The Chelsea side are already talking about how they can do it like it’s been done before. After all, recent Champions League seasons have seen far bigger comebacks than Thomas Tuchel’s side needed to close a 3-1 deficit at Real Madrid. He has pointed out the lessons of some of them in his preparations, in which the players were revved up.
In that regard, Tuchel’s strong words last Wednesday that the tie was not alive have served their purpose. The squad is upset.
They responded immediately with one of their hottest performances of the season, a 6-0 win over Southampton. That’s the mood they’re going to the Bernabeu with now. It’s quite a difference from how they ended the first leg at Stamford Bridge.
Tuchel himself inevitably changed the tone. Where he was repentant, he gathers himself now.
The Chelsea manager said his players should not “accept” the exit and could do so “by leaving everything we have on the pitch”.
“We know we can take more risks and show our true colors. . . It’s the beauty of the game that everything is always possible.”
The last few years have proven that it is possible, especially when teams do not just see a comeback as an immense task that needs to be scaled up. You have to proceed step by step, especially since each step fundamentally changes the state of the game.
That’s what Tuchel told his players. Chelsea eventually need a 3-0 win at the Bernabeu to progress, which usually seems ‘impossible’, as the manager put it.
However, the whole feeling changes if they can score even one goal to make it 3-2 overall. Then it’s not about something as big as a 3-0 win at the Bernabeu. After that it’s all about the next goal. It becomes easy to visualize.
That’s how Madrid played themselves when they returned from a 2-0 deficit against Paris Saint-Germain. This is what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer articulated ahead of Manchester United’s comeback against the same side.
This is the only way to tackle such a defeat, as Jürgen Klopp noted against Barcelona in 2019.
That’s what Tuchel meant when he said Chelsea must have “a game where faith grows through our actions within the game”.
However, there is a major complication to such a plan. This is not Madrid, not even the psychological challenge of doing it in this great stadium, as Tuchel said.
“Playing as an away team at the Bernabeu is one of the biggest challenges,” said the Chelsea manager. “And it’s even more difficult when you have to achieve a certain result.”
The last few years have proven that top footballers should no longer be intimidated by such images. We are in a new world. This is one of the reasons why Uefa abolished the away goals rule.
It should also be some consolation for Chelsea that Madrid scored three goals at Stamford Bridge without those goals meaning what they used to do.
The biggest complication, however, is the scorer of those goals.
Karim Benzema is in the kind of career shape where he can undo any game plan in a moment. He can do it easily, so Chelsea need to get four or even five here. It’s an immense challenge to stop him – especially if you’re following a game.
Benzema’s goals in the first leg made him only the second player, after Cristiano Ronaldo, to score hat-tricks in consecutive Champions League games. That’s symbolic, as it feels like it’s finally taking him to a similar level to such greats.
He has been the dominant player this entire Champions League season so far.
That raises bigger questions about his career, aside from whether he can actually deliver the trophy himself.
After all, that level of performance is exactly the kind of effect people envisioned when they saw Benzema ravaging defense as a young player at Lyon. It was the career he should have.
After all, no one ever envisions these prodigies as supporting actors. They should be the main event.
That’s not to say it was wrong for Benzema to act as Ronaldo’s support act as we were talking about one of the greatest players of all time. It begs the question what his career would have been like if he had been the center of attention like he is now.
Of course nobody could say that about his achievements. Benzema has won the Champions League four times and is now on his way to a fourth Spanish title. It’s more about how he evaluates such performances and whether he could have won more of his own.
It is undeniably crucial to a player’s legacy. Diego Maradona, for example, has far fewer medals than a great like Paolo Maldini, but part of the reason his World Cup is considered greater than such a haul was the Argentine’s way of defining such glory. It’s not just about the numbers. It’s also about the feeling.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that Benzema is at Maradona level. But we’re talking about a modern size, which leads to last week’s second question. Has Benzema always been this good or has he reached another level?
As contradictory as those two points may sound, many people who know the 34-year-old insist he’s a bit of both.
After all, the talent was always there. It was only restricted to allow Benzema to work in a more collective role. We didn’t see a full release of his abilities or a player able to max them out. He did other jobs, albeit very well, of course.
Benzema is now dependent on no one else. “We are dependent on Benzema,” said Carlo Ancelotti yesterday.
It freed his game and talent but some Madrid sources insist there has been a multiplier effect. It’s as if being “the leader” got even more out of him, as if he’s reveling in the responsibility.
The Bernabeu will be eyeing Benzema tonight. Chelsea won’t be able to see past him. They have to attack but at the same time figure out how to keep him calm. It requires going step by step to a proper plan.
“We don’t need anything other than a fantastic script,” said Tuchel. Madrid may just have the main man of the tie and its box office star.
Real Madrid vs Chelsea,
Live, RTÉ2/BT Sport 2, 8.0
https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/champions-league/moody-blues-ready-to-answer-thomas-tuchels-rallying-cry-41544074.html Moody Blues ready to answer Thomas Tuchel’s battle cry