Chelsea saw itself knocked out of the UEFA Champions League after being dealt the fatal blow by Real Madrid in a tie that ended 5-4. The 13-time Champions League holders turned the tie around in extra time of the second leg as they conquered the reigning Champions of Europe. This result left many with to make a plethora of conclusions. Some have laid the blame on manager Thomas Tuchel’s feet, others have used the result of that tie to confirm to themselves that the Blues have issues and some players need to be sold immediately.
Tuchel definitely shares some blame. Some fans have insisted that the German should have retreated and gone ultra-defensive after going three goals up at the Bernabeu, at which point they would have gone through. That sentiment is based on the premise that Los Blancos would not have scored had the Blues gone defensive. In a game against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in front of 80,000 fans, thinking that you can prevent the home side from scoring for the full 90 minutes with the quality of players it has is idealistic at best. Nevertheless, in the end, it was Chelsea’s carelessness that ultimately saw it pay the price.
Chelsea paid the price for carelessness in the UCL against Real Madrid
Chelsea did a lot of things right at the Santiago Bernabeu in a performance that should have been the reason it won the tie. However, the Blues’ first-leg performance is why they didn’t deserve to win the contest. The quarterfinal is a two-legged tie for a reason. Chelsea was extremely careless in the first leg of that tie, making sure that the second leg would be as difficult as possible. Conceding three goals in any leg of a Champions League tie will almost always come with heavy, unpalatable consequences. The Blues’ away performance in that tie was a performance everyone knew they was capable of, it’s the home showing that turned out to be the more important one though. Sometimes a team’s heroics aren’t enough if the mess it previously created is too great.
Chelsea’s defense had a nightmare both individually and collectively at Stamford Bridge. The Blues wouldn’t have had a near-impossible task to do at the Bernabeu if they hadn’t conceded three goals in the reverse fixture. Anyone complaining about anything Chelsea did in that second leg, without pointing out that the first leg performance put it one foot out of the tie, is being disingenuous. The Blues had no reason to concede as much as they did in the first leg.
Tuchel has taken some responsibility for the first leg performance, however, the decision to play Andreas Christensen at right centerback is not the reason Christensen had no spatial awareness when Karim Benzema ran between the Dane and Thiago Silva to head home Real Madrid’s second goal of that night. Tuchel’s decision to play Christensen at right centerback is not the reason Silva and Antonio Rudiger were nonexistent defensively. Tuchel’s decision to play Christensen was not the reason Edouard Mendy was poor in goal and couldn’t make a six-yard pass to Rudiger.
The manager knew that the chances of coming back from the 3-1 home defeat were slim, and he said as much. This is not because he didn’t believe in the ability of his players, but because even he knows that when you make enough mistakes to concede three goals in the first leg of any tie, you lose your right to qualify. At the end of the day, sometimes the penalty for playing exceptionally poorly is much heavier than the reward for playing exceptionally well.