The business end of the season is upon us as the final four of the 2020/21 UEFA Champions League is upon us.
Two mouth-watering clashes make up the semi-finals, as Chelsea take on Real Madrid for the first time ever while Paris Saint-Germain will take on Manchester City in the other game.
We’ve done predictions for every knockout tie in the competition so far, so we continue here with the Blues’ fixtures against the Spanish giants.
Chelsea come into this game off the back of a big win over West Ham at the weekend to move them ahead of their rivals in the race for the top four in the Premier League. Timo Werner got his first goal since February and the Blues kept yet another clean sheet under manager Thomas Tuchel.
Real Madrid on the other hand made it consecutive 0-0 draws in La Liga as their injury hit squad has fallen behind Atletico Madrid and Barcelona once again after closing the gap at the top of the table.
Tuchel’s side overcame Atletico Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League, winning both home and away without conceding a goal, before beating Porto 2-0 in the away leg before losing the home leg 1-0 to progress 2-1 on aggregate.
Zizou’s Los Blancos have shown their brilliance in Europe as the season has progressed. They struggled in the group stages before winning the group on the final day, before easing past Atalanta in the last 16. They then defeated Liverpool in Madrid in the first leg of their quarter-final clash despite a host of defensive injury problems, before a 0-0 draw at Anfield to confirm their progression.
Chelsea will have a full strength team to choose from for the first leg minus former Madrid midfielder Mateo Kovacic, who will miss out with a knee injury. Tuchel will almost certainly continue with this three-at-the-back system, but he will need to find his team’s creative juices.
They have only scored three or more goals once since the German took over, in a 4-1 win over Crystal Palace earlier this month. There has been one goal or less in each of the last four, including a 0-0 draw with Brighton and their wins over Manchester City in the FA Cup and then West Ham this weekend.
The manager seems to have a first choice defence decided upon, while his midfield selects itself when everyone is fit too but his attack seems to constantly be chopped and changed. Kai Havertz and Timo Werner have shown glimpses of their ability since Tuchel arrived but they’re still struggling more than anything else, while Mason Mount’s influence continues to grow.
Hakim Ziyech, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic, Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud are the other candidates for the two attacking spots but Tuchel’s attacking style hasn’t really got any of them to gel just yet so his selection against Madrid will be interesting.
Madrid on the other hand have got their strongest XI, but will be without several key players heading into the game. Sergio Ramos is still missing with the calf problem that saw him miss the Liverpool tie, while Ferland Mendy is also out with injury.
They can however welcome back Dani Carvajal and Eden Hazard to the team and a strengthened starting lineup is exactly what they need. The return of Hazard in particular will be of interest as the Chelsea legend has struggled to build any sort of momentum since his £100m move two years ago because of injuries.
It’s due to be a very tight affair between both sides and with the clubs never having met before, there’s no psychological battle to win in that sense.
Zidane’s side is full of players who have won this competition several times and the team seem to be peaking at the perfect time. They’ve not lost a game since the end of January and are finally getting over their injury problems.
When a team is full of quality in all areas, knows how to play to the occasion and have a manager who is tactically flexible depending on the scenario, it’s hard to look past them. Real Madrid in the Champions League are a different animal and while Chelsea are a very good team under Tuchel, they’re still learning about themselves and I can’t see them getting past this Zidane side over two legs.
Karim Benzema’s ability to influence games even without getting on the scoresheet is something Tuchel wishes he had in his striker role and with the return of Hazard plus the midfield three performing brilliantly as usual, I have to back the Spaniards to make another final.
Real Madrid 1-0 Chelsea
Chelsea 1-1 Real Madrid
(Real Madrid to progress 2-1 on aggregate)