Chelsea must overturn a two-goal deficit at Real Madrid to salvage their Champions League defence after Karim Benzema’s hat-trick secured a 3-1 quarter-final first-leg victory over the error-strewn holders at Stamford Bridge.
Benzema dispatched two exquisite headers in three first-half minutes at a rain-drenched Stamford Bridge as Madrid set about avenging last season’s semi-final defeat to Thomas Tuchel’s reigning European champions in perfect fashion.
Kai Havertz grabbed a lifeline for Chelsea before half-time, but it evaporated 46 seconds after the restart when Edouard Mendy vacated his area and played an under-hit pass to Antonio Rudiger, who put Benzema’s hat-trick clinching goal on a plate.
Substitute Romelu Lukaku spurned two chances to reduce arrears as Chelsea’s comeback efforts came up short on a night of acute frustration which ended with the Blues’ Champions League defence hanging in the balance ahead of next week’s return at the Bernabeu.
Chelsea: Mendy (3), Christensen (4), Thiago Silva (6), Rudiger (6), James (5), Kante (5), Jorginho (6), Mount (5), Azpilicueta (5), Havertz (7), Pulisic (4).
Subs: Kovacic (5), Lukaku (5), Loftus-Cheek (5), Ziyech (5).
Real Madrid: Courtois (8), Mendy (7), Alaba (7), Militao (7), Carvajal (7), Kroos (7), Casemiro (6), Modric (7), Vinicius (7), Benzema (9), Valverde (7).
Subs: Nacho (5), Camavinga (5), Bale (n/a), Ceballos (n/a).
Man of the Match: Karim Benzema.
Chelsea Champions League defence hangs in balance
Chelsea’s attempt to blow Real Madrid away with a blistering start ultimately contributed to their early demise, with their eagerness to attack leaving chasms in midfield and at the back for Real to exploit, which they very nearly did inside 10 minutes, when Vinicius Junior rattled the crossbar.
- Reece James, Andreas Christensen, Jorginho and Christian Pulisic returned as Chelsea made four changes to the side humbled 4-1 by Brentford in the Premier League on Saturday.
- Federico Valverde and Dani Carvajal replaced Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez as Real Madrid made two changes following Saturday’s LaLiga win at Celta Vigo.
The hosts’ worst fears were realised on 21 minutes when Vinicius’ third successful take-on against Andreas Christensen ended with the Brazilian floating a cross into the area which Benzema emphatically headed home at the near post.
One quickly became two, with Benzema heading in Luka Modric’s sumptuous cross within three minutes to stun Stamford Bridge and leave Chelsea’s Champions League defence hanging perilously.
Madrid carved out further chances to deepen Chelsea’s plight, with Eder Militao heading straight at Mendy from a corner before Dani Carvajal’s shot squirmed agonisingly under the Chelsea goalkeeper and Christensen desperately cleared.
But having avoided further damage, Chelsea got themselves back into the game five minutes before the break, when Jorginho’s looping cross found the head of Havertz, and his effort evaded the diving Thibaut Courtois.
Chelsea’s hope would last less than a minute after the interval, with Benzema pouncing on Mendy’s moment of madness to intercept his weak pass to Rudiger and complete successive Champions League hat-tricks with a composed finish into the unguarded net.
Captain Cesar Azpilicueta forced a stunning fingertip save from Courtois as Madrid repelled Chelsea’s increasing desperate attempts to carve a route back into the tie. The introduction of Lukaku on 64 minutes looked to have given Chelsea the second lifeline they were after, but he headed two presentable chances wide as Madrid held on to their healthy first-leg lead.
Chelsea travel to Southampton in the Premier League on Saturday at 3pm, before travelling to Real Madrid for their Champions League quarter-final second leg on Tuesday at 8pm.