“It was a display where Real Madrid were given a stern test of temperament and till now they are alive in the contest. A much bigger test waits at Stamford Bridge”

 

While Real Madrid prepared to face the rejuvenated Blues for the Champions League semifinals – the dark foreboding skies over Valdebevas warned the Los Blancos and their manager that it would not easier on the pitch. Yes, it was not easy but the Royal Whites are still alive in the competition in which they are the ultimate champions.

In this season, each and every topside needed different approaches for every match due to the testing circumstances and those teams with character and swagger moved on. Among the four teams competing in the semifinals of the Champions League – Real Madrid and Chelsea experienced a tough ride. While Chelsea struggled due to the lack of an organized plan of Frank Lampard; the story of Los Blancos has been different and more challenging than the Blues, Manchester City, and Paris saint-Germain – a rough sailing experience through the angry sea.

And, guess what, the storm broke through in Valdebevas and it seemed that the angry sky was trying to pour cold water on Real Madrid’s intent like the football world did to Florentino Perez’s super ambitious European Super League.

Still, the Royal Whites survived despite the heavy toll of the workload and over 50 injuries this season!

This is the Real Madrid of Zinedine Zidane!

Zidane opted for three center-backs in defence, meaning Dani Carvajal and Marcelo played as wing-backs on the right and left respectively. The tweak in the formation meant only two men could slot in attack, with Vinicius Junior chosen to play alongside Benzema instead of Marco Asensio.

Chelsea put the paddle on the front foot and pressed with front two – Christian Pulisic and Timo Werner while Mason Mount and N’Golo Kante were on the two pivots of Real Madrid with Jorginho shielding them and the wing-backs joined the pressing as well.

This ploy suffocated the center of the park and made things tougher for Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.

Chelsea looked more confident because they were dominating the midfield and flanks – Thibaut Courtois was called on early to rescue his side when he used his foot to save a shot from Timo Werner, who looked set to score off a headed pass from Pulisic.

The American would handle matters himself minutes later and earned Chelsea a 0-1 lead by collecting a ball over the top from Antonio Rudiger, avoiding Courtois and rifling a shot that took a slight deflection off the back of Raphael Varane before finding the back of the net.

Real Madrid split their center-backs with the intention to unsettle the pressing of the front two of Chelsea.

The ball was moved faster in the wider areas – Varane stayed in the center and Militao and Nacho Fernandez were seen staying in the respective outside halves to receive the ball from Varane and dictate the game.

And that is where the momentum started to change – Kroos dropped on the pocket formed at the left center-back position and managed to pull the strings. Nacho moved into the left-back position, Marcelo became the inverted midfielder, and took the position of Kroos with Vinicius Junior advancing much higher.

The gap between Modric and Kroos was bigger and rather than pairing up in the midfield – both of them decided to dictate terms from deeper positions – Modric was almost at the right center-back position and combined with Dani Carvajal to exploit the right side – but there was no winger at the right and for which Karim Benzema had to move from center to the wider regions more often.

The positions of Kroos and Modric disrupted the pressing of the Blues in the midfield and Casemiro took over to do his work in the midfield.

A Benzema shot glanced off the post midway through the first half was the stimulus for the home side.

The near-miss brought Los Blancos to life and a short corner kick led to Marcelo playing in a cross that was kept alive thanks to Casemiro and Militao’s headers, and Benzema was happy to take advantage by taking the ball off his chest and hammering in a volley to bring his side level 1-1.

It was Benzema’s sixth goal in this season’s Champions League – the most he has netted in a single campaign since 2014-15, and his 71st strike overall, drawing him level with another Real Madrid legend, Raul, in fourth place. Only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Robert Lewandowski have now scored more goals in this tournament.

After the break – Kroos played at the center-back position and joined with Modric to interchange the ball and control the game.

The tempo slowed down after the break but Real Madrid regaining control over matters using a high line of pressure and preventing Chelsea from penetrating deep into their own half.

Still, Chelsea worked the ball straight to Cesar Azplicueta from the back who drew others into him 0 especially Marcelo with Nacho drawn out of his position with Kroos covering Pulisic, and this situation created spaces to exploit.

The weakness of Real Madrid during the transitions was evident and Chelsea’s better control over the ball and pace caught Madrid on the back foot – thankfully the Lon Blancos were much organized at the back where Casemiro, Kroos, and Modric aided the defenders – especially, Militao had an outstanding match yet again.

N’Golo Kante, who was having one of the best nights at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium as a holding midfielder and attacker as well – worked the ball through the flank and move it to the hit-man available in the center.

When a Real Madrid center-back tracked down a Chelsea attacker – as like Nacho trying to cover Pulisic – the space created was occupied by Kante who outweighed Kroos with his pace – Modric was left out wide to press Rudiger and it left Casemiro and Kroos face the heat of the Chelsea pivots – Mount and Pulisic posed threats.

Mount moved from forward to midfield and his movements unsettled the Real midfield.

Even in the wider regions whenever spaces were formed, Chilwell and Cesar were there to test the Real Backline.

Well, Real Madrid maintained their compactness and solidity by staying narrow and firm.

It was a display where Real Madrid were given a stern test of temperament and till now they are alive in the contest.

A much bigger test waits at Stamford Bridge.

 

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