Chelsea travels meet Real Madrid for the second leg of their European quarter-final on Tuesday night, looking to complete a remarkable turnaround against this season’s Champions League comeback kings.
The reigning champions were thrashed 3-1 in the first leg at Stamford Bridge, with one legendary Frenchman doing the damage on the night, and either Manchester City or Atletico Madrid await them in the semi-finals.
There aren’t enough superlatives in the lexicon to describe Karim Benzema, the Real Madrid number nine who for so long was second fiddle to Cristiano Ronaldo at the Bernabeu but is suddenly stealing the show as Los Blancos chase domestic and European glory.
As if a hat-trick to eliminate Paris Saint-Germain wasn’t enough, Benzema made it back-to-back European trebles with an outstanding performance at Stamford Bridge, scoring two early headers with the aplomb of a seasoned centre-forward before taking home the match ball after Edouard Mendy’s uncharacteristic error.
With a 2-0 victory over Getafe, Carlo Ancelotti’s team secured a place in the semi-finals of this year’s championship and maintained their double-figure lead over the pursuing group in La Liga. It was their eighth win in nine games in all competitions.
Los Blancos have shown that their 4-0 Clasico thrashing at the hands of Barcelona was an anomaly, and they have only failed to advance in the Champions League after winning the first leg away from home once in the previous ten years – Ajax is still a sore spot for certain Bernabeu supporters.
Real Madrid is aiming for a second consecutive Champions League semi-final berth, and they have scored at least two goals in each of their past three home Champions League victories, but Chelsea responded with a goal-laden display of their own on the South Coast.
After such a disastrous first-leg loss, Chelsea’s title defense seemed to be in shambles, but Kai Havertz’s header has given the Blues a ray of hope, with the German coming up clutch in key games for the Blues once again.
Tuchel got the reaction he was hoping for against Southampton, whose error-strewn performance ended in a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Mason Mount (2), Timo Werner (2), Marcos Alonso, and Havertz, and the only consolation Southampton supporters could take from that 6-0 loss was that it didn’t end up being nine.
Tuchel couldn’t have asked for a better warm-up for his side’s journey to the Bernabeu, where they’ll have to do something no English team has ever done before if they want to stay in the competition: win by at least two goals.
Despite their recent failures at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea’s demolition job at St Mary’s was their eighth win away from home in all competitions, and they have only failed to score in one of their previous 15 Champions League games as the away team.
Real Madrid ended a five-match winless streak against the Blues in European play with a win at Stamford Bridge, and the burden is now on Ancelotti’s side to avoid repeating the humiliation they inflicted on PSG only a few weeks ago.
Despite going off at Stamford Bridge, Real Madrid centre-back Eder Militao was fine to play the full 90 minutes at the weekend, but the Brazilian will be on the naughty step this week as he serves a ban for an accumulation of yellow cards.
Eden Hazard, a former Chelsea player, is still in the medical room with Isco, but backup striker Luka Jovic has recovered from an ankle injury, while centre-back Jesus Vallejo is out with COVID-19.
Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are both refreshed after watching the win against Getafe from the substitutes’ bench. Ferland Mendy was rested at the weekend and should be fine to take Marcelo’s place at left-back, while Nacho Fernandez should fill in for the suspended Militao, and Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are both refreshed after watching the win against Getafe from the substitutes’ bench.
Chelsea have a similar number of fitness issues heading into the second leg, with long-term absentee Ben Chilwell certain to miss the match, as well as Callum Hudson-Odoi, who has had a setback in his recovery from an Achilles problem.
Romelu Lukaku missed the win against Southampton due to Achilles soreness and will miss the trip to Bernabeu, while Cesar Azpilicueta has tested negative for COVID-19 and is expected to travel. Ross Barkley, on the other hand, is now ill and unavailable.
At St Mary’s, Tuchel was able to get Havertz, Mount, and Thiago Silva off early, but Werner’s brace may not be enough to keep him ahead of Hakim Ziyech or Christian Pulisic.
Possible Line Ups
Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Carvajal, Nacho, Alaba, Mendy; Kroos, Casemiro, Modric; Asensio, Benzema, Vinicius Jr
helsea possible starting lineup:
Mendy; Christensen, Silva, Rudiger; James, Kovacic, Kante, Alonso; Ziyech, Mount; Havertz
Real Madrid 1- 4 Chelsea is our prediction.
Chelsea have previously proved that they can breach this Real Madrid backline, and will fancy their chances of doing so on more than one occasion with an attack-minded mentality and no Militao in the hosts’ lineup after regaining their golden touch against a mediocre Southampton.
Tuchel’s team must simply go for goals in the Spanish capital, but that approach will always leave them vulnerable to Vinicius Junior’s dynamism and Benzema’s brilliance on the break, and Real can nick a couple of goals of their own to put an end to Chelsea’s hopes of winning back-to-back European titles.
Real Madrid vs Chelsea starts at 3pm ET on Wednesday.