Champions League Tactical Preview: Chelsea v Real hangs in the balance

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel
Chelsea may struggle against a re-jigged Real Madrid.

Alex Keble takes a look at the midweek Champions League semi-final ties and predicts there will be goals for both teams at Stamford Bridge...

"With Marcelo dipping into central midfield, Chelsea could become overwhelmed on this flank should the Brazilian interact with Hazard and Benzema around Andreas Christensen."

Man City v PSG


Tuesday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport 2

Second-half City to push PSG back

After a timid first 45 minutes in which Paris Saint-Germain were largely on top, Pep Guardiola made tactical changes at half-time that completely swung the match. Man City pressed more aggressively and managed to pin the hosts back, but more importantly Guardiola released Joao Cancelo to power forward while switching Phil Foden infield and dropping Ilkay Gundogan into a deeper role.

With Gundogan shielding in midfield (to cover for Cancelo) and with Foden - isolated on the wing in the first half - now combining neatly with Cancelo and Kevin de Bruyne, City were able to dominate possession in advanced areas. PSG were forced into territorial retreat, in turn hindering their ability to attack through Neymar and Angel di Maria.

Guardiola will surely push to take full advantage from the outset on Tuesday, playing with the courage of that second half in Paris and emboldened to finish this tie. The City manager's initial conservatism, presumably because he was wary of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe on the break, should give way - which points to a confident home win.

PSG counters hindered without Gueye

Throughout the first half, when De Bruyne was too high up the pitch and Foden too wide for City to find any progressive passes through the lines, PSG had a strong foothold in the game. Their key player was Idrissa Gueye, whose ability to evade the first wave of the City press and drive forward repeatedly opened up the contest and got PSG's forwards into the final third.

His red card has altered the shape of the return leg. It is unlikely that PSG will be able to weave through City without Gueye in the middle, while his defensive abilities will also be sorely missed; Mauricio Pochettino cannot trust a midfield partnership of Ander Herrera and Leandro Paredes to have the strength or agility to command the middle of the park.

In other words, in both attack and defence PSG seem to be at a major disadvantage. Man City had already worked out how to neuter Pochettino's side, and that was before Gueye got himself suspended. The visitors' only hopes are rapid counter-attacks that quickly get behind City's high line, but with Kyle Walker forming part of a back three that seems unlikely.

guardiola_2021_champs_lge.jpg

Chelsea v Real Madrid


Wednesday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport 2

Tuchel's directness can cause more problems

Chelsea came to Madrid with a plan, and had it not been for poor finishing it would have worked spectacularly. In recent weeks Thomas Tuchel has been working on getting more verticality into the Chelsea team, advancing their solid possession for something a little bit more risky and direct, and he took it to a new level for the first leg of their semi-final.

Christian Pulisic and Timo Werner frequently made runs in behind Real Madrid's high defensive line, but also both players dropped into the number ten space to pull defenders out of position. As this individualistic Real side struggled to track the movement, Chelsea got multiple runners in behind with quick, long passes through the defence.

This is likely to be repeated on Wednesday, with Mason Mount the key player for Real to get to grips with. Mount continues to improve at an incredible rate, and his ability to find the spaces either side of the Real Madrid midfield should ultimately define a finely-balanced tie. Given how rarely Real look like a cohesive team at the moment, Chelsea's well-drilled setup ought to provide Mount with the spaces he needs to set Werner or Pulisic in behind.

Zidane's formation switch may stabilise Real

However, clearly Zinedine Zidane made a mistake playing a 3-5-2 formation in the first leg. The back three looked woefully out of sync, while Vinicius Junior struggled to get into the game and Karim Benzema lacked creative options around him. For the second leg, Real will likely return to their usual 4-3-3, with playmakers such as Eden Hazard or Marco Asensio brought into the side.

This should have a stabilising effect, solidifying a defence that has five consecutive clean sheets surrounding the 1-1 draw with Chelsea. That may provide Real with the platform from which they can begin to build higher-quality chances down their left wing - a threat Tuchel expected more of in the first leg, judging by his decision to bench Reece James for Cesar Azpilicueta.

With Marcelo dipping into central midfield, Chelsea could become overwhelmed on this flank should the Brazilian interact with Hazard and Benzema around Andreas Christensen. It is potentially Chelsea's weakest area of the team, and - when in a 4-3-3 - Real's strongest. This tie is far from over.

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