Just as we will do for Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal leg 1 between Manchester City and PSG, we’re looking at Tuesday’s Chelsea-Real Madrid match-up from the combined XI angle.
Real Madrid is seemingly running on fumes and has its offensive issues, but has some veterans who belong in this XI.
Overall, though, Chelsea seemingly has the better, healthier overall roster, while RM obviously has a decided advantage in Champions League experience.
Overall, the line here (RM is -122 to advance, while Chelsea is +100) tells us to expect a close one, and I agree.
Now for the XI!
MANAGER: Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid)
I hate to take anyone ahead of Thomas Tuchel considering what his team has accomplished since his hire in January.
In fact, I think Zidane stands out as the only option I’d even consider over Tuchel.
But Zidane’s well-known accomplishments in this competition (newsflash: RM won the Champions League under Zidane in ’16, ’17 and ’18) outweigh, by an eyelash, what I’ve seen from Tuchel and Chelsea since January.
Now seems like as good a time as any to point out that while the lack of offense RM showed vs. Real Betis in a bad 0-0 draw on Saturday hurt (if not doomed) their La Liga title aspirations, there’s a silver lining. Zidane chose to rest Toni Kroos, who’s expected to start against Chelsea. Having (rested??) Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric is huge for RM, which has some question marks along the back line and up top.
I have to admit that against a team as good as Chelsea, I’m not convinced the following will suffice. But how many big games has Zidane won this year relying on the formula of incredible play by Thibaut Courtois + dominance from that grizzled midfield + a moment or two of genius from Karim Benzema?? The answer? More than he’s had any business winning.
We’re going with a 4-3-3.
Keeper: Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid)
The giant Belgian (he’s listed at 6-foot-7, but often seems even taller than that) has had an excellent follow-up campaign to his tremendous ’19-20 season. With 15 clean sheets in 33 La Liga games, and four shutouts in 10 Champions League appearances, Courtois remains one of the most imposing keepers in Europe.
Can his stature spook a group of Chelsea forwards (especially Timo Werner) who have had some issues finishing their opportunities this season?
To his credit, Chelsea’s Edoaurd Mendy (15 clean sheets in 28 EPL starts) would be the choice against most keepers – and has thoroughly outperformed Kepa – but I give a slight edge to Courtois.
Back line: right back Reece James* (Chelsea), centerbacks Thiago Silva (Chelsea) and Raphael Varane (Real Madrid), left back Ben Chilwell (Chelsea).
Real Madrid only has two first-choice starters (Raphael Varane and Dani Carvajal) on its back line for Leg 1. Sergio Ramos and Ferland Mendy would not only represent clear upgrades over Eder Militao and Nacho, they would likely be in this combined XI – though Ben Chilwell would possibly keep his spot even if Mendy was available.
Without their best defenders available, Varane is the only healthy RM player I’d take over the Chelsea defenders who have held up so well since Tuchel took over.
James barely beats Antonio Rudiger (honorable mention) to this spot.
Midfield: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Luka Modric (Real Madrid), N’Golo Kanté (Chelsea)
The midfield has been Real Madrid’s biggest strength all year, as Kroos and Modric have rarely shown signs of the career mileage they’ve both logged. Casemiro has a lot to do with how much trouble opponents have scoring on RM, but I give a sliight edge to Kanté ahead of the Brazilian.
Forwards: Mason Mount (Chelsea), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Hakim Ziyech (Chelsea)
While Benzema has an undisputed place among this trio, none of his teammates even deserve consideration. He has spent yet another season waiting for Vinicius, Marco Asensio, Eden Hazard, etc., etc. to step up.
As for the Chelsea players who I’d line up alongside Benzema, why not Mason Mount and Hakim Ziyech. Mount gets the nod because he’s had an excellent season, while Ziyech rounds out the XI because … AJAX FOREVER.
Jokes aside, Ziyech should be a terror on the right side against either Nacho or – if Zidane is feeling bold – Marcelo. Regardless of who steps in for Mendy at left back for RM, I expect massive contributions from Ziyech.
It brings me no joy to say it, but it just seems hard to imagine Tuchel starting Christian Pulisic. I should add that FWIW, I’d love to be wrong on that.
SUMMARY (AND PREDICTION TIME!)
As that line indicates, this one feels evenly matched. We also have a close one on our hands based on this list, as our “XII” features six guys from each side.
Ultimately, though, I’m picking against RM – and all that experience – due to the injuries sidelining Ramos and Mendy, at least for Leg 1. Neither team will score with ease, but Chelsea will find a way to advance to the UCL final, 3-2 on aggregate. Expect an incredibly physical and hard-fought battle that won’t offer many highlights.