Keeping Real Madrid at bay at the Bernabeu is tough for any team, but the statistical analysis of our Champions League quarter-final in Spain shows enough signs of how we can hurt the holders to give us hope for the second leg at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea suffered a 2-0 defeat after being reduced to 10 men away at Real Madrid in the first leg of this quarter-final, on a tough night in the Spanish capital for Frank Lampard’s men. On balance, it was probably a fair result as the reigning European champions created the better of the chances, even if Lampard rightly pointed out the team had done well to restrict the home side to a relatively low number of openings during the final 30 minutes, following Ben Chilwell’s red card.
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We had opportunities of our own too, though, most notably when Joao Felix and Raheem Sterling drew saves from Thibaut Courtois at the start of each half, and Mason Mount had an effort blocked by Antonio Rudiger in added time.
Real Madrid also controlled possession for large spells, as you would expect on home soil, although their margin of 53 per cent of possession is probably lower than most expected. That is largely down to a good spell by the Blues between half-time and the sending off, when we seemed to have our opponents on the back foot as we searched for an equaliser at 1-0 down, although by the final whistle the stats largely back up 2-0 as being a fair result on the night.
However, the tie is far from over, with another 90 minutes to come at Stamford Bridge next week, and there were signs of how Chelsea can cause Real Madrid problems as we pursue what would be a memorable comeback in west London, especially during the first hour at Madrid when the numbers were even.
Fine midfield margins
The midfield tussle at the Bernabeu was always going to be of the highest quality as the experienced Champions League campaigners of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos on one side and Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante in Blue faced off, ably supported by the more youthful South Americans Federico Valverde and Enzo Fernandez.
With the older campaigners largely cancelling each other out for most of the game, Enzo stood out as the one playing a crucial part in Chelsea’s game plan, ready to spread the play by spraying passes out to the wings, where our 3-5-2 formation gave us a natural width advantage compared to Real’s narrow 4-2-3-1, or into space for the mobile attacking duo of Joao Felix and Raheem Sterling to chase.
That was clear from the statistics as Enzo’s 17 long passes was the most of any outfield player by some way, the next highest being Chilwell on four. Impressively, the Argentinian found a Chelsea player with 14 of those long passes as we opted for a more direct route to unsettle Real Madrid. His 94 passes overall was also the highest of anyone, ahead of Kroos on 82 for the home team and Kovacic’s next highest for Chelsea of 69.
The space provided by the early ball forward allowed our strikers to go at the opposition defence on a few occasions, as Joao Felix’s three shots and two on target were both second only to Karim Benzema, despite the Portuguese forward’s relatively limited opportunities, while only Kroos had more than Sterling’s six dribbles. It also provided something of a statistical anomaly as Joao, not usually associated with strength in the air, won more aerial duels than any other player on the pitch (three).
Risk and reward on the right
Arguably the most interesting area on Wednesday night was our right flank, though, where Lampard had identified Vinicius Junior as one of Real Madrid’s biggest threats and had planned our wing-back system around denying him opportunities to go one-on-one with our defenders.
For their part, the Spaniards were keen to exploit his pace and skill by leaving him high up the pitch. On the flip side, while Vinicius was a constant thorn in Chelsea’s side, it did leave plenty of space behind him for us to exploit on that side.
It is telling that the largest percentage of both teams’ attacks came down that same flank – 41 per cent for Real Madrid and 39 per cent for Chelsea – as Eduardo Camavinga took up advanced positions to support Vinicius, while both Reece James and Wesley Fofana pushed forward into the gaps when we were on the ball, in addition to Kante drifting into wider areas for the same reason on the counter.