Sport

Romelu Lukaku’s instinctive close-range finish proved the difference between the Champions League winners and our opponents from Saudi Arabia

Romelu Lukaku’s instinctive close-range finish proved the difference between the Champions League winners and our opponents from Saudi Arabia, though the Belgian’s ninth club goal of the season told only a small part of the semi-final story.

The Blues were in control in the first period and finally broke the deadlock just after the half-hour mark, seemingly denting Al Hilal’s resistance and paving the way for a comfortable win.

However, Kepa Arrizabalaga was forced to come to our rescue after the interval with a couple of outstanding saves to preserve a clean sheet, his seventh of the campaign, and set up a meeting with the Copa Libertadores winners Palmeiras in Saturday’s final.

Second-half shift

There was an evident contrast between the two halves at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium and that was also borne out in the match statistics, with Chelsea dominant and creative before the break and then under pressure when holding onto a lead in the second 45 minutes.

Two-thirds of our 15 shots, three of our five efforts on target and 11 of our 18 attempted crosses all came prior to the half-time whistle, while our share of possession also dropped from 62 per cent to 45 per cent after the restart.

This was partly down to the state of play, the Blues ahead and Al Hilal forced to push forward for an equaliser, although dropping ever deeper to defend our lead rather than threating to extend our advantage was perhaps not what most expected.

The only exception was Kai Havertz’s clever effort that struck the outside of the post moments into the second period; had that opportunity been taken by the scorer of the Champions League-clinching goal that booked our place at this global tournament, then the narrative might have been slightly different.

Counting the duels

As noted by coach Zsolt Low after the game, part of the shifting tide in the second half was attributed to Al Hilal gaining the upper hand in duels, both aerially and on the ground.

In the first half, the Blues led the duel count 46-26 before a turnaround to 32-35 in the Saudi Arabian side’s favour after the break.

This allowed our opponents to enjoy more of the ball and start to carve out chances on goal, the best of which came from Mohamed Kanno as his powerful strike was palmed behind by a brilliantly agile stop from Kepa.

Al Hilal finished the game with six more tackles than us, while their tally of completed passes trailed ours by just 69 by the time the final whistle sounded.

Kovacic the controller

While his midfield partners were alternated at the break as N’Golo Kante replaced Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic was present throughout and played an important role in dictating play from the centre of the field

No Chelsea player registered more touches (84) or completed more passes (61) than the Croatian, who also won both of his aerial duels, made two key passes and two successful take-ons.

The 27-year-old’s all-round performance saw him named Man of the Match by FIFA and he will be looking to lift the Club World Cup for the third time in his career when we take on Brazilians Palmeiras this weekend.

Faultless on the flank

While Kovacic helped bring calmness and control to the midfield, Hakim Ziyech’s industry and inventiveness down the right was a constant source of inspiration for the Blues.

He had more shots (four) and created more chances (three) than any other Chelsea player on the pitch, while also finishing with the most tackles (three), highlighting both his creative and destructive intent.

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