Courtois, Benzema and the void

Hazard, after losing a ball to Jorginho.

The image of Casemiro substituted with a quarter of an hour to go symbolized the dimensions of the game crisis that Madrid suffered at Stamford Bridge and throughout the tie against Chelsea. In the last two seasons, the Brazilian had only been relieved four times in his 85 games as a starter, and whenever that happened it was because victory was assured. At that point in the game, the whites needed a goal to start extra time and the middle is the team’s second highest scorer, with seven goals, but the same thing happened. The inferiority in the center of the field before the army of Tuchel was such that Zidane opted for a practically unprecedented decision.

Surpassed and exhausted, the core, key so many days this campaign, had no response to the effervescence blue. In reality, only Courtois and Benzema offered it in a sustained way in the two duels. Too little to catch a Champions League final against a rival so armored that he only suffered from his lack of goal. English rule was widespread.

“I delayed failure,” said the Belgian goalkeeper on Wednesday, subjected to almost constant harassment both in Valdebebas and in London. From his great stop to Werner as soon as the first leg started, the white goalkeeper lived in a woe. Chelsea fired 10 more total shots in the tie than Madrid (26-16) and only with those fired in the second leg (15) almost equaled their rival throughout the crossing.

Courtois added seven saves in the 180 minutes, one of them in a heads-up with Havertz early in the second half at Stamford Bridge that stretched his team’s life until near overtime. On the other shore, Mendy’s life was calmer. He left five interventions, although only two demanding in his stadium to Benzema, of course. In the first leg he did not make any (the only shot between the three clubs ended up inside).

Up to 10 players trailed behind three centrals throughout the tie and, except for Militão in the first leg, no one offered certainties. The initial suffering of Madrid worsened this Wednesday, also because the patch that Zidane arranged made water. He chose a left winger (Vinicius) as a right-handed lane and then he was relieved by Valverde, who had just come out of 14 days confined by the covid. He played back Sergio Ramos, who had barely played three games with the team in all of 2021 due to two injuries that have kept him out for 92 days. He did the same with Mendy, who had not played for three weeks and whose lack of set-up was just as evident as with the captain. Too many conditions in a plot that had already lost Varane, Lucas Vázquez and Carvajal.

No one was freed from the torture, not even Militão and Nacho, strongholds in recent weeks. The Brazilian, after his great performance in Valdebebas, ended up in London as the Real Madrid player with the most missed passes (10) and the most lost balls (15). His partner was the second on the lap with the worst records in these two sections (9 and 14). Marcelo and Odriozola, present at the Di Stéfano, were dodged in the enclosure blue.

The Casemiro-Modric-Kroos trio, decisive in most of the big events, broke down before the exuberance of the Jorginho-Kanté duo. Either breaking the high pressure line or waiting further back, Tuchel’s boys ended up devouring a badly worn midfield. The most he could sign in the entire tie was a nil match in the second half at home.

Casemiro and Kroos’ reliability cracked badly. In London, the Brazilian was the one who missed the most passes of his (10) and the German, the one who lost the most balls (14), to which should be added the 12 from the first leg. His laziness contrasted with the might of Kanté, probably the player in the semifinals. On the return, the two goals were born from him. The first mocking Casemiro’s harassment, who admitted his superiority without hesitation: “There is no explanation or excuse.”

The Madrid forward is now a beautiful garden (Benzema) and a huge desert (the rest). Sometimes the former manages only to scratch a tie in the only shot on goal, as in the first leg, but the demands of a semi-final demanded much more. As in the last month, there was no more activity than that of the French. Of the six shots between the three clubs of the whites throughout the crossing, half were theirs and the only harmful ones. The goal and two good chances in London, to which we should add a shot at the post in Valdebebas that was invented out of nowhere.

Almost everything he had to produce himself because the center of the field was short-circuited and his teammates in the attack did not say a peep. On the return leg, Zizou once again resorted to Hazard, who had just returned from one of his recurring injuries (accumulated 172 days off this course). And like last August at City’s home, he completed almost the entire game and his performance was transparent: one shot and two dribbles. His half hour at Di Stéfano had already yielded an almost blank statistic. That day, Benzema’s companion was Vinicius, which neither: no shots. And Asensio, substitute in both games, nothing changed: he barely missed 19 good passes, zero dribbles and one shot attempt.

With this overall balance, perhaps the merit was reaching the last five minutes in the absence of a goal to stay alive. Courtois and Benzema were not enough.

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