Chelsea’s Double Trouble
In most TV series there’s that common narrative where the main character has a handicap at the beginning of the episode, after losing an initial encounter.
The episode then runs normally, as the main character tries to find solutions to overcome the handicap and come out triumphant at the end.
Chelsea’s encounter against Real Madrid in the Champions League Quarter-finals was the stuff of dreams, only found on Netflix. After a scintillating 1st leg at Stamford Bridge, where Karim Benzema grabbed the headlines with a hatrick and an overall impressive performance from Carlo Ancelotti’s side, it was time for the remainder of the episode at the Bernabeu.
Starting the game, Real Madrid used a similar approach to the one they used at Stamford Bridge with Federico Valverde dropping to form a back five out of possession, and Toni Kroos and Luka Modric marking Chelsea’s double pivot.
However, this time Chelsea had more options in the center of the pitch with Ruben Loftus-Cheek starting out wide but constantly moving inside the pitch when Chelsea were in possession of the ball. Accompanying him was Mason Mount, whose role behind Timo Werner and Kai Havertz meant that in possession Chelsea were more of a lopsided 3–4–1–2.
Loftus-Cheek would initially be in the wing back position, but while Chelsea circulated the ball…..
…..he would move inside to present an extra option in the center of the pitch. On the other side, Mount was constantly looking for runs through the Real Madrid defensive line.
Helping Mount and Loftus-Cheek to execute their roles perfectly were Havertz and Werner. The first constantly moved from a central position towards Ferland Mendy to pin Real Madrid’s left back and prevent him from moving inside with Loftus-Cheek, and the latter roamed in the left half space to confuse Dani Carvajal and Nacho Fernandez.
In this example here, Havertz is dropping in-between David Alaba and Mendy to pin both of them, allowing Loftus-Cheek some space to receive the ball. Meanwhile, Werner is positioned on the outside of Nacho to stretch Real Madrid’s back line. Mount — on the ball — should have played the pass into the free Loftus-Cheek, but he opted to go backwards…..
…..five seconds later, the space created because of Havertz and Werner’s positioning was a good area for Mount to run into, but once again another Chelsea player, Antonio Ruediger this time, played the safe pass backwards.
The runs from Mount kept coming and the German duo’s positioning created space for him, the passes though were missing. Like here, when Mateo Kovacic wanted to find Werner who was dragging Nacho out of position for Mount to attack the space…..
…..but Luka Modric intercepted the pass.
Or here when Werner moved to the far side towards Carvajal, dragging Nacho along with him while Mount made a run into the space, only for Ruediger to play a weak long pass behind Mount.
To be fair though, Alaba was aware of that pass, moving away from the Havertz magnetic field to cover for Nacho. The intention of Havertz’s roams towards Mendy was both to free Loftus-Cheek and stretch Alaba with him.
An example where the pass actually was played can be seen below. Havertz dropping in the right half space dragged Alaba out of position, and the only player moving against the current was Mount who was looking to attack the space behind Alaba.
Havertz then played the ball out wide to Loftus-Cheek, who found Mount with a one-touch pass.
The shot ending from this attack wasn’t dangerous as Thibaut Courtois saved Werner’s shot easily, but these penetrative runs from Mount kept hurting Real Madrid.
And that was evident in Chelsea’s first goal of the game where both Mount and Loftus-Cheek’s roles were on show. In the beginning of the attack leading up to the opener, Mendy moved inside with Loftus-Cheek as Vinicius Jr protected the wide area. Spotting that was Havertz….
…..who then positioned himself on top of Mendy, to free Loftus-Cheek while Chelsea were circulating the ball. That allowed Kovacic to find Loftus-Cheek, free, in between the lines.
Before moving on, let’s have a view on the top half of the action. Werner dropped in-front of Carvajal, posing a question for Nacho of whether he should go up with the German or not. And Mount snuck past Modric, slowly jogging forward.
Once Kovacic played the pass, both Alaba and Nacho moved out towards Loftus-Cheek and Werner while Mount was making a run into the space they vacated. A quick passing combination between Loftus-Cheek and Werner put Mount in-front of goal to score Chelsea’s first.
After scoring the second, five minutes into the second half, Chelsea were now one goal away from qualifying, and becoming the first English side to beat Real Madrid at the Bernabeu with more than one goal.
Ancelotti reacted by moving Valverde inside in possession which resulted in Benzema hitting the woodwork, and Casemiro dropping more into the defensive line.
These changes congested the area a bit for Chelsea, but in the 75th minute Chelsea struck their third goal and it had all the marks of Tuchel’s ideas on the night. Firstly, in the build up to the goal, Havertz moved up to pin Mendy while Loftus-Cheek moved inside.
On the near side, the exchanging of positions caused confusion in the Real Madrid defence. In the first pass from Kovacic, it was Werner wide, Mount in the left half space and Marcos Alonso centrally.
Then once Werner received the ball, Mount moved out wide in the blind spot of Carvajal and Eduardo Camavinga with Alonso dropping to link up. That movement from Alonso, dragged Nacho out of position….
…..creating a gap in the Real Madrid defensive line, a gap that Casemiro didn’t drop to fill like in the 1st leg because he was keeping tabs on Loftus-Cheek centrally.
Alonso then played the ball into the advancing Kovacic, which forced Carvajal to take two steps towards Mount……
…….which completely freed Werner of any marking to get on the end of Kovacic’s pass and score Chelsea’s third.
At 3–0 Chelsea were through with 15 minutes to go. An ethereal performance where they had a clear idea in possession, and an effective pressing scheme after the broken press in the 1st leg.
Ancelotti had no choice but to bring on Rodrygo and move to an out and out 4–3–3. The threat at the far post factored in Real Madrid’s two goals to comeback into the tie, but the goals were all about the elite execution from Benzema and Modric after two weird mistakes in possession from Chelsea.
Like in those Netflix shows, Chelsea came back and deservedly won the second encounter but in terms of the whole series, Real Madrid came out on top.