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Chelsea 0-2 Real Madrid (0-4 agg.), Champions League: Tactical Analysis

“Sometimes in football, you have to score goals” -Thierry Henry

Chelsea FC v Real Madrid: Quarterfinal Second Leg - UEFA Champions League
Kicking their cans down the pitch
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

In recent years, our success has been built on a defense that, under Thomas Tuchel and Antonio Conte, conceded relatively little and thus made the most of otherwise sparse attacking output. Because of the number of managers who have also influenced the squad since and the players who are actually not injured while registered for the Champions League, defensive stability isn’t even truly an option for Frank Lampard. Still, poor decisions made throughout many seasons and transfer windows have resulted in an expensively built squad with an inability to both not score and not be scored on.

One goal in six games is outright pathetic considering the supposed firepower (based on transfer fees) we possess up top. These write ups are becoming more and more difficult and, as my wife and grow closer to having our first kid, the distractions to not write them have also been literally growing and growing. In fact, I didn’t get to watch the first half live and waited until this weekend to even revisit this heartache while already knowing it was our last Champions League appearance for too long. But to give it its due diligence and once again provide a reason why we are both lucky defensively and unlucky offensively, here we are.

Starting XIs

Thankfully, although once again changing his formations and personnel for now 4 times in 4 games, Frank Lampard fielded a wiser squad with a clear offensive directive that, per usual, produced countless chances which we were unable to finish. Different models have different expectations of the expected scoreline, in fact more various than I have ever see, but in many we were unsurprisingly ahead in chances created with simply no lack of end product. A responsive and diligent Real Madrid back four made sure that they smothered out most attempts, especially our attacks coming from wide areas (71%), and it helped them that Thibaut Courtois was too big of a snake frame in goal to allow any crosses into his area or indeed any decent chances to become overly threatening.

Unfortunately, and unlike this past weekend while they played Girona, Éder Militão seemed to be endlessly well-placed defensively, finishing with 3 blocked shots (all centrally and inside their box) and 8 clearances (6 centrally in their box) while winning both of his aerial duels. He is a large part of the reason that none of our central crosses actually found their lack of intended targets, as his aerial duels and clearances were largely crosses from our right from Reece James.

Militão - clearances and blocks

Reece James’ was oddly ignoring defensive positioning in respect to Vinícius Júnior, especially considering his stats in this competition, even with the pacey Wesley Fofana in coverage. His clear emphasis was on attack, but his counterpart was Kanté and his intended targets in the box were bluntly short. While the defensive aspect worked reasonably well at first, the same threat Vinícius poses was present on the opposite flank, and the wayward defending helped guide them through to the semifinal. And while criticise the defense for conceding as we may be wont, the symbiance amongst Madrid’s front line, including after their substitutions, palpably mocks any semblance of synchronicity that Chelsea have shown this season.

Reece James was the largest offensive factor in getting forward down the right flank (while also coming centrally at times) and while he and Kanté had some amount of success, there were 14 crosses attempted from the right side to virtually nobody in their box and only 3 of all our crosses connected despite attempting another 7 from the other side, and that also does not include the 8 corner kicks we had, equally leaving one exasperated. Chelsea continue to show that the only thing that they are produce at a profligate nature is xG while our actual G continues into the depths of historical lows.

Chelsea in April
The Analyst

Carlo Ancelotti pointed out in his press conference that the positioning of N’Golo Kanté was causing his midfield problems in the defensive phases of the game and so his halftime solution was to slide Federico Valverde from the right to the left side of the midfield, which helped prevent Kanté’s marauding runs down that side. Valverde’s versatility quite literally closed the door, because while there are various metrics describing our xG and timing map, all concur that our second half was listless in comparison to the first.

So while that tactical switch hindered our offensive productivity, Karim Benzema played the decisive role in dismantling our defense in his withdrawn position. He is clearly much better at that than, say Kai Havertz, at playing a withdrawn role and quite certainly Vinícius Júnior but on that particular day Rodrygo are significantly better at finishing even half chances than any Chelsea player is at finishing sitters.

Their goal involves clever movement from him that separates our back line via extremely wide play by wingers and by removing the deputising effect that Thiago Silva has. While dropping off and bringing Silva with him, Benzema both receives the ball while freeing the space for Rodrygo. Take nothing away from the ball that Militão plays, but the positioning of our defense is terrible considering their positioning in attack. Once again, and I truly hate to do this because of the amount he cost, how well he played prior, et al., but what is Marc Cucurella doing in either of the clips beneath?

Cucurella starting to press like another curly haired fellow we all know

We should be realistic, there is very little reason that we should have expected something from this considering the April (or even season) that we have had. Our sole goal (by Gallagher against Brighton) had exactly a .06xG in total, so it seems like we are repeatedly getting people into scoring positions, like today with Kanté, whose natural abilities do not include finishing. Considering that, we have purchased two of the top 10 non-penalty xG goalscoring converters of the Premier League’s last 5 years in Raheem Sterling and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, and we know now what they’ve produced in Chelsea blue. Confidence helps, but the chances created certainly should have yielded a greater return than it did.

And so Lampard’s second homecoming hasn’t been at all what we or he had hoped it would be, and it’s almost as if the beatings will continue until morale improves. Whomever Chelsea are looking to hire has one heck of a project on their hands.


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