In a repeat of the 2020-21 Champions League semi-finals, Chelsea and Real Madrid now lock horns in the last eight of this year’s competition, with the first leg taking place at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night.
Thomas Tuchel’s side made it past Ligue 1 champions Lille 4-1 on aggregate to book their spot in the quarters, while Carlo Ancelotti’s men produced a phenomenal comeback against Paris Saint-Germain.
The continued uncertainty surrounding the Chelsea ownership debacle is doing the Champions League holders no favours, but the Blues’ defence of their crown is going swimmingly so far, with a dissatisfactory Lille side no match for their English counterparts in the knockout rounds.
Chelsea already had one foot firmly in the last eight after claiming a 2-0 win versus Les Dogues on home soil before their trip to the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, where Burak Yilmaz’s spot kick gave Lille a slight glimmer of hope before Christian Pulisic and Cesar Azpilicueta quickly dashed the Dogues’ dreams.
Up until the weekend, Chelsea had done a stellar job of focusing on their on-field endeavours, but Tuchel was at a loss to explain his side’s capitulation against Brentford, as the Bees ran out 4-1 winners at Stamford Bridge to leave the home fans shell-shocked in their seats.
Seeing their six-game unbeaten run in all competitions come to an end in such bitterly disappointing fashion is not what the doctor ordered before a meeting with Real Madrid, but not since the 2010-11 season have the Blues been knocked out in the Champions League quarter-finals – going down to Manchester United that year.
The Blues’ defence was breached at will by Brentford at the weekend, but Tuchel’s side enter the first leg having won each of their last five home games in the Champions League with five clean sheets to boot, with the first game in that sequence coming against their Spanish capital counterparts.
PSG’s penchant for seemingly impossible Champions League collapses has defined their European endeavours over the past few seasons, and Real Madrid became the latest side to frustrate Les Parisiens further with a phenomenal comeback in front of the Santiago Bernabeu crowd.
Ahead of an expected summer move to Madrid, Kylian Mbappe’s second audition started off swimmingly with the opening goal to put his side 2-0 up on aggregate, but fellow prolific Frenchman Karim Benzema’s timeless qualities shone through, as the 34-year-old took advantage of PSG’s defensive lapses to net a quickfire hat-trick and keep the Champions League dream alive for Real.
A side with 13 European crowns to their name dumping out a PSG side still searching for their maiden Champions League honour was an obvious result on paper, but one certainly could not have foreseen the drama that unfolded in the Spanish capital before Real were brought crashing back down to earth.
Being thrashed 4-0 by Barcelona in El Clasico was a sure-fire way to dampen the spirits, and Real were far from their best against Celta Vigo at the weekend, but a pair of Benzema penalties ultimately got them over the line for a sixth win in seven matches.
Victory at Celta also represents a third away win on the bounce for Los Blancos, who went down 2-0 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last term following a 1-1 stalemate at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, but the Blues will step out onto more daunting turf for the second leg this year.
Chelsea will have most if not all of their big-hitters available for the first leg of their quarter-final, although Ben Chilwell remains out for the long-term and Callum Hudson-Odoi is now dealing with a back problem as well as a sore Achilles.
Christian Pulisic was a late return from international duty and did not take part against Brentford, but the USA international is expected to come into contention here and will certainly put Timo Werner’s spot on the left at risk.
Reece James’s return to fitness is sure to lead Tuchel to consider a switch to a three-man central defence, while Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic will both hope to replace Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who will miss the second leg if he is booked here.
As for Real Madrid, Eden Hazard will be forced to miss out on a reunion with his former club after undergoing a fibular plate operation, while backup striker Luka Jovic and Isco are also absent.
Ancelotti is otherwise well-stocked for the first leg, although Eder Militao will not be available for the return leg if he is cautioned, and only one change could occur on the visitors’ end, with Dani Carvajal potentially displacing Lucas Vazquez at right-back.
Benzema’s hat trick against PSG saw him move onto eight Champions League goals for the season, and one more would see him set a new record for French players in a single campaign.
Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Mendy; Azpilicueta, Silva, Rudiger; James, Jorginho, Kovacic, Alonso; Ziyech, Havertz, Pulisic
Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Alaba, Mendy; Kroos, Casemiro, Modric; Asensio, Benzema, Vinicius Junior