Chelsea beat Real Madrid 2-0 to clinch a 3-1 aggregate success in Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final second leg.
Goals from Timo Werner and Mason Mount booked an all-Premier League showdown with Manchester City in the final in Istanbul on May 29. If anything, the scoreline flattered Madrid as the 13-time European champions had no response to Chelsea’s greater strength and speed.
Here’s a look at things we learned from the Stamford Bridge clash:
Tuchel’s Midas touch
Since replacing the sacked Frank Lampard in January, Thomas Tuchel has overseen a remarkable revival in Chelsea’s fortunes and this was his finest moment yet.
Tuchel arrived at Stamford Bridge with a solid CV after leading Paris Saint-Germain to the French title and last season’s Champions League final. But few expected him to have such an immediate impact on under-performing Chelsea.
Stuck in ninth place in the Premier League when Tuchel took charge, Chelsea have won 16 of their 24 games under the German, rising back into the top four and reaching the finals of the Champions League and FA Cup.
Defensive excellence has been the trademark of Tuchel’s reign and once again he organised Chelsea superbly as they kept Real at bay and posed a sustained threat on the counter.
Thanks to Tuchel’s tactical excellence, Chelsea are in their third Champions League final and their first since winning the competition for the first time against Bayern Munich in 2012.
Tuchel has already masterminded a victory over Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final and a repeat in Turkey would cap an incredible debut season.
Redemption for Werner
After a turbulent first season at Chelsea, Timo Werner finally exorcised his demons with the goal that put Chelsea on course for the final.
An ever increasing litany of high-profile misses had raised serious doubts about the decision to sign Werner from RB Leipzig for £45 million ($62 million) last year. He even received social media criticism from the wife of his Chelsea team-mate Thiago Silva after his close-range effort was saved by Real keeper Thibaut Courtois in the first leg.
It looked like another frustrating night for Werner when the German striker allowed himself to be needlessly caught offside before slotting home Ben Chilwell’s low cross. But, for all his travails this season, Werner has refused to hide and his honest endeavour was rewarded in the 28th minute.
N’Golo Kante slipped a pass to Kai Havertz and when his chip rebounded off the bar, Werner was perfectly placed to grab the easiest goal of his career, heading into the empty net from virtually on the line.
The 25-year-old’s 12th goal for Chelsea was only his second in his last 18 games.
It was also Werner’s first Champions League goal in open play since September 2019, but the wait was worthwhile as he became the toast of the King’s Road at last.
Eden Hazard helped Chelsea win the Premier League twice in his seven-year spell with the club, but the Real Madrid forward’s first return to Stamford Bridge was one to forget.
Making just his 18th appearance of another injury-ravaged campaign, Hazard looked a shadow of the player who dazzled in Chelsea blue.
When the 30-year-old left the Bridge in 2019, he was ranked among the world’s best players after scoring 110 goals in 352 games for Chelsea. Real had to pay £89 million to land the Belgian star, who was expected to succeed Cristiano Ronaldo as the new king of the Bernabeu.
Instead, Hazard turned up overweight for his first pre-season with the club and has been on a steep decline ever seen. Given a chance to change the narrative against his former club, Hazard was completely anonymous.
Real boss Zinedine Zidane stuck with Hazard for 89 minutes, but he produced just one shot on goal when his low drive was blocked by Edouard Mendy as Madrid bowed out with a whimper.
End of Real Madrid’s old guard?
Real Madrid were not just beaten but outplayed, their defeat clear enough to spell the end of a team that has gone on and on but can no longer match the best in Europe.
After a historic run that has seen Zidane’s grandees win three consecutive Champions League titles and four in eight years, Real Madrid can no longer be under illusions. This is the third year they have failed to reach the final and the second in a row they have faced elite English opposition and been found wanting.
Without signings and largely without Hazard, Zidane revived and cajoled the old spine of Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Karim Benzema to reset and win again.
They won La Liga last season and if they beat Sevilla on Sunday, they could be favourites to win Zidane’s third La Liga title in four full seasons in charge. With a depleted squad, ravaged all season by injuries and lately drained by fatigue, that would be an immense achievement. But in Europe, they continue to fall short.
Change is needed and it can be slower and smarter and not involve buying only the best players in the world at the very highest price.
Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric are both out of contract this summer, with the future of Ramos particularly uncertain.
Yet it is the role of Zidane that could now come into sharp focus, not so much around his proven capabilities with this current team, but his suitability for ushering in a new one.
Some higher ups at the club have been frustrated by Zidane’s reluctance to nurture younger talents.
But if he stays another year, even Zidane – whose loyalty to these players has been both a cause and product of their success – may believe change is now essential.
Chelsea’s impregnable defence
Since Tuchel took over, the Blues have been rock solid in defence and that’s led to an incredible turnaround. In 24 matches, Chelsea have kept clean sheets in 18 conceding just nine goals. Five of those came in the shock 2-5 loss to West Brom when they played with ten men for the majority of the match.
The Blues these days seem to back themselves to keep a clean sheet and it has shown in the way they have been comfortably able to manage high-profile games.
Since German’s arrival, Chelsea have kept clean sheets against Tottenham, Atletico Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton, FC Porto, Manchester City, West Ham and Real Madrid.
A shift to a back three has triggered this defensive revolution at Stamford Bridge with Blues players who had played in a similar system under Antonio Conte, appearing to be very comfortable with the system.
Chelsea’s midfield duo of Jorginho and N’Golo Kante too have been phenomenal at providing cover for the shored up back line giving away very few chances to the opponents.
Another prominent performer for the Blues at the back has been Edouard Mendy who produced two fine saves to deny Karim Benzema in the first half. The Senegalese goalkeeper signed from Rennes at the start of the season for just £22m is proving to be one of the acquisitions of the season.
Mendy has been decisive inside the box, has consistently produced saves when called upon and barring few iffy moments has been very neat with his feet.
The experienced duo of Thiago Silva and Cesar Azpilicueta have done well to lead a defence of relative youngsters.
With such a stellar defensive record, Chelsea would believe they can stop the all-conquering Manchester City in their tracks in Istanbul, just as they did in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley in April.
(With AFP inputs)
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