Chelsea take on Real Madrid in the Champions League for the first time this evening. And the stakes couldn’t be higher for Thomas Tuchel and his players.
The Blues face Los Blancos in the last four of the competition knowing they are potentially just 180 minutes from reaching this season’s final in Istanbul.
It’s the sort of challenge that Tuchel relishes and he expects his Chelsea players to continue their good form and produce another mature display on the European stage.
“Sometimes, in circumstances playing against a big, experienced team and a huge club in European competition like Real Madrid, maybe the next step is to keep the level and not to over-expect from us,” he said.
“I truly believe that we showed against Tottenham, Liverpool and Atletico and Porto that we are capable of consistently producing high-level football, in all questions that are asked on the pitch in offensive and defensive terms.
“So the challenge is for me more to produce it again, and to keep the level up. This is more the question than adding another step.”
Tuchel will have to disappoint several players tomorrow; he can only select 11 to start the game after all. And here is how we think the German will set up his Blues side against Los Blancos.
Edouard Mendy will start in goal. The Senegal international has featured in all but one of Chelsea’s Champions League matches this season and has only conceded two goals.
Cesar Azpilicueta should line up on the right side of the back three. The Spaniard was used at wing-back in the victory over West Ham United but is expected to revert to a centre-back role given Los Blancos do not pose the same aerial threat.
In the heart of the defence will likely be Thiago Silva. The 36-year-old’s experience and assuredness will be needed against the 13-time European champions. On the left of the back three will be Antonio Rudiger, who has become a key figure in the side under Tuchel.
Reece James played less than ten minutes against West Ham on Saturday and will almost certainly start at right wing-back. On the left should be Ben Chilwell, who has produced several impressive displays in recent weeks.
There is no Mateo Kovacic available for Tuchel and that makes it far easier to pick a central midfield duo. Jorginho and N’Golo Kante played at the weekend and will do so again against Real Madrid.
Mason Mount has established himself as Chelsea’s most consistent performer and will win Player of the Year when it’s time to vote. The England international will start in the Spanish capital and will likely occupy the role on the right of the front three.
Through the middle, expect to see Kai Havertz. The German was rested at the weekend and his ability to drop off the front line but also break behind should pose Raphael Varane and Eder Militao problems.
Who starts on the left is a tricky decision for Tuchel. Timo Werner struck his first goal in two months against West Ham and will be pushing for a start. However, given he undertook the pre-match media duties, it’s likely Christian Pulisic is given the nod.
Predicted Chelsea side vs Real Madrid: Mendy; Azpilicueta, Silva, Rudiger; James, Kante, Jorginho, Chilwell; Mount, Havertz, Pulisic