Real Madrid’s midfield is the envy of most sides in Europe. Even
the very best would love to have Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and
Casemiro in their ranks.
Yet last week against Chelsea that trio was overshadowed by one
man: N’Golo Kante.
The 30-year-old was at his best against Los Blancos in the first leg
of the Champions League semi-final, which ended in a 1-1 draw.
Christian Pulisic was on target for the Blues and Karim Benzema
struck for the home side.
Kante’s ability to read the game coupled with his energy and
mobility caused the trio of Kroos, Modric and Casemiro problems.
If he wasn’t stepping in to reclaim the ball on the edge of his own
penalty area, the Frenchman was making runs into the final third
and breaking past the Real Madrid midfield with the ball.
“There was a lot of praise for Kante,” AFP’s Spanish football
reporter Tom Allnutt tells football.london. “The idea of dynamism in
the midfield is a very live point at the moment in Spain.
“Obviously in Modric, Kroos and Casemiro, Real Madrid have a
legacy three and they won so much together. But at some point,
they are going to have to stop.
“And Barcelona, their midfield has been an issue for three or four
years. The question continue to be asked as to whether Sergio
Busquests is mobile enough defensively to stop counter-attacks,
especially in big European games?
“So there is somewhat of a longing for a player like N’Golo Kante
because he is a midfielder that can be everywhere and perform
multiple roles in one game.”
Tomorrow’s game at Stamford Bridge is Chelsea’s biggest for
many a season. Ninety minutes is all that separates the Blues from
a third Champions League final in 13 years.
Pulisic’s away goal ensures Thomas Tuchel’s side have the
slightest of advantages going into the second leg. But as Allnutt
explains, that will not faze Real Madrid.
He said: “Chelsea were effectively the better team in the first leg
and when they played at their highest level, I didn’t feel that Real
Madrid could keep up. And there’s no reason to suggest Chelsea
can’t find that level again at home either.
“Obviously with the away goal, they’re in a good position within the
tie. But on the flip side – with my Spanish football hat on – there
was a feeling here that Real Madrid had survived when they had to.
“Across 180 minutes of football, every side is going to have ups
and downs. What Real have perfected in the Champions League in
recent years is being able to come through the storm and then
when the wind is behind them, to take full advantage.”
There will be returns to Stamford Bridge for two former Chelsea
stars. Thibaut Courtois left the Blues under a cloud in the summer
of 2018 having forced through a move to the Bernabeu. The
following year, Eden Hazard departed for a fee of around
Hazard has struggled since leaving west London. Injuries have
restricted him to less than 40 appearances since signing for Real in
the summer of 2019 and he hasn’t yet produced his best for the
The 30-year-old returned from a muscle injury just days before the
first leg. But he started in the 2-0 win over Osasuna at the weekend
and is expected to be included in the Real Madrid side by Zinedine
Zidane on his return to Chelsea.
And Allnutt says Hazard will likely be a far bigger threat in the
second leg than he was in the first.
He explained: “He played 70 minutes at the weekend and was very
“His final details weren’t the best and looked like a player that was
still searching a bit for his best form.
But he was involved a lot in
what Real Madrid were doing, which hasn’t always been the case.
“He’s sometimes been a bit of a passenger but he looked eager at
the weekend, a player keen to make an impression. And given he
started and played 70 minutes, I think it’s more likely he’ll start on
“With those extra minutes under his belt, it’s suddenly more likely
he can have an impact in the game.”
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