Talking Tactics: Chelsea must ensure Real's Benz conks out
Karim Benzema was in unstoppable form at Stamford Bridge last week.
And Chelsea must prevent him from starring in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final to stand any chance over overturning a 3-1 deficit.
The Real Madrid striker's hat-trick was his second treble in as many games in the competition, taking his European total to a staggering 11 goals in just eight outings.
Ahead of tonight’s encounter at the Bernabeu, we take a look at how the Blues can keep the French forward quiet as they bid to turn their tie around.
Benzema has enjoyed a stunning season so far, netting 37 goals in just 37 games across all competitions.
He has been more than just a lethal goalscorer though, having also contributed an impressive 12 assists during that period.
His rare blend of penalty-box presence and creative link play are what make the Los Blancos No9 such a potent, well-rounded centre forward.
Giving Chelsea the Blues
Benzema’s aerial prowess was on full display at Stamford Bridge — the Real talisman netted two headed goals despite having a trio of Chelsea centre-backs to contend with.
The striker cleverly dropped deep to contribute to the visitor’s build-up play before timing his incisive forward runs perfectly.
The predatory poacher also pressed aggressively as the hosts attempted to play out from their own third and was eventually rewarded for his efforts when Edouard Mendy played a loose pass that the 34-year-old pounced on and rolled in for his hat-trick.
Unsurprisingly, Real manager Carlo Ancelotti was effusive in his praise for the Lyon native. He said: "Karim Benzema is getting better every day, just like a fine wine.
"He’s more of a leader every day, he feels more and more important in this team and this squad.
"And I think that’s what makes the difference. He has so much more personality, he knows he’s a very important player for us and he’s an example for everyone."
A change in formation?
Given the threat Benzema poses both in the box and just outside of it, the presence of the extra centre-back in Thomas Tuchel’s favoured three-man defence alone is clearly not enough to deny the striker space.
Perhaps adding an extra midfielder and switching from a 3-4-2-1 to a 3-5-2 would allow for a holding player — likely Jorginho — to sit in front of the back three and occupy the space that the 94-cap international likes to drop into.
Condensing the space between the defensive and midfield lines may also be an effective tactic — but the West Londoners are chasing the game and will need to be more expansive at times in this evening’s contest.
Cut off the supply line
Perhaps stopping Benzema does not have to be all about shutting him down directly.
In the first leg, the veteran marksman primarily linked up with left-sided central midfielder Toni Kroos, as well as with Luka Modric on the right of the midfield three.
Pressing those two players aggressively and disrupting their ability to find their attacking spearhead in dangerous pockets could cut off the supply line and diminish his effectiveness — as well as Los Blancos’ incision as a whole.
The two players likely to be tasked with this role are N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic, and big performances will be required from both in order to effectively suffocate two opponents of such quality.
If all else fails, what about a traditional man-marker?
Kante seems a prime candidate to provide the dogged, determined performance against his compatriot, but the 31-year-old’s lack of aerial presence may be a limiting factor.
In addition, Tuchel has spoken about his concern regarding Kante's physical workload and diminishing returns, which may rule him out of playing such a dedicated role.
Moving the taller Andreas Christensen or Trevoh Chalobah forward into a midfield role — where both players have been deployed on occasion — could be an alternative option.
But man-marking a striker of Benzema’s quality is no easy task, so the more experienced Christensen may be favoured over the younger Chalobah, if Tuchel chooses to go down this route.
No matter how he finalises his plan of attack, the German tactician could still be helpless if Benzema once again finds top gear.