Zinedine Zidane will be held accountable. He always does so in the aftermath of Real Madrid’s losses, even though it is not his fault.
The Blancos manager trusted his instincts against Chelsea, recalling captain Sergio Ramos for just his third game since January 9, and his first in nearly two months. The 35-year-old was badly exposed during the game as the hosts outran their Spanish visitors, especially in the second half.
Zidane also chose Eden Hazard, inspired by the Belgian’s recent form, but the Belgian was unable to conjure even a smidgeon of the magic he so quickly conjured during his time at Chelsea. The coach’s most heinous offense, on the other hand, was his highly rare formation. Madrid has used a 3-5-2 formation at times this season, but not like this.
On paper, Zidane selected a squad that suited a 4-3-3 formation, but they lined up with Eder Militao, Ramos, and Nacho at the back. Instead of the regular set-up, Nacho and Militao moved big left and right, leaving Ramos alone in the center.
The only assistance he received came from Casemiro or Luka Modric running back to assist him, or from his other supposed center-back partners shuffling across. Was it any surprise that Chelsea repeatedly dismantled Real Madrid’s defense?
Just sloppy finishing prevented Thomas Tuchel’s side from converting their 2-0 victory into a much more humiliating scoreline for Zidane’s charges.
Madrid had more possession of the ball in the first half, but it was all they had to be happy for when Chelsea broke the deadlock well before the half-hour mark.
Ramos was left on his backside by Timo Werner and was unable to keep up with the Germany international, who returned home after Kai Havertz’s chip beat Thibaut Courtois and bounced back off the crossbar.
For Madrid, Karim Benzema twice came close, pressing Edouard Mendy into two fine saves, but apart from the French outlier, Zidane’s side gave none.
Hazard was muzzled on his return to Stamford Bridge. While Jorginho was booked for clipping his heels after a clean turn early on, and Vinicius Junior was fouling Ben Chilwell more than he was fouling him; not a perfect situation for Madrid.
The Brazilian had little resemblance to the magical performance that saw him net twice against Liverpool in the previous round. He was replaced in the second half by Marco Asensio, while Ferland Mendy was replaced by Fede Valverde.
At 1-0 down, Zidane had a chance to change his system and find a breakthrough, but his moves were identical. Only when he substituted Casemiro for Rodrygo late in the game did the coach attempt to adjust the scheme. This had simply not been effective from the outset.
It was too late by this point; the game’s dynamic could not be halted, and neither could N’Golo Kante.
The Chelsea midfielder, who assisted on the first penalty, was also crucial in the second. Mason Mount dispatched from near range. The English midfielder made amends for wasting a golden opportunity earlier in the game. But most of Chelsea’s side did as well, with Madrid torn to shreds.
This appeared to be a group-stage affair. With Chelsea playing one of Europe’s minnows rather than the historic 13-time European Cup champions.
Madrid is fortunate to survive with a 1-1 tie in the first leg. They should count themselves lucky that this did not end in a score of four, five, or six zero. Zidane’s setup was to blame because none of this ilk had happened even in their worst performances of the season.
On a humbling night for Florentino Perez and company, he did little to assist them.