N'golo Kante

Chelsea have the well-earned advantage after a 1-1 draw away at Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg.

On a sodden night at Estadio Alfredo Di Stéfano, the London side blitzed Madrid but missed several chances in the first 30 minutes. 

Christian Pulisic put the seal on Chelsea’s sensational start as he controlled a ball over the top and had the composure to round Thibaut Courtois for a well-deserved lead before Karim Benzema’s spectacular volley from a set-piece restored parity.

N’Golo Kanté’s second Man Of The Match against a Madrid side in the knockouts was a quality and energetic display in midfield, the Frenchman’s superb contribution at both ends of the pitch was key in the first leg.

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Chelsea’s midfield dynamo constantly ran rings around Madrid’s evergreen midfield trio of Luka Modrić, Casemiro, and Toni Kroos.

Los Blancos are record semifinalists with 30, and Chelsea by contrast are bidding to get to ‘only’ their third Champions League final.

The first half, however, showed Chelsea’s magnificent intent, the Londoners pressed aggressively as a unit and relentlessly beat Madrid’s knackered players with runs off the ball.

Thomas Tuchel will also fancy his team’s chances. He is now unbeaten in five meetings with Zinedine Zidane, and will look to continue that record next week.

Chelsea’s were the better side for a team considerably less experienced at this level than their hosts.

Kanté embodied everything good about the Blues on the night, as the second half was a more cagey affair in the pouring rain.

Chelsea defended well in the periods when Madrid threatened, and they thwarted the lines usually utilized by Madrid’s craftsmen. Kanté’s world-class ability was key in that area. 

Tactical Showdown

Zidane mirroring Tuchel’s back-three admittedly surprised the Chelsea camp, but Madrid’s players were clearly uncertain of it, too. 

During Chelsea’s spectacular opening exchanges, they got in behind Madrid, played balls over the top and Real’s most creative players, Kroos and Modric, were out of the game. 

All thanks to intense pressing from the trio of Kanté, Jorginho and Mount.

It was essential. Liverpool had capitulated in the quarterfinal first leg here due to a ridiculously high defensive line and a lack of pressing in midfield.

No matter what Madrid tried in the game Kanté was there to apply pressure and force them into mistakes. Then exquisitely broke lines with incredible ease when in possession, constantly surging at the Los Blancos defence and creating havoc with his buzzing presence. 

It was vintage Kanté all over again, no one can determine the flow of a big game quite like he does. 

Tuchel had demanded his players to show their ‘top level’ against the record European Champions, and with Kanté, they certainly looked the part.

Christian Pulisic
Christian Pulisic’s spectacular away goal gives Chelsea hope of reaching the final in the return leg.

With Madrid desperately needing to score and Sergio Ramos likely to return at Stamford Bridge, Kanté would once again be decisive for Chelsea.

Zidane must find a way to unlock the defence behind Kanté. Wherever that is, he would be rest assured his compatriot is there to break things up and push his team forward. 

With the 30-year-old around, these things are easily said on paper. 


Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin

Chief Editor of the Football Castle, Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin is a football junkie and writer of the beautiful game.


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