Analysis

The Debrief: Deeper defending and non-stop screening get the job done in Europe

How N'Golo Kante and Jorginho ran the show against Porto | The Debrief Extra

Following Chelsea’s advance to the Champions League semi-finals with a 2-1 aggregate victory over Porto, we’ve selected the standout statistics from the second leg to analyse some of the major talking points…

Thomas Tuchel admitted afterwards that it had not been a spectacle for those watching on but the German’s priority was guiding his team into the last four of Europe’s premier club competition and our goals in the initial meeting a week earlier were enough to make that a reality.

As the ‘home’ side in Seville, we were resilient, dogged and mature with the stakes at their highest. Mehdi Taremi’s spectacular bicycle kick proved the game’s solitary goal and it was the only time Edouard Mendy was beaten across three hours in the tie. Ultimately, that defensive strength was enough for the Blues once again.

Sitting deeper and doing things differently

The two-legged nature of European knockout football often throws up nights like this, where Chelsea’s players celebrated a defeat and Porto were knocked out despite winning the game. That owed everything to our performance six days earlier, when goals from Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell had handed us a commanding advantage in the tie.

Tuchel’s approach to defending a two-goal lead was understandably more conservative than had we been chasing a victory. Compared to the first leg, our three-man central defence sat slightly deeper, with N’Golo Kante and the wing-backs encouraged to spring forward whenever we recovered possession to join the three forwards in attack.

The possession statistics were reversed from the week before, with Porto enjoying 55 per cent of the ball, the most of any side against us under Tuchel’s charge. Yet with the Portuguese champions needing to score at least twice, they didn’t muster a shot on target on Mendy’s goal until the 65th minute, which was indicative of the control we had in the contest.

Midfield screeners

Mateo Kovacic’s injury sustained in the final training session before the game was a blow to Tuchel’s plans and so Jorginho was left to step up in offering the midfield aggression often provided by the Croatian.

Mostly known for his composure on the ball, the 29-year-old was commanding and combative at the heart of the team. His eight completed tackles was the most by a Chelsea player in a Champions League game for three years, and the second-highest all season in the entire competition, while a dozen duels won was a game-high tally.

In possession, he offered his usual calmness and precision in the face of an aggressive and relentless Porto press. No player on the field had more touches (97) and no Chelsea player played more passes (65) than the Italian.

Meanwhile, N’Golo Kante started alongside him and was typically omnipresent throughout the evening, anticipating danger and stifling attacks in front of the back three, while also offering an attacking outlet when charging forward on the counter-attack.

As a duo, they worked brilliantly in tandem as our midfield engine ran smoothly and carried us into the semi-finals.

Pulisic takes the heat

Only two of the Chelsea starters in Seville (Cesar Azpilicueta and Thiago Silva) have played in a Champions League semi-final before, underlining the relative youthfulness and European inexperience of this Blues side. However, there were no nerves or anxiety on show from Tuchel’s side, who demonstrated a maturity in both collective and individual performance that belied their years.

Christian Pulisic typified that approach with his selfless work for the team. The American completed four dribbles and two key passes, both game-high figures, though it was his ability to win free-kicks and relieve pressure at the back that proved so valuable to last night’s efforts.

In fact, he was fouled a staggering 11 times in total throughout the game, the most recorded on a single player in a Champions League game across the past five seasons.

While Pulisic may well be counting those cuts and bruises this morning, it was Chelsea who ultimately delivered the knockout blow in the tie and our battle for Europe’s crown continues. The Blues are now three games from glory.

Other stats of interest

We had seven goal attempts in the game but just one effort on target. The others were blocked (four) or wayward (two). Porto’s eight efforts on goal included two on target.

The Blues saw no bookings in the game which means, given yellow cards are wiped after the quarter-final stage, that no player will be suspended for the semi-final.

Chelsea have now reached the Champions League semi-finals for the eighth time, more than any other English side in the competition’s history. We will be aiming for a third appearance in the final when we take on either Liverpool or Real Madrid in the last four.

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