Chelsea are set to face the toughest of tasks with one last ditch effort to reach the Champions League semifinals. They’re a side woefully out of form and consumed by crisis off the pitch and need to overcome a two-goal deficit against reigning champions Real Madrid. If last week’s first leg is anything to go on, Frank Lampard’s side don’t have a hope. They looked like what they are, a midtable Premier League side hopelessly outmatched by a major European force.
Still the Blues refuse to give up hope, they remember as well as anyone else how quickly Champions League games involving Real Madrid can swing. Granted that tends to be in the favor of the 14 time champions but perhaps sooner or later someone will do to Los Merengues what they have done to so many other sides in recent years and claim a victory that seems to be beyond them. Here’s our storylines, how you can watch the match and more — and while you’re at it, sign up for our new newsletter covering the beautiful game in all its glory, including updates about the most important stories in the sport, here.
Real Madrid: Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Alaba, Camavinga; Kroos, Modric, Valveder; Rodyrgo, Benzema, Vinicius Jr.
Chelsea: Kepa; Cucurella, Chalobah, Silva, Fofana, James; Enzo, Kante, Kovacic, Gallagher; Havertz.
Last time out
The first leg of this contest rather felt like Champions League against Conference League, such was the gulf between the two teams. Indeed that distance was all the more apparent because Madrid did not play that well and Chelsea did not commit any great errors until Ben Chilwell was sent off in the second half. Indeed there were a few things that Frank Lampard might have felt he got right in the second game of his second spell in charge; Enzo Fernandez dropped shrewdly into space between the Madrid lines and N’Golo Kante was a dynamo from the outset.
However, Joao Felix and Raheem Sterling did not make much of their early attacks. The same could not be said of Karim Benzema, who bundled home the rebound from Vinicius Junior’s stabbed shot in the 21st minute. That goal rather deflated Chelsea, who were chasing shadows even before Chilwell saw red just before the hour, hurling Rodrygo to the ground after substitute Marc Cucurella had brought panic to the Chelsea rearguard. Marco Asensio added a second from outside the box off a well-worked corner and ultimately Chelsea were lucky that was all the damage from a grueling night.
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Chelsea: As has so often been the case, Chelsea’s on-field issues have been overshadowed by events off the pitch, in the dressing room to be precise. After it had been reported on Monday that Todd Boehly, Behdad Eghbali and Hansjorg Wyss had been in the dressing room after Saturday’s atrocious 2-1 loss to Brighton — a result the former reportedly termed embarrassing — goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga revealed that it was actually a regular occurrence for the owners to venture into the inner sanctum post-match. Not only that, Lampard viewed it as something to be welcomed.
“For me, there was some criticism of our old owner [Roman Abramovich] about not coming and being around — and that wasn’t always true, to be fair,” said the Chelsea interim manager. “When an owner is very invested in the team and wants to help and improve, it’s his prerogative to have the input that they want. I remember, as a player, the moments of when owners came into dressing rooms. It happened first here at Chelsea and it never really happened here before. I remember being happy that you could touch them and high-five them, you could listen to them and feel them. I don’t think that’s a bad thing in terms of the identity of the club and where you want to get to.”
Nevertheless, there will be plenty of supporters who question whether this is another example of their owner embarrassing their club. Fans cringed at the prediction of a 3-0 win in Madrid that turned out to be way, way wide of the mark and there will already be those who question how a £600 million spending spree has left Chelsea so ill-prepared to compete in the Champions League. Punters sat above the directors’ box at Stamford Bridge on Saturday fumed at Boehly. It is hard to shake the sense that that ire won’t ease.
Real Madrid: Such drama is hard to find at Madrid, where the focus has long since switched to the cups with La Liga Barcelona’s for the taking. Ancelotti was able to rest the likes of Vinicius Junior, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos for Saturday’s 2-0 win at Cadiz; in their absence, Marco Asensio rose to the occasion with his second goal of the week.
“Asensio may have played less but he always delivers,” said Ancelotti, who has been a consistent backer of the 27-year-old in his time in the Madrid dugout. “He is a decisive player because he makes the difference in games with goals and assists.” That quality may not be enough to earn Asensio a starting spot on Tuesday but should the need arise, the Spaniard can be trusted to deliver.
Player to watch
Chelsea, Enzo Fernandez: If Chelsea are to have even half a chance against Madrid they are going to need to be able to create an avalanche of chances, enough to make up for the fact that no one in their frontline seems to be in the right vein of form at the moment. To do that they will need more of the penetrative passing that Fernandez delivered in the early knockings at the Santiago Chelsea vs. Real Madrid: Live stream, how to watch, TV channel, odds, pick, time, starting lineups.
In his impressive first flushes, Fernandez unleashed Felix and Reece James with penetrative passing into the right space, asking uncomfortable questions of auxiliary full back Edouard Camavinga. Dropping deeper, he evaded Madrid’s authoritative central midfielders and was relatively immune to the pressure of Karim Benzema. After a while, the opposition cooled this supply line as Luka Modric got closer to Fernandez. Without his penetrative quick passing, Chelsea simply might not get into position to score the goals they desperately need.
Real Madrid, Vinicius Junior: It is surely a matter of when, not if, Vinicius enters the conversation for football’s biggest individual prizes. Continue on the trajectory he has been on in the Champions League knockout rounds and it may even come before the season was out. With two of Europe’s most highly-regarded young defenders — Reece James and Wesley Fofana — ahead of him and N’Golo Kante covering much of the Real Madrid left, he breezed to goal at will. His 19 touches alone were almost twice as many as the entire Chelsea team. Vinicius could probably have added as many more as he wanted, so hard did the opposition find it to get the ball off him.
Suddenly it does not even feel that crazy to hear Real Madrid great Guti claim that Vinicius is currently better than Kylian Mbappe. Certainly, it prompts questions as to where the Paris Saint-Germain superstar might fit into the team if he were to make the long-trailed move from the Parc des Princes to the Santiago Bernabeu. Right now, this is becoming Vinicius’ team. And rightly so.
Real Madrid might be masters of the comeback when that is what is required but they are no less effective at killing off ties when they are in the ascendancy. This promises to be something of a rerun of their win over Liverpool in the round of 16 second leg, a shrewd, patient affair in which they ease through with energy to spare. PICK: Chelsea 0, Real Madrid 1.
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