Real Madrid and Chelsea will square off at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano on Tuesday night in the first leg of the 2020/21 UEFA Champions League semi-final.
The penultimate stages of the 2020/21 UEFA Champions League kick off this week as four teams battle it out for the place in the finals of the competition. Kicking things off in the first leg on Tuesday will be two teams who wanted out of the Champions League next season as they sought to kick-start the breakaway European Super League – Real Madrid and Chelsea.
Real Madrid have not had the easiest of journeys to the semi-final stages of the Champions League. Indeed, Zinedine Zidane’s men were scratchy in the group stages and just about managed to qualify to the knockout phases. Then they had to see out two strong teams in Borussia Monchengladbach and Premier League champions Liverpool, which they did quite professionally and efficiently to make it to the final four.
Chelsea, on the other hand, coasted through the group stages unbeaten before seeing of Real Madrid’s local rivals Atletico Madrid in the Round of 16. FC Porto did make them sweat in the quarter-finals but a solid first-leg display was enough to secure them a place in the semi-finals even though they ended up losing the second leg.
Both teams come into Tuesday’s game on the back of tough assignments in their respective leagues as Real Madrid were held to a goalless draw by Real Betis while Chelsea were made to work hard for their 1-0 win over West Ham United in the Premier League. Ahead of this blockbuster encounter set to come our way from Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.
Team News & Tactics
— Real Madrid C.F. 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@realmadriden) April 26, 2021
Real Madrid have been handed a boost on the injury front heading into the game as midfielder Toni Kroos is back in contention after missing the last two matches with an injury. However, the hosts will continue to be without the services of Sergio Ramos, Federico Valverde, Lucas Vazquez as well as Ferland Mendy for the huge game on Tuesday night.
Following the outcome at the weekend, there are set to be a few changes made to the team but none are expected at the back as former Chelsea star Thibaut Courtois lines up in goal, shielded by the backline of Dani Carvajal and Nacho as the full-backs while Eder Militao and Chelsea transfer target Raphael Varane line up as the two centre-backs.
There is absolutely no looking past Casemiro at the base of the three-man midfield unit for Los Blancos. And, now that both Luka Modric and Kroos are fit and available, they will occupy the remaining two slots in the middle and act as the creative forces for Zinedine Zidane’s side.
Moving into the final third, Karim Benzema is an obvious pick as the centre-forward. The remaining two slots will see Rodrygo Goes, Marco Asensio, Vinicius Junior and ex-Chelsea superstar Eden Hazard contest for the starting berths. However, given as Rodrygo and Asensio were quite passive at the weekend, Vinicius and Hazard could get the nod, despite the latter’s recent injury issues.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Varane, Nacho; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Vinicius, Benzema, Hazard
Unlike Real Madrid, Chelsea are not hampered by major injury concerns ahead of their trip to Spain. Indeed, midfielder Mateo Kovacic is the only player currently unavailable for selection. Expect Thomas Tuchel to make minimal changes to the side that saw off West Ham’s challenge at the weekend in the league.
Despite Kepa Arrizabalaga’s recent resurgence, Edouard Mendy remains the first-choice goalkeeper for Chelsea and, as such, ought to start in Madrid on Tuesday night. Club captain Cesar Azpilicueta, who played as a wing-back at the weekend, ought to move back to the three-man defensive line, where he is likely to partner Thiago Silva and Antonio Rudiger, with Andreas Christensen the unlucky one to miss out.
Our 24-man squad for #RMACHE has been confirmed! 🤝
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) April 26, 2021
Reece James, who only made a substitute appearance in the league game, should return to the lineup as the right wing-back and will be a key attacking outlet with his forward bursts, just like Ben Chilwell on the opposite flank, with the Englishman now being favoured over ex-Real Madrid man Marcos Alonso.
With Kovacic unavailable, the central midfield partnership of N’Golo Kante and Jorginho picks itself. The duo will be integral to nullifying the impact of their opponent numbers Modric and Kroos, which could be pivotal for the outcome of the game.
Up ahead in attack, the selection of Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount should be a given, considering the form that they have been in recent games. Hakim Ziyech could be an alternative for the former, though. Timo Werner, who ended his long-running goal drought on Saturday, should get the nod as the centre-forward as he rides the wave of confidence.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Mendy; Azpilcueta, Silva, Rudiger; James, Jorginho, Kante, Chilwell; Mount, Pulisic; Werner
- This will be the fourth European meeting between Real Madrid and Chelsea. They faced in the 1971 Cup Winners’ Cup final (1-1 first game, 2-1 to Chelsea in replay) and the 1998 UEFA Super Cup final (1-0 to Chelsea).
- Chelsea are set to play their eighth UEFA Champions League semi-final, the most by any English club, while this is Real Madrid’s 14th semi-final appearance in the competition – two more than any other team.
- Real Madrid have won the first leg of nine of their last 10 UEFA Champions League knockout ties (L1), scoring at least two goals in eight of these games.
- Zinedine Zidane and Thomas Tuchel are two of only 24 managers to have managed 15+ UEFA Champions League matches in knockout stages. Zidane has the joint-best win ratio of these managers (alongside Luis Enrique) (67% P27 W18) whereas Tuchel is seventh-best (53% P15 W8).
- Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech has been directly involved in six goals in seven UEFA Champions League starts in knockout stages (4 goals, 2 assists) and has scored in his first two such appearances against Real Madrid, for Ajax in the 2018/19 Round of 16.
Player to Watch
💙Eden Hazard faces Chelsea still waiting for his Real Madrid career to ignite.
The clock is ticking…⏱️
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) April 26, 2021
The likes of Karim Benzema, Mason Mount and Casemiro among others will all have key roles to play in this gargantuan contest on Tuesday night. However, heading into the contest, the talk has been all about a certain Eden Hazard as he is set to face off against his former employers Chelsea.
A bonafide superstar during his time at Stamford Bridge, the Belgian is an icon among the Blues’ fans and rightly so, given everything he achieved at the club before realising his dream transfer to Real Madrid in 2019. Things, however, have gone pear-shaped for Hazard in the Spanish capital, as he has spent more time out on the sidelines than on the pitch in his near two seasons at the club.
However, having recovered his fitness and made his return as a substitute in the last game against Real Betis, when he impressed as well, the Belgian wing-wizard will be pumped up to take on his former employers. A huge game beckons for the 30-year-old.
Real Madrid 1-1 Chelsea
Both Real Madrid and Chelsea have been extremely solid at the back in recent games, so we can pretty much rule out a goal-fest on Tuesday night. Given what is at stake, both teams are likely to play it safe, without giving away much to their opponent, meaning we could be in for a cagey affair. As a result, a draw looks like the likeliest outcome, although an away goal could be a potential game-changer for Chelsea.