a team that exhibits defensive security.
In a season marked by the difficulties that Zinedine Zidane has suffered, without signings that would reinforce a team that lost weight names, competing with more than fifty injuries throughout the course, suffering numerous cases of coronavirus, Real Madrid is once again on the verge of history in its favorite competition. The Champions League is special. The competition that brings out the best in footballers who once again feel the opportunity to achieve glory.
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The illusion above the reality of a team at the limit of its strength. With the right gasoline to face the moment in which the big titles are decided. After losing a great opportunity in the League to assault the leadership, increasing doubts with two draws in the last three days. Are the consequences that left the week of madness with double confrontation against Liverpool and classic against Barcelona. The physical exhaustion turned into fatigue and offensive problems returned with the lack of goal.
Zinedine Zidane’s men have been unable to score in three of their last four games. The positive side is that neither of them conceded a single goal. Maintaining that firmness and recovering the punch exhibited against Liverpool, is the objective. That meeting is the reference for the wardrobe. The day that the competitive gene shone and he endorsed three to a great rival so that Anfield would cost less.
For this Zidane would have to repeat his bet on an offensive trident, in which Eden Hazard wins options at last, after returning without discomfort against Betis and leaving good feelings in the minutes he played. It is the doubt to be cleared by the coach: play with three centrals or three forwards. In front he has the defensive security of Chelsea with his line of five behind. A wall to overcome.
If he decides to try it by bands, Zidane will respond to Tuchel with the same system, betting on Dani Carvajal and Marcelo as lanes. For the left wing, Ferland Mendy does not arrive in time and it is unlikely that Nacho will occupy the band after what he saw against Betis. He did not add depth and lost the defensive security that he has transmitted as a center-back, becoming the replacement for Sergio Ramos. The captain is still out but Varane’s return leaves two places for three players if the defense is four men, and Militao has earned his presence with his performance.
The precedents of the European duel do not bring a good memory to Real Madrid. He lost a final in the 1971 Recopa, in two chapters, and the 1998 European Super Cup. It will be the first time in the most prestigious competition, the one in which Zidane is the great specialist. Only one tie lost, last year against Manchester City, in five editions. The only one who won three in a row. At his hand and Karim Benzema’s goal a team that did not seem to have wickers grasps to aspire to the ‘Champions’ but is one step away from a new final.
Londoners are also optimistic about returning to a Champions League final nine years later. Chelsea have improved since Thomas Tuchel arrived in January and have gone from being one of the most beaten teams to keeping a clean sheet as usual. In total, 16 times they have left without conceding a goal since the German landed, regardless of whether Edouard Mendy or Kepa Arrizabalaga was in goal.
The five-back scheme, with three centrals, has made it possible for a team without large centrals, gain in security and with a solid midfield and wingers that can aid in the creation, he has become a consistent and hard-to-beat block. Only two defeats have been added since January and both circumstantial, one influenced by an expulsion of Thiago Silva and another produced in the return of the quarterfinals with everything already decided.
The weak point of the team is up, in the position of 9. Tuchel has not managed to find the key of who has to play as a center forward. He has tried with Olivier Giroud, but the veteran is better for loose moments than for always playing, with Tammy Abraham, although the Englishman has been ostracized in recent days, and the big bet has been a Timo Werner who is doing the worst goalscoring season of his career.
He has barely 11 goals in 44 games, but he comes after giving Chelsea victory against West Ham. In the Champions League, only three goals in nine games. Tuchel arrives in Madrid with the only loss of Mateo Kovacic, essential in his midfield and who has a muscle injury from which he is expected to be recovered for the return at Stamford Bridge. While Zidane has been recovering players but still suffers the losses of Ramos, Lucas Vázquez and Fede Valverde.
Real Madrid: Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Militao, Marcelo; Casemiro, Kroos, Modric; Marco Asensio or Vinicius, Hazard and Benzema.
Chelsea: Mendy; James, Rudiger, Azpilicueta, Silva, Marcos Alonso; Kanté, Jorginho; Werner, Mount and Ziyech.
Referee: Danny Makkelie (HOL)
Stadium: Alfredo di Stéfano.
Hour: 21.00 CET (19.00 GMT).