Seeking to spark a phenomenal turnaround against this season’s Champions League comeback kings, Chelsea visit the Bernabeu for the second leg of their European quarter-final tonight.
The defending champions head to the Spanish capital after being sunk 3-1 in the first leg at Stamford Bridge, with one illustrious Frenchman doing the damage on the night as either Manchester City or Atletico Madrid lie in wait in the semi-finals.
There are not enough superlatives in the dictionary to describe Real Madrid number nine Karim Benzema, who played second fiddle to Cristiano Ronaldo for so long at the Bernabeu but is now stealing the spotlight as Los Blancos seek domestic and continental glory.
As if one hat-trick to dump Paris Saint-Germain out of the competition was not enough, Benzema made it back-to-back European trebles with an extraordinary showing at Stamford Bridge – scoring two early headers with the aplomb of the seasoned centre-forward that he is before taking home the match ball after Edouard Mendy’s uncharacteristic mistake.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side have one foot firmly in the semi-finals of this year’s competition and also ensured that they retained their double-figure advantage over the chasing pack in La Liga with a straightforward 2-0 success over Getafe – their eighth victory from nine in all competitions.
Los Blancos have certainly proven that the 4-0 Clasico thumping at the hands of Barcelona was little more than an outlier, and only once in 10 previous occasions have they failed to make it through in the Champions League when winning the first leg away from home – Ajax still rings a bitter bell for some Bernabeu supporters.
A second successive semi-final appearance is now within Real Madrid’s sights, and they have struck at least two goals in each of their last three Champions League wins on home soil, but Chelsea did manage to respond with a goal-laden showing of their own on the South Coast.
The defence of their crown is seemingly in tatters after such a catastrophic first-leg loss, but Kai Havertz’s header has at least given Chelsea a slight glimmer of hope, with the German coming up clutch in the big games for the Blues once again.
In dire need of a response to home defeats to Los Blancos and Brentford, Tuchel got the reaction that he was hoping for against Southampton, whose error-strewn performance ended in a 6-0 hammering 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 is that it did not end up being nine.
Tuchel could hardly have asked for a better warm-up for the trip to the Bernabeu, where they will have to pull off a feat that no English team has ever done before if they are to remain alive in the competition – win at the ground by at least two goals.
In spite of their recent collapses at Stamford Bridge, the demolition job at St Mary’s represented Chelsea’s seventh win away from home in all competitions, and they have only failed to score in one of their last 15 Champions League games in which they were billed as the away team.
Victory over the Blues at Stamford Bridge saw Real Madrid end a five-match winless hoodoo against the London club in European competition, and the pressure is now on Ancelotti’s men to avoid suffering what they inflicted on PSG only a few weeks ago.
In the other quarter final tie, Bayern Munich host Villarreal. – MoleSports