Karim Benzema scored a hat-trick in Real Madrid’s 3-1 victory over Chelsea in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final Wednesday.
“They’re very important goals,” said Benzema after the match. “I’m happiest to have scored the third as I missed one in the first half and I was thinking about that chance because it’s very important to score goals.”
The end of the 90 minutes marked the first time that Real Madrid has defeated Chelsea in organized competition, most recently falling 3-1 on aggregate in the semi-final of last year’s Champions League stage. The La Liga leaders will take a two-goal advantage over last year’s competition-winners into the second leg of the tie, scheduled to take place in Madrid next Tuesday.
Benzema’s brilliance steals the show
Karim Benzema broke the scoring with a powerful, long-range header in the 21st minute. Vinicius Junior flashed his pace down the left-hand side and delivered a looping cross that still left the French international with a lot of work to do— the ever-reliable goal-scorer managed to work enough power onto the header to beat Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy at his near post and open the scoring.
Less than three minutes later, Benzema glanced another header into the opposite side of the net, this time via a teasing Luka Modric ball that floated just over the head of defender Thiago Silva. The Madrid captain managed to arrow the header past an outstretched hand from Mendy while backpedaling and leaning backward to catch the ball.
Kai Havertz continued his immaculate form by turning in a header very similar to Benzema’s second in the 40th minute and bringing his side within one at halftime; however, whatever tactical adjustments Thomas Tuchel made at halftime quickly became irrelevant as Mendy under-hit a pass while standing outside of his box, leaving Benzema to easily pick up the scraps and pass the ball into an open net.
Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta filled in at left-back and had a phenomenal strike from outside the box denied by a jaw-dropping save from Madrid keeper Thibaut Courtois in the 50th minute. The longtime Chelsea defender sweetly hit a ball that had come his way and sent it curling away from the Belgian goalie, almost perfectly in line with the upper-right corner, only to be left wondering what could have been.
The Blues made a couple more attacking chances, most notably bringing on Romelu Lukaku, who had two phenomenal looks at the goal on headers but could not find the range on either.
Chelsea did not fall without a battle; they were the aggressor to start the game, remained unfazed by Benzema’s first-half brace, won the possession battle (57-43%), created more chances (20 shots to eight) and had a higher expected goals (xG) total than the Spaniards.
The last of these is a fair reflection of the match as the disparity in xG, designed to calculate the likelihood of a team scoring from a certain area of the pitch in the given context, showed the advantage of having a world-class striker in the lineup. Real Madrid did not need many opportunities to take their chance, whereas Chelsea, playing without a true number-nine, could create but not finish.
Eder Militao will be out via yellow-card disqualification for the second leg, leaving David Alaba and likely Nacho to play in the middle of the backline. This could prove problematic for Madrid, who has struggled to defend against crosses and looked especially susceptible to their English challengers.
Chelsea can be expected to play with more speed and intensity in the next match; Andreas Christensen and Jorginho were quickly withdrawn from the match after being overrun by Madrid’s speed and were ultimately replaced with two quicker options.
Real Madrid is likely to sit back and defend more than usual during the next match in an attempt to protect their two-goal lead, but they still have a vicious counter-attack threat with Vinicius and Benzema— who has now scored a hat-trick in consecutive Champions League matches— leading the attack. Chelsea, meanwhile, can be expected to continue overloading the flanks with their wing-backs and continue to get balls into the box.
Next Tuesday’s match will kick off at 3:00 p.m. ET inside Santiago Bernabéu.