“Chelsea have been my toughest opponent,” the words of Luka Modric after a relentless 120 minutes of football. Real Madrid progressed, Chelsea’s hearts were broken, but Thomas Tuchel can take so many positives from what he saw from his team in the Spanish capital.
The Blues headed into Tuesday night’s Champions League quarter-final second-leg trailing 3-1 after a Karim Benzema masterclass in last week’s clash at Stamford Bridge. It was all to do for Chelsea, but they gave it their best go.
Mason Mount opened the scoring before Antonio Rudiger made it 2-0 on the night. Timo Werner scored in the second half, and Chelsea looked to be heading through, but Rodrygo levelled the clash to take it to extra-time – where Benzema was on hand, yet again, to break Chelsea’s hearts.
“We were unlucky. That is why we are disappointed,” Tuchel said in his post-match press conference. “We got beaten by individual quality and conversion.
“We made two mistakes, two ball losses. We deserved to go through after this match today, but it was not meant to be.”
Tuchel is clearly proud of his team’s effort, despite just falling short. And so he should be. Chelsea were everything they needed to be at the Bernabeu – apart from perhaps the most important thing of them all: being clinical in front of goal.
Either way, clinical or not, Chelsea can take plenty of positives from their efforts in Spain. These positives need to be taken with a possibly season-defining clash at the weekend against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup semi-final. football.london takes a look below.
There was some debate whether or not Werner should have started against Real Madrid following his two goals against Southampton at the weekend. Tuchel went with his German compatriot from the start at the Santiago Bernabeu, and his decision was vindicated.
The 26-year-old has barely had a sniff this season – and who could have argued against that – but this did not look like the case on Tuesday evening. Werner was energetic, a nuisance to the Madrid defence, and he capped off an impressive performance with a superb solo goal.
Werner has shown that there is enough there for him to salvage his Chelsea career. Now, he needs to show this sort of level on a consistent basis. Then he can be the man Blues supporters thought they were buying from RB Leipzig almost two years ago.
Tuchel recently told Werner that he still needs to adapt to the physicality levels in the Premier League. No matter who he is playing against, off the ball, Werner can be a nuisance, and he needs to repeat this on a regular basis — starting at the weekend against Palace.
Proving Tuchel wrong
“No, not at the moment,” the straight-to-the-point response from Tuchel when asked after last week’s 3-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge if Chelsea had a chance of reviving the tie. While the Blues did not progress, they certainly showed they were in with a chance in Madrid.
Chelsea were brave against the 13-times champions of Europe. They had to be, and they were. The Blues pressed Los Blancos right from the off, and they were rewarded with three fantastic goals.
Tuchel, of course, may well have been playing mind games. It’s hard to believe that an elite manager like the German would genuinely think the tie was dead. Either way, he surely would not have expected what he saw from his Chelsea side.
James back to his best
Reece James’ season has been so up and down. When fit, the England right-back has been one of Chelsea’s best players, but that’s been the issue – keeping him fit.
Now, though, James has played three matches on the bounce, and the performance in Madrid was his best of the lot. He was up against the tricky and electrifyingly quick Vinicius Jr. James dealt with the Real Madrid winger superbly well.
Eight tackles, one clearance, one interception, 11 ground duels won, one aerial duel won, two fouls drawn, and one big chance created. Sensational from James. Oh, and he wasn’t dribbled past, despite having one of Europe’s best up against him.
Chelsea and Tuchel will be desperate for James to put a run of matches together between now and the end of the season. Tuchel will be hoping the right-back can produce a performance similar to the one on Tuesday at the weekend.
Rudiger now has nine games – possibly ten if Chelsea reaches the FA Cup final – remaining before his contract at Stamford Bridge expires. With each passing day, the German central defender looks more and more likely to leave the club at the end of the season.
There is plenty of interest in Rudiger, with Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich all said to be interested in his signature. Talks are happening behind the scenes that have been well publicised. But that isn’t distracting Rudiger.
The Germany international was imperious on Tuesday. He was everywhere – even playing as a central striker for a lot of extra-time when Chelsea were chasing an equaliser. His goal capped off a wonderful defensive performance from the brilliantly aggressive and passionate Blues star.
Tuchel received some criticism for the way he set up his Chelsea side in their first-leg defeat last week. However, the German got his tactics absolutely spot on at the Bernabeu.
Yes, the Blues lost. Yes, they could have been tighter defensively at times. But Tuchel knew he needed a response from his team, and he got exactly that.
The three in midfield, to match up Real Madrid’s, worked. For the majority of the match, the midfield battle was going in Chelsea’s favour.
Tuchel is an elite manager. Games like the ones in Madrid are where he belongs, just on the winning side. Whatever happens with their new owners, Chelsea needs to do everything in their power to keep the manager.