Chelsea travels to Madrid on Tuesday to take on Real Madrid for the first time in the history of the Champions League. It’s one of the most highly anticipated clashes of the competition, but what are the three specific things we should be looking for in the first leg?
1. The midfield battle
Chelsea’s midfield has impressed in recent months since the switch to a three-centerback formation. Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante have been at the heart of that. This midfield has won many important midfield battles, and in impressive fashion too. Liverpool, Atletico Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City are some of the midfields that have come out second best against Chelsea’s. Real Madrid poses a different kind of threat though. Los Blancos have the perfect blend of work rate, technique and creativity in the middle of the park.
Casemiro has the most successful pressures for Real Madrid in the Champions League, and the midfield of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric have won an average of 3.4 ground duels per game at a win rate of 53 percent in the competition. This explains why it is and will be difficult to dominate Madrid’s midfield. Chelsea needs its central midfielders on the night to be alert, and even then, it’ll still struggle because they’ll most likely be outnumbered.
They’re all very good long passers, and Kroos is an exceptional long passer—he’s truly legendary. The Blues will play a high line because they always do under Thomas Tuchel, and it might be the best way to contain Real Madrid’s midfield. But it also opens the Blues up to balls over the top in behind the centerbacks, and Kroos is more than capable of delivering such passes. Chelsea’s best bet might be to deny Kroos time on the ball and make sure he doesn’t have the space and composure to kill the Blues with his passing. Sergio Ramos is also an excellent passer of the ball.
Kroos has an 88 percent long ball accuracy and its not because he doesn’t attempt a lot. Far from it, in fact, as he has completed 9.4 long balls per game in the Champions League. It’s ridiculous to have a long ball accuracy of as high as 88 percent with as many as 9.4 long balls per game, he simply executes any pass he wants, whenever he wants. Kroos will be key for Real Madrid’s midfield, as will Kante and Kovacic (if healthy) for the Blues. Kante for his pressing and ball winning abilities; Kovacic for his passing, though Kante also boasts a 67 percent long ball accuracy, which is impressive. Madrid’s midfield three also has a ground duel win percentage of 54 percent or higher, though Kovacic boasts a 56 percent ground duel success rate. Kante? 46 percent.