UEFA's Technical Observer panel analyses Real Madrid's Karim Benzema-inspired 3-1 win at Chelsea.
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Karim Benzema rightly earned the headlines after his hat-trick in Real Madrid's 3-1 success at Chelsea in their quarter-final first leg on Wednesday.
Yet in this piece presented by FedEx, the UEFA Technical Observer panel also shines a spotlight on Madrid's excellent work in midfield at Stamford Bridge, including the influential role played by Federico Valverde.
0-1: Karim Benzema (21)
This is a goal worth reviewing for the terrific build-up alone, a 59-second sequence of patient passing and moving that concluded in spectacular fashion as Madrid worked the ball crossfield to Toni Kroos. Cue a one-two between the German and Benzema, then a second swift exchange between Vinícius Júnior and Benzema which led to the Brazilian sprinting down the left to deliver a cross that Benzema met with a brilliant header – all the better when you consider the split-second adjustment required for a ball that arrived fractionally behind him.
0-2: Karim Benzema (24)
A Casemiro crossfield pass, this time from left to right, was at the root of the second goal too, the Brazilian finding Luka Modrić, who swapped passes with Valverde and then swung over a cross. Benzema, stepping behind Thiago Silva, did the rest, his magnificently precise, cushioned header sending the ball back beyond Edouard Mendy and inside his near post.
1-2: Kai Havertz (40)
With Chelsea forcing Madrid deep, Reece James picked the ball up on the right, stepped inside and fed Jorginho, who clipped a fine cross to the far post where Havertz headed across Thibaut Courtois, who got an arm to the ball in vain. It is worth highlighting the clever movement of Havertz, who first pulled away from Éder Militão and on to Dani Carvajal in the lead-up and then, anticipating perfectly, took a couple of steps behind Carvajal to ensure he was in the right spot when the ball landed.
1-3: Karim Benzema (46)
Benzema can sniff out an opportunity with the best of them and his hat-trick goal recalled past occasions when he has left opposition goalkeepers embarrassed. Mendy joined a list including Loris Karius and Gianluigi Donnarumma as he capitalised on a poor pass by the Chelsea goalkeeper to Antonio Rüdiger as they looked to build play outside the box; in stepped Benzema to rob the ball off Rüdiger and roll it into the empty goal.
Player of the Match: Karim Benzema
After his second successive hat-trick in the competition, there was high praise for Benzema from the UEFA Technical Observer – for his all-around play as well as his marksmanship. "He scored a hat-trick and also played a fantastic game – a real leader on the pitch. He worked very hard defensively and was always the first man to play to when they had possession."
The 34-year-old's clinical finishing is worth underlining. This was a night when Madrid made 41 passes in the attacking third to Chelsea's 188, yet had the clinical touch of a man who now has 11 goals from eight appearances in this season's competition. The Technical Observer also singled out right-back Carvajal who, on his return to the side, offered one of his best performances of the season. "He was very solid in defending and very comfortable when he had the ball, always taking the right decisions."
Chelsea began the match in a familiar 3-4-2-1 formation but Thomas Tuchel changed at half-time to a 4-3-3 set-up to match up with the visitors, taking off one of his three centre-backs, Andreas Christensen (4), and midfielder N'Golo Kanté (7) and sending on Mateo Kovačić (8) and Hakim Ziyech (22).
If the aim was to gain more control in midfield, the Madrid goal a minute later offered an instant setback, though Chelsea did create some chances after another substitute, Romelu Lukaku (9), had entered the game in the 64th minute.
Madrid set up in a 4-3-3 in possession though this changed to a 5-3-2 out of possession and their tactical approach had a telling impact. In possession they looked to build up from the back, with goalkeeper Courtois (1) showing good decision-making and the full-backs lots of movement both infield and high up the pitch.
They were precise in possession and it was interesting to see how midfielders Kroos (8) and Modrić (10) were able to find space on the opposite side as play developed; this happened before each of the first two goals when first Kroos and then Modrić was picked out with a cross-pitch pass by Casemiro (14). Because they stayed wide of each other, it was difficult for Chelsea to put pressure on them in the first half when the hosts had only two midfielders against Madrid's three.
Defending in their 5-3-2, Madrid tried to keep the spaces tight. In the first half, Vinícius Júnior (20) looked to put pressure on Christensen, and Benzema (9) on Thiago Silva. In midfield, Modrić stayed close to Jorginho and from there he went up to put pressure on Rüdiger with Casemiro always behind trying to close the passing lane to Havertz. The fourth midfielder Valverde (15) – of whom more shortly – dropped into a wing-back position and kept close to César Azpilicueta.
After Chelsea had sent on Lukaku, Madrid ended the game in a 5-4-1 formation as Casemiro dropped into the line of defence to support David Alaba (4) and substitute Nacho (6), who had come on for the injured Éder Militão (3).
Ancelotti's game plan reaped a rich reward on Wednesday and the video above highlights the impact made by Valverde on his fourth start in the competition this season. With three thirtysomethings in the Madrid midfield, the 23-year-old from Uruguay brought energy in his role on the right side which involved stifling Azpilicueta when Chelsea attacked, as seen in Clip 1. (Note: Azpilicueta managed only 13 passes in the final third compared with the 25 of James on the opposite flank.)
Valverde's work was not solely defensive as Clip 2 shows him winning the ball from Azpilicueta before combining with Benzema to set up Vinícius Júnior for an early strike against the crossbar, and he was also involved in the lead-up to the third goal (Clip 3). Over his 86 minutes on the field, he made two tackles and contested more duels (13) than any other Madrid player on the night (with a 46.2% success rate).
Another midfielder worthy of comment was Casemiro, who led the way for recoveries (nine) and was pivotal in covering the passing lanes toward the Chelsea forwards as well as pressing their defensive midfielders. In possession he was integral to their ability to find the extra midfielder – as well as the full-backs as they stepped up.
Chelsea had not lost to Madrid in five previous encounters but there was a lack of spark from the holders in the first half and only in the second half were they able to generate any notable pressure and get the home crowd excited. Scorer Havertz impressed the Technical Observer with his technique, speed and capacity to make things happen. Yet Lukaku's spurning of a free header frustrated their attempt to get back into the match and summed up the precision they lacked on a night they had 20 shots (including those that were blocked) but only five on target. Madrid, by contrast, had five on target from only eight attempts.
Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea coach
"It's a heavy loss and one of the worst first halves that I've seen from us here at Stamford Bridge. At this kind of level, you cannot play like this, individually and as a team. From all of us it was not enough by far… Not only how open we were, but where we passed, how we passed, when we passed. Where we attacked, our intensity, challenges, desire. The first half was so far from any standards that we set ourselves.
In the second half we had 16 shots to one. You can always come back, you can equalise, you can win it, but if you kill the game yourself after 48 minutes, it's harder and harder. Still we had chances in the second half, to make it 3-2. But not today."
Carlo Ancelotti, Real Madrid coach
"We played with the same system as usual. The only difference was to have Valverde more focused on their left wing-back. We then had Carvajal a little more inside to control Pulišić and Mount. Valverde did very well. It might have looked like a back five at times but it all depended on the position of Azpilicueta as Valverde always kept an eye on him. If Azpilicueta stayed deep then Valverde played as a forward. If not, Valverde held back."