Chelsea’s season on brink of collapse as Madrid take control

MADRID — Real Madrid took control of their Champions League quarterfinal tie against 10-man Chelsea with a 2-0 first-leg victory at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.

The Blues began brightly with Joao Felix missing an excellent early chance before Real began to assert themselves. Karim Benzema broke the deadlock with his 90th Champions League goal on 21 minutes as Carlo Ancelotti’s side penned Chelsea back in their own half for long periods.

Ben Chilwell was shown a straight red card on 59 minutes after pulling back Rodrygo as he bore down on goal, heaping further pressure on the Blues to keep the hosts at bay. Substitute Marco Asensio doubled Real’s advantage 16 minutes from time with a low drive, and Benzema missed a good chance late on to kill the tie, which instead just about remains alive ahead of next Tuesday’s second leg at Stamford Bridge.

Rapid reaction

1. Chelsea’s season is on the brink of collapse

Blues co-owner Todd Boehly was interviewed after leaving a lunch with Real Madrid executives confidently predicting a 3-0 Chelsea win in Madrid. That optimism looked potentially well-placed in a bright opening 15 minutes during which Chelsea appeared a major threat on the counterattack, but as is the story of their season, the Blues failed to make their best spell of the game count.

Once Benzema put Real in front and Raheem Sterling missed the chance to hit back immediately, it was essentially a case of how many the home side would score.

By half-time, Real had recorded eight shots on target: the joint-most that Chelsea have faced in the first half of a Champions League game since such record began in 2003. By full-time, Chelsea had faced 10 shots on target, their most in a match in the competition since November 2012 against Juventus (13). Chilwell’s red card palpably restricted Chelsea’s ability to compete, but the self-belief visibly drained away from these players, underlining the fragility that contributed to Graham Potter’s departure 10 days ago as head coach.

The only silver lining here is that they weren’t on the end of a heavier defeat and the tie remains alive. Mason Mount had a stoppage-time shot brilliantly blocked by fellow substitute — and former teammate — Antonio Rudiger, in a painful reminder of not only the defensive resolve Chelsea currently lack but also the team’s travails in front of goal. To turn this around next Tuesday, they will have to actually score, something they now haven’t done in more than 400 minutes of football.

In that same interview with Boehly, his message to the fans was to “have a lot of faith” in what he described as a “very long-term process.” Many of them poured out of the Bernabeu with 15 minutes remaining in a visual demonstration of just how that faith is likely to be tested in the coming weeks.

Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

The second leg is next Tuesday, and with the prospect of qualification for any European competition fading fast — they currently sit 11th in the Premier League — the storm clouds are continuing to gather over Boehly and his club.

2. Benzema hurts an English team yet again

Benzema is built for the Champions League knockout stages. His 90th goal in the competition was his 14th in his past nine knockout games, and yet again an English club was on the receiving end of his ruthless finishing. Remarkably, the 35-year-old’s past 11 Champions League goals have come against Premier League opponents: Chelsea (five), Liverpool (three) and Manchester City (three).

Benzema netted four times across last season’s quarterfinal tie against Chelsea, and his 21st-minute opener was one of the easiest he will ever score, tapping in after Kepa Arrizabalaga could only parry Vinicius Junior‘s volleyed effort. Benzema has scored 20 goals against English opponents in the Champions League — only Lionel Messi (27) has more to his name.

Chelsea will be sick of the sight of him.

3. Lampard’s system failure

Manager Frank Lampard opting to go with a 5-3-2 shape made some sense given it restored 38-year-old Thiago Silva — making his first appearance since Feb. 26 — to the heart of defence while it theoretically provided greater protection on the flanks. Gambling on N’Golo Kante‘s fitness on just his second start for seven months was also a no-brainer in the circumstances. But wing-backs Chilwell and Reece James were caught in no man’s land all evening, unable to provide any potency in attack while leaving Wesley Fofana exposed against Vinicius.

That vulnerability ultimately led to Chilwell’s dismissal.

Marc Cucurella, brought on as a substitute moments earlier, lost Rodrygo in behind and Chilwell only had sufficient recovery pace to haul down the winger for an obvious straight red card. Fofana was booked after just five minutes, leaving him walking a disciplinary tightrope for the majority of the game as Vinicius repeatedly attacked.

It is arguable whether Chelsea, in their current mess, could have got anything out of this game no matter how they lined up, but Lampard’s plan backfired.

The situation was even harder with 10 men, but Lampard responded by taking off Sterling — Chelsea’s quickest player — and reshuffling into a 5-3-1 with Kai Havertz operating in front of Kante, Enzo Fernandez and Mateo Kovacic. Sterling had a torrid evening, but Lampard opted against keeping him up front or using the pacy Mykhailo Mudryk, and the lack of pace in that foursome only invited further pressure and Asensio scored Real’s thoroughly deserved second goal within 15 minutes of Chilwell’s dismissal.

Best and worst performers

BEST: Vinicius Junior, Real Madrid. A constant menace down Real’s left flank to the extent he will appear in Fofana’s nightmares.

BEST: Toni Kroos, Real Madrid. Quietly efficient in possession, completing 76 of his 81 passes and helped control the tempo of the match in Real’s favour.

BEST: Rodrygo, Real Madrid. Not as effective as Vinicius but helped expose Chelsea in wide areas.

WORST: Ben Chilwell, Chelsea. Offered nothing going forward and left his teammates to play the final half hour with 10 men after hauling down Rodrygo when through on goal.

WORST: Raheem Sterling, Chelsea. Missed a chance to equalise after Benzema’s opener and spent the rest of the game on the periphery.

WORST: Marc Cucurella, Chelsea. Forced into action following Kalidou Koulibaly’s injury but failed to adapt to the pace of the game and lost Rodrygo for Chilwell’s red card.

Highlights and notable moments

The ball in from Dani Carvajal was just out of the Chelsea defenders’ reach, Vinicius was just able to redirect it on goal, and Kepa was just able to get his fingertips to it, but Benzema made no mistakes with the rebound.

After the match: What the players/managers said

Ancelotti: “We are satisfied with the result, the performance, but it’s not over yet. We have to fight at Stamford Bridge for another 90 minutes, we have to be ready for this. We’re satisfied, but only for tonight. It’s not over yet, we know Chelsea will try to give everything next week.”

Lampard: “There were some good things, but the result is the reality. I just said to the players, special things can happen at Stamford Bridge. They’re a very good team, but we have to believe.”

Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)

– Benzema is now the fourth player to score 90 Champions League goals along with Cristiano Ronaldo (140), Messi (129) and Robert Lewandowski (91).

– Benzema’s goal was his sixth against Chelsea in the Champions League, twice as many as any other player (Messi, Lewandowski, Ronaldinho, Edinson Cavani, Samuel Eto’o, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Fernando Morientes each have three).

Up next

Real Madrid: Los Blancos travel to the south of Spain for a LaLiga contest at Cadiz on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+).

Chelsea: The Blues return to the English capital on Saturday, when they’ll welcome Brighton & Hove Albion to Stamford Bridge for a Premier League showdown.


Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar