Real Madrid’s Historic Comeback Against Chelsea

Last night, we witnessed a game for the ages. First, Chelsea took a 3-0 lead to overturn Real Madrid’s first leg result, then Madrid roared back to send the game to extra time and win on aggregate with a Karim Benzema goal.

How did this instant classic unfold and what are the larger implications from the game?

Chelsea, A Team That Trusts Their Manager
Everyone, including us, tipped Real Madrid to qualify. To get back into the game and make up the deficit, Chelsea would need to attack and would leave some room for the home team to do some damage as well.

Instead, Thomas Tuchel switched to a 4-3-1-2 formation with two strikers up top and gave his full backs license to push up, safe in the knowledge that the extra midfielder would cover for them.

It almost worked too. Chelsea absolutely dominated the game but were undone late on by a moment of magic from Luka Modric and Karim Benzema’s relentless goalscoring.

Chelsea ruthlessly switching managers when things are going badly has served them well – they’ve been more successful under Roman Abramovich than at any other point in their history. However, that has to change with the former owner’s departure.

Chelsea’s new owners need to realize there are not many managers that can extract this level of quality and commitment from the current squad and back Thomas Tuchel to the hilt in the coming seasons.

Ancelotti Lucky Save?
After masterminding a 3-1 away win at Stamford Bridge, Ancelotti could only watch on in horror as his tactics opened the door for Chelsea to dominate Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.

He managed to save the tie with smart substitutions and by relying on his more experienced players, but he really cannot afford to make mistakes of that magnitude at this level especially with his semifinal opponents likely to be either Manchester City or local rivals, Atletico Madrid.

Los Blancos are hoping to win their first Champions League trophy since Cristiano Ronaldo left and make it a double this season if they win the La Liga as expected. The lessons their head coach has learned from this game will be pivotal to their hopes to win Real Madrid’s favorite trophy again.

Dependence on Militao, Better Backups Needed
Last night’s game will factor heavily into negotiations when Éder Militão and his agent sit down with Los Blancos executives to discuss a new contract for the Brazilian centre back. His importance to the Madrid squad is unquestionable and they will need him at his best if they’re to progress beyond the semifinal.

Real Madrid president, Florentino Perez will have noted the drop-off in quality with Nacho Fernandez in central defence and needs to take steps to bolster the defence in addition to the imminent signing of Kylian Mbappe.

Modric, Like Fine Wine, Only Getting Better With Age
When Chelsea scored to make it 3-0, Madrid fans would have been forgiven for believing they were out of the UCL. Thomas Tuchel’s side are one of the best teams around at holding on to a lead and last night, everyone expected Chelsea to fall back into a low block and invite the Madrid attack to try, and fail to mount a valiant comeback.

Real Madrid’s Balon d’Or-winning midfielder had something to say about that. When a Chelsea attack broke down and Modric received a pass from Marcelo, he had three options ahead of him: Vinicius, breaking into the space between Reece James and Antonio Rüdiger, Benzema, marshalled by Thiago Silva and Rodrygo, who was being tracked closely by Marcos Alonso.

Vinicius had the most space and was the option most midfielders would have chosen. However, Modric with his superior vision and ability saw what nobody else had seen and bent a pass with the outside of his right boot around Thiago Silva and Marcos Alonso into the path of a grateful Rodrygo who fired home to bring the fixture level again.

At 36, he’s still one of the world’s best midfielders and players and he will retire as one of the greatest players to ever kick a football.

The Future of Real Madrid’s Midfield Looks Secure
Manchester United fans must be kicking themselves at how easily their club allowed Eduardo Camavinga to get away last summer. The English giants gave up when the French youngster was said to prefer a move to the Spanish giants without testing that resolve. Last night, the world watched as the young midfielder gave the Madrid midfield a much-needed jolt off the bench to help his team to the UCL semifinals.

Alongside Federico Valverde, Camavinga pressed relentlessly and distributed the ball intelligently to allow Modric conserve his energy and contribute further forward. And it worked.

Even Ceballos came off the bench to contribute to the victory by shoring up the middle to slow down Chelsea’s progress.

There are gaps at the back that need to be filled and a new defensive midfielder must be acquired soon to challenge and eventually replace Casemiro, but in Camavinga and Valverde, Madrid looks to already have successors for Toni Kroos and Luka Modric.

Spanish Domination in Europe Again?
In the other semifinal fixture, Villarreal shocked the world with a late goal at the Allianz Arena to knock Bayern Munich out of the UCL. They’ve now claimed the scalps of two European heavyweights, Juventus and Bayern Munich, and must be respected by future opponents.

After a couple of years of English dominance in the UCL, two Spanish clubs are through to the semifinals already and a third, Atletico Madrid, can still qualify if they beat Manchester City at home tonight.

The decline of Spanish football has been greatly exaggerated.

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Author: Clayton Kuhn