Chelsea are just ninety minutes away from reaching their third Champions League final. Overcome Real Madrid tomorrow evening and Thomas Tuchel and his players will head to Istanbul for the final at the end of this month. It really is that simple.
The Blues recorded a much-deserved 1-1 draw in the first leg against Zinedine Zidane’s side last week. Christian Pulisic grabbed a vital away goal for Chelsea, who could already be out of sight were it not for some poor finishing in the Spanish capital.
Real Madrid can’t and won’t be underestimated. Their recent success in the competition ensures that.
Yet there is little doubt that Chelsea are more than capable of defeating the La Liga giants despite their Champions League experience and know-how.
Tuchel has given the Blues every chance. He opted to rest several key players for the win at Fulham on Saturday, although that did give a fair indication of who will start tomorrow’s game at Stamford Bridge.
Given the sheer number of matches Chelsea have had to play since the 47-year-old was appointed at the end of January, there are very few undroppables within the Blues squad. But there are several big-game untouchables.
These are the players that are handed starts in the high-profile games, the fixtures that mean the most for Tuchel and Chelsea. A Champions League semi-final second leg against Real Madrid is definitely one of those.
So here are the six players almost certain to be included in the starting XI for tomorrow’s clash at Stamford Bridge.
The Senegal international has been given short breaks from the side by Tuchel over the past three months but there is no doubt he will be in the starting XI tomorrow night.
Mendy –who was signed from Rennes last summer after a recommendation from Blues legend Petr Cech – has started all but one of Chelsea’s Champions League games this term but has only conceded three goals.
“It is a semi-final and we have won nothing,” he told Chelsea’s club website ahead of the game. “We need to be ready for this battle.”
Chelsea’s club captain played at right wing-back in the first leg in the Spanish capital and, while there were moments his lack of pace was exposed, was a solid defensive presence on the right flank against Vinicius Junior.
At 31 years old and with more than 650 senior appearances under his belt, Azpilicueta’s experience is likely to prove vital when the two sides meet at Stamford Bridge.
That’s why he was rested for the weekend win over Fulham. The Spaniard was an unused substitute but will return to the starting XI tomorrow.
The only point of debate is whether he is again used at wing-back or deployed on the right of the back three.
The Brazilian centre-back was signed by Chelsea last summer for many reasons, including his quality, leadership and experience. All will be needed against Real Madrid
That’s why it was somewhat of a surprise to see the 36-year-old included in the starting XI against Fulham on Saturday, although the injury to Antonio Rudiger and need to rest Azpilicueta perhaps forced Tuchel’s hand.
Silva’s assuredness in the first leg was noteworthy; he is comfortable on the biggest stage. And the Brazil international will hope to secure his spot in a second consecutive Champions League final tomorrow evening.
The combative German defender has been a mainstay of the side under Tuchel – he is the go-to option on the left of the back three when fit.
Rudiger missed the victory over Fulham, however, due to a facial injury suffered against Real in the first leg. Yet Tuchel was quick to reassure supporters that the problem wasn’t serious.
“For Toni, I think he will play with a mask,” the German said. “He trained on Saturday with a mask so it’s just about him getting used to it.”
When on the pitch the French midfielder is indefatigable. Yet Kante’s history of hamstring injuries means his workload has to carefully be managed by Tuchel.
The 30-year-old was Chelsea’s standout performer in Madrid last week; he produced a customary all-action display and was deservedly received the man-of-the-match award from UEFA.
Kante started the game against Fulham on the substitutes bench but was introduced with 25 minutes to play to help the Blues see out the game. It was a light workout for the World Cup winner in truth. He will be fresh and ready for Real.
It was after the first leg that Tuchel admitted the Italian midfielder was struggling due to fatigue. “You can see that Jorginho is very, very tired and a bit overloaded,” the German told Chelsea TV. “You feel this in the decision-making, in some easy ball losses.”
Chelsea’s head coach attempted to rectify that ahead of the second leg. With Kovacic still a doubt, Tuchel opted to rest Jorginho on Saturday.
The 29-year-old was in the match-day squad against the Cottagers but wasn’t called upon. With more than a week to recover, Jorginho should be sharper at Stamford Bridge tomorrow.
The 22-year-old’s durability is incredible – since the start of the 2017/18 campaign, Mount has made more than 200 appearances for club and country. And yet he continues to get better.
Mount, just as he was under Lampard, is an integral part of Tuchel’s side. If he’s fit, he plays. That’s why it was no surprise to see the academy graduate in the starting XI against Fulham, a game in which he fashioned Chelsea’s opening goal.
The England international was replaced in the second half by Kante after injuring his back following a nasty landing. But he should, as always, be ready to take on Los Blancos tomorrow.