Chelsea will be looking to progress to the final of the UEFA Champions League for the first time since 2012 and book a date with Manchester City when they face Real Madrid in the second-leg of their semi-final showdown this evening, kick-off 8:00pm.
The Blues, who bolstered their prospects of finishing inside the top-four in the Premier League this season with a 2-0 win over west London rivals Fulham on Saturday, know that a clean-sheet this evening would be enough to get the job done, after the first-leg ended 1-1 in Spain last week.
A draw at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium ensured Chelsea enter tonight’s clash in the driving seat after Christian Pulisic netted a massive away goal. However, a momentary lapse of concentration could cost the Blues dearly after Karim Benzema’s stunning hit ensured Madrid got themselves back in the tie.
But although Chelsea do enter the contest with an away-goal to their name, head coach Thomas Tuchel insists it is all to play for.
“It is important, it’s a semi-final, the pressure’s on, it’s a knockout game,” Tuchel said during his pre-match press conference.
“It’s the second-leg, the decisive one, so to arrive with a certain level of belief and self-confidence is absolutely necessary. Otherwise we have no chance against a team like Real Madrid.
“It does not help so much if your coach is talking about it, we need to really feel it.
“If I talk about it it’s only because I’m sure they feel it, and we can see it in the games, that the team is self-aware and able to produce performances, then they are also aware of the challenge ahead of us.
“It’s the best feeling to arrive with an almost full squad, in good shape, with a good performance and an okay result in the first-leg.
So everything is open now for the second-leg.
“I’m very happy that we could beat Fulham in between so we have nothing to worry about, nothing to regret.
“Now’s the moment today to enjoy training and be ready tomorrow.”
In the first-leg, Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane almost matched his side up like-for-like with Chelsea, ditching his usually preferred 4-3-3 system and opting to go to a 3-5-2. At the weekend against Osasuna he reverted back to the 4-3-3, meaning it remains to be seen what he will do at Stamford Bridge.
For Tuchel, though, it will all rest on the availability of Sergio Ramos and Ferland Mendy.
The German continued: “I’m not sure if they will play again in a 5-3-2 or they will switch to their more familiar 4-3-3. That maybe depends on last tests for Mendy and Ramos today [Tuesday].
“And from this decision things change, of course, by nature, because any formation has its strengths and weaknesses.
“So in the end in a semi-final in the Champions League it’s not about the formation, it’s not about what Real Madrid play, it’s about how we play, what intensity we have, what belief we have, are we brave enough, do we play courageous enough and do we play at our top level within the formation.
“So it’s always a tactical choice, but in these big games it’s more about individual tactical behaviour than within groups and combinations.”
Ahead of tonight’s clash, Tuchel has delivered largely positive news on the injury front, confirming that Mateo Kovacic is the only player who will miss out, meaning Antonio Rudiger is set to return after missing the win over Fulham on Saturday.
“Mateo [Kovacic] will not be in the squad,” Tuchel confirmed. “I think that Toni [Rudiger] will play with a mask, because he trained yesterday [Monday] in a mask.
“Everybody else is in training today, so hopefully we will have no new injuries today and that means everybody is available except for Mateo Kovacic.”
That means that Tuchel could face a difficult call when deciding on his defensive trio, with Kurt Zouma, Thiago Silva and Andreas Christensen all contributing towards a clean-sheet at the weekend. But with Rudiger poised to be available, one of those three could drop out.
Elsewhere, Tuchel will have a difficult decision to make at the top end of the pitch, with Pulisic pushing for a recall. Given that Havertz netted a brace against the Cottagers and Timo Werner is continuing to struggle for goals, Havertz could line-up as the false nine and Pulisic replaces Werner.
Meanwhile, the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta, N’Golo Kante and Jorginho will be pushing for recalls.
Full Chelsea squad available to face Real Madrid:
Goalkeepers: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Willy Caballero & Edouard Mendy.
Defenders: Reece James, Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, Thiago Silva, Kurt Zouma, Ben Chilwell, Marcos Alonso & Emerson.
Midfielders: Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic, N’Golo Kante, Billy Gilmour, Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, Faustino Anjorin & Jorginho.
Strikers: Tammy Abraham, Timo Werner & Olivier Giroud.