Thomas Tuchel already knows Real Madrid plan works as Chelsea look to emulate Man City success


Saturday afternoon was a difficult one for Chelsea and Thomas Tuchel. Pre-game, the supporters’ protest outside of Stamford Bridge was the main headline, but focus quickly turned to the pitch as the Blues took on Brentford. Early in the match, it was easy to see there had been a two-week international break.

Chelsea were rusty, to say the very least. The first-half was rather non-eventful and the two teams went into the break with the game goalless. Chelsea came out in the second-half on top and found the back of the net through Antonio Rudiger and it looked as if it would be a fairly routine afternoon for the Blues, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth.

The Bees scored three goals in quick succession and added one late on to produce one of the shocks of the Premier League season. Tuchel was clearly frustrated after the game and it was easy to see why. With everything going on behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge, the on-field matters will have been the only thing keeping most supporters content, but Saturday afternoon will have just contributed more to the sour feeling.

However, Chelsea and Tuchel need to put that game behind them as soon as possible. Wednesday evening represents one of the biggest matches of the season so far with Real Madrid coming to the capital for the first-leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter-final. Los Blancos are currently top of La Liga and are playing some impressive football under former Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti.

ThisThis, of course, is a repeat of last season’s semi-final where the Blues came out 3-1 victors over the two legs . This, though, looks as if it will be a different challenge for Tuchel. Real have shown this season their improvement under Ancelotti and are beginning to look like the European force we’ve all grown up watching.

There could be scope for Tuchel to go back and watch last season’s encounter, though, especially the second-leg at Stamford Bridge where the German’s game-plan was executed to perfection. The Spaniards came to London and absolutely dominated possession - having the ball for 68% of the match, but Chelsea used it to their advantage.

N’Golo Kante was at his sensational best on that evening in May. The Frenchman was pushed high up the pitch by Tuchel to try and take advantage of any lazy play from the visitors.

Real Madrid played Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in a midfield three, the same trio that dominated when Los Blancos beat Liverpool in the round before, but with Kante at his best, they were unable to have anywhere near that impact at the Bridge. It looks likely Ancelotti will run with the same midfield against Chelsea on Wednesday, but surely the Italian coach will have learned from Zinedine Zidane’s mistakes last term.

"The first-half was difficult because they had a lot of ball possession, they made us suffer," Tuchel said after last season’s second-leg win in London. “But we were dangerous with counter- attacks and never lost the hunger, the desire to defend in the first-half. In the second-half, the defensive structure was even better. We could've scored so much earlier, so much more to be safe, but no time for criticism, it's a fantastic achievement."

It’s a game-plan that has been used in football so much more over the past 10 years or so, with counter-attacking once again proving integral to success in football. With Pep Guardiola’s dominance of English football since taking over at Manchester City, some teams had no choice but to sit back, let City have the ball, and try and hit them on the break - as we saw in last season’s Champions League final.

Man City had 61% of the ball during last May’s final, with Chelsea more than happy to absorb the pressure and try to hit Guardiola’s men on the counter. If you play these teams at their own games, nine times out of 10, they will dismantle the opposition.

"I know the opponents, I know their games against Porto, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid," Guardiola said after last season’s Champions League final. “The way we played today, the way we [dominated] in the second-half, while they only needed one counter-attack.

"One counter-attack with [Mason Mount] and [Kai] Havertz, a strong long ball to Havertz, and winning the second balls. They are a really good team but we competed perfectly against them."

Guardiola claimed City couldn’t have done anymore on the night, saying his team were "perfect". Chelsea, though, didn’t need to play perfectly with this game-plan and that’s something Tuchel will keep in mind ahead of this week’s clash with Madrid.

That’s not to say Chelsea cannot play possession football because we’ve seen during Tuchel’s tenure that it is effective. On Wednesday, though, Real Madrid will come to Stamford Bridge with intentions of tiring Chelsea out when they have the ball, but Tuchel has already proven that this may be the best way of lining up against the La Liga leaders.

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