Chelsea call for brave hearts

Courage needed as Tuchel braces for Real fight, with Ramos back in fold

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel has refused to criticise his misfiring striker Timo Werner (near left) ahead of today's semi-final, second-leg match against Real Madrid, which is finely poised at 1-1.
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel has refused to criticise his misfiring striker Timo Werner (near left) ahead of today's semi-final, second-leg match against Real Madrid, which is finely poised at 1-1.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Chelsea welcome Real Madrid to Stamford Bridge today with much to do to reach the Champions League final after failing to land the killer blow when the 13-time European champions were on the ropes in last week's first leg.

A 1-1 draw in the Spanish capital still gives the Blues the upper hand, thanks to their away goal, but Thomas Tuchel's men could have had a much more convincing advantage but for a tale of two strikers.

As has consistently been the case throughout his debut season with Chelsea, Timo Werner missed a glorious chance in the first leg, provoking criticism from the wife of his teammate Thiago Silva.

"Every team I go to there is a striker who keeps missing goals," Isabelle da Silva posted in a since deleted Instagram story video.

Tuchel yesterday insisted he would continue to keep faith in the misfiring German international, who has netted just three goals since the turn of the year, but that might be a gamble as Real will be lining up with a far more clinical forward.

A half-chance in the first leg was all Karim Benzema needed to grab his 28th goal of the campaign, becoming the joint-fourth highest goalscorer in Champions League history.

The visitors were also boosted by their injury list easing up, naming Federico Valverde, Ferland Mendy and captain Sergio Ramos in their travelling squad yesterday.

They will miss Lucas Vazquez, Raphael Varane and Dani Carvajal but Tuchel believes the return of the trio, who were absent for the first leg, changes the complexion of the tie.

"Yes, a lot. It's the captain of the most successful team in recent years. We cannot lose our heads about this decision. I think he will start and we must prepare for that," the German said at his pre-match press conference yesterday, adding Mateo Kovacic was his only absentee.

"I am not sure if they will play 5-3-2 again, maybe they will go 4-3-3. From this decision, things change. I believe that it is not about formation, what Real Madrid play, it is about how we play. Are we brave enough? Are we courageous enough?

"It is a semi-final, a knockout game, so to arrive with a level of belief and confidence is necessary, or we will have no chance."

  • 2012

  • Chelsea last reached the Champions League final in 2012, when they won their only European Cup.

On the likelihood of Werner to again lead the line despite his goal-shy record, Tuchel added: "I believe that Timo absolutely wants to score more, we all have to accept sometimes strikers miss chances. This is part of the game.

"Everybody needs to step up to take responsibility for scoring. This will come maybe with more time, self confidence. I am pretty relaxed about it and trust my players, no matter who starts tomorrow."

Chelsea last reached the Champions League final in 2012, when they won their only European Cup, and Tuchel has the chance to go a step further than last season as the former boss of beaten finalists Paris Saint-Germain and taste glory in Europe for the first time.

Acknowledging he was enjoying the pressure-cooker environment, the German, whose side are also fighting for a top-four place in the Premier League and are in the FA Cup final, said: "I never felt like this competition is our holy grail since I arrived (in January) but I felt that this club is about winning. It does something to you, you feel it."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2021, with the headline 'Chelsea call for brave hearts'. Subscribe