Manchester City punched its ticket to the Champions League final after Tuesday’s win over Paris Saint-Germain. On Wednesday, we’ll find out if Premier League rival Chelsea or Spanish juggernaut Real Madrid will meet the global power in the May 29 title match Atatürk Olympic Stadiumin in Istanbul.
Chelsea and Real Madrid played to a 1-1 draw last time out in the Spanish capital, with the visiting side getting a huge away goal from Christian Pulisic. Now, the Blues hope to close out Los Blancos at Stamford Bridge.
As for the Cityzens, manager Pep Guardiola’s side cruised to a 2-0 win over PSG in the other semifinal matchup. Riyad Mahrez scored both goals for Manchester City, which will be seeking its first UCL championship.
Our soccer analysts have pinpointed three plays for this intriguing contest. Let’s take a look at their featured picks.
|Jeremy Pond||First-Half Result — Draw (+102)|
|BJ Cunningham||Total Under 2 Goals (+135)|
|Anthony Dabbundo||Total Under 2.25 Goals (-106)|
Odds updated as of Tuesday night via DraftKings.
Jeremy Pond: Chelsea vs. Real Madrid — First-Half Result (Draw | +102)
- Odds available at DraftKings
So, I had a ton of confidence in my pick in Tuesday’s second-leg meeting between Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain. In fact, I had two strong plays for that confrontation and both wound up coming through as wins.
However, that confidence isn’t quite the same entering this beyond tricky affair between Chelsea and Real Madrid. These clubs played to a 1-1 draw at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in the opening leg, but the Blues had full control of the affair and should have come away with the victory.
Chelsea dominated the battle for expected goals, holding a 1.4-0.3 edge over Real Madrid in the opener. Just how stagnant — and downright nonexistent — were Los Blancos? Those 0.3 xG tied for the lowest output in their 45 matches across all competitions. The last time Real Madrid put up that same, low number was back on Jan. 9 in a scoreless road draw at Osasuna in La Liga play.
For me, I really don’t have a firm grip on which side is going to come out on top. Chelsea’s defense has been absolutely on point in UCL play, so it’s hard to see it crumbling so close to a berth in the finale. Yet, what if Karim Benzema displays not one, but two moments of brilliance (check out his goal in the first leg to see what I’m talking about) and Real Madrid steals it all on the road?
The one thing I do know is that this is going to be an ultra-tight opening 45 minutes. This will be an absolute chess match between talented clubs, so I’m finding value on the first half ending in a tie. I’m getting just above even money at +102 odds, so I will back that angle as my top pick.
I fully expect things to open up in the second half, presumably with Real Madrid going all out and pressing the issue in search for the victory. Let’s hope both sides come out compact and conservative, so we can cash this wager.
BJ Cunningham: Chelsea vs. Real Madrid — Total Under 2 Goals (+135)
- Odds available at DraftKings
The Blues defense was outstanding in the first leg. Outside of the Karim Benzema goal, Chelsea only allowed 0.31 expected goals from open play. That’s not out of the norm for the Blues, as the defense has been their strong suit under manager Thomas Tuchel.
Chelsea’s defense is allowing only 0.58 xG per match in the Premier League and Champions League combined since Tuchel took over at the end of January.
Tactically, Tuchel changed Chelsea’s system to a 3-4-2-1 formation from the 4-3-3 used by Frank Lampard, which has allowed Chelsea to become more unpredictable. The main objective of the 3-4-2-1 is to completely overwhelm opposing defenses by outnumbering them on the counterattack.
The formation did somewhat confuse Real Madrid, as Jorginho and Kante outplayed Real Madrid’s midfield, which is not something that happens often.
Los Blancos have been on a great run since the start of 2021, and continued it over the weekend, in a 2-0 home win over Osasuna. They held them to only 0.07 xG in the match. Rea Madrid has just one loss across all competitions and have put up a +18.18 xGD in the process.
Manager Zinedine Zidane tried to play a 3-5-2 system in the first leg due to the injuries to his defense. It’s a system that Real Madrid has not played in La Liga, but utilized in its second-leg match against Atalanta in the Round of 16.
My guess for the reason there was a change is that the system matches up against the 3-4-2-1 better than the 4-3-3, since Atalanta also plays out of a 3-4-2-1. It will be interesting to see if Zidane goes back to his patented 4-3-3 or sticks with the 3-5-2 in the second leg.
With Chelsea’s stellar defense only needing a 0-0 draw, I think this one is going to be very low scoring, so I am going to back under two goals at +135 odds as my top pick.
Anthony Dabbundo: Chelsea vs. Real Madrid — Total Under 2.25 Goals (-106)
- Odds available at DraftKings
Chelsea completely dominated the opening 45 minutes of first leg and were unfortunate to not be leading by multiple goals. Manager Thomas Tuchel’s 3-5-2 system, with Mason Mount pressing Toni Kroos and Timo Werner combining with Christian Pulisic up top, completely befuddled Real Madrid.
However, opposing manager Zinedine Zidane is an underrated tactician and his side made adjustments in the second half. This week, Los Blancos’ defense will be buoyed by the return of Sergio Ramos to the backline. Throw in the fact Chelsea is defending a lead and will do everything possible to prevent goals instead of score them, and I love under 2.25 goals in this spot.
This should be similar to the second leg between Chelsea and Atlético Madrid, where the Blues have periods of conservative possession and Los Blancos look to grab a goal off a set piece or counterattack. Real Madrid created next to nothing in the first leg and needed a moment of brilliance from striker Karim Benzema off a corner to score at all.
Tuchel had a great plan in place to take Vinicius Jr. away from exposing his backline by playing César Azpilicueta at right wing back. He’s likely to key in on Vinicius again, while defensive midfielder N’Golo Kante is unlikely to attack up the pitch as much as he did in the first leg.
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