Chelsea set up an all-English Champions League final with Manchester City as goals from Timo Werner and Mason Mount earned them a 2-0 win over Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues deserved no less than a 3-1 aggregate win against the Spanish giants. Across the course of 180 minutes Madrid were consistently inferior by a significant margin and it was only the profligacy of Chelsea across both legs that kept this from being a humbling for Zinedine Zidane’s men.
Werner’s struggles seemed to be continuing when he tapped into an empty net but only after drifting into an offside position but even with his confidence having been so thoroughly battered in recent weeks he could not miss when Kai Havertz’s lob over Thibaut Courtois bounced back off the crossbar and onto his head two yards out.
Madrid had their chances in the first half through Karim Benzema but twice he was denied by goalkeeper Edouard Mendy. After the interval Chelsea looked by far the more likely to score what would have been the tie’s decisive fourth goal, Havertz and Thiago Silva flashing headers slightly too high. Mason Mount should also have scored after a fine backheel by Werner but for once the youngster did not make the best of a crucial opportunity and blazed the ball over Thibaut Courtois’ crossbar.
Havertz spurned the best chance of the lot just before the hour, a simple ball over the top undoing the Madrid defense only for the German to put the ball too close to Courtois’ outstretched legs, and yet more were to come. But for the second, third, fourth, etc chances Chelsea handed their guests the Blues never seemed to lose their heads with Mount firing home the cutback from substitute Christian Pulisic in the 85th minute as Thomas Tuchel became the first manager to reach back-to-back Champions League finals with different clubs.
Chelsea keep Madrid at arms’ length
Early on this was not the Chelsea we have come to expect from Tuchel. They did not use possession as a defensive weapon but instead accepted that Luka Modric and Toni Kroos were going to have extended spells where they simply did not give the ball away. What they managed to do for most of the first half was restrict Madrid to long shots. Early in the half they came from the sort of players that the Blues would be relatively happy to let take them.
Modric and Kroos can certainly hit a ball from range but it is not a bad outcome from an extended spell of Madrid possession if the two midfielders are forced to try their luck from distance. Rather more problematic was when the ball came Benzema’s way. Madrid’s No.9 picked the ball up on the edge of the box in the 26th minute and in a blink of an eye had swiveled and curled a low drive towards Mendy’s near post. It took a sprightly effort from the goalkeeper to get down low and parry with his left hand.
His save from a bullet header by Benzema soon after was even better, Mendy bouncing high to push the ball over the bar to safety. Whenever the ball went near Benzema Madrid looked like they would score but the load on him seemed altogether too heavy with Eden Hazard offering little alongside him and Vinicius Junior having to fill in at wing-back on occasion.
As the game wore on Madrid looked to be out of ideas and energy, continually forced backwards by the intensity of Chelsea’s press as the cornerstones of their great success in recent years – Benzema, Modric, Ramos – found themselves making basic errors. Indeed there were occasions where it seemed like Zidane’s players had reached the conclusion that their only chance of getting back into this tie was to allow their opponents to have and miss so many chances that some form of narrative power would naturally gift them an equaliser. Needless to say it was not an effective tactic.
Kante runs the show
If Tuchel’s admiration for N’Golo Kante can grow at all it surely will do after yet another exceptional performance for Chelsea on the biggest stage. The World Cup and Premier League winner was man of the match in the first leg and was even better at Stamford Bridge.
No moment better typified everything that makes Kante one of the best dynamic midfielders in the world, if not the best, than his contribution to Werner’s opening goal. Picking the ball up on the turn he accelerated swiftly beyond Nacho, who flew so far beyond the Chelsea No.7 that he would never quite make it back to the play. A quick give and go with Werner and he was free to slip Havertz in behind at just the right moment.
The defensive qualities that have come to define Kante were on full display but this was a performance as much defined by his ability to drive Chelsea up the pitch, invariably making the right pass or running in a way to stretch the defense. Madrid simply could not keep up.
If there is one thing that Kante can’t quite do excellently it is finish and he was among a host of Chelsea players who might have killed off the tie early in the second half when he failed to clip a shot over the diving bodies of Federico Valverde and Thibaut Courtois. Still you suspect Tuchel might forgive him for everything else he has done to take his side to the final in Istanbul later this month.
Perhaps the most important medal missing from the Frenchman’s trophy room is within sight and on this form Kante could yet swing the game with Manchester City in Chelsea’s favor.