Chelsea FC will take on Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final, pitting the two clubs against each other for the second straight season.
Chelsea defeated Madrid 3-1 on aggregate in the semifinal of last year’s competition en route to a 1-0 win in the final over Manchester City. The teams will set up with the same basic structure, although there will be a few notable changes.
Real Madrid has never beaten Chelsea in a regulated match but will be looking to right this wrong when the teams meet for the first leg on April 6.
A rematch from last year
The first leg in last year’s matchup was an ugly 1-1 draw overshadowed by the monsoon rains of Madrid. American Christian Pulisic opened the scoring in the 14th before Karim Benzema responded with a brilliant strike in the 29th, and from there, the game was as sloppy as imaginable for the two of the four best teams in Europe, at that point.
The second leg at Stamford Bridge saw the Blues come out with more fervor than they showed in the treacherous conditions in Spain; Kai Havertz glanced the woodwork twice before Timo Werner ultimately capitalized on a rebound in the 28th minute, at which point Chelsea began to sit back and defend for its lives.
Mason Mount put the nail in the coffin in the 85th minute by tucking a cross from Pulisic into the top corner after the American had done a nifty bit of work on the right side.
Pundits were low on Chelsea last season, but they are no longer benefiting from hunting in the shadows; if anything, Chelsea is the most hated team in this competition because of the dissension surrounding owner Roman Abramovich, a Russian native who has been sanctioned by the English government for his ties to Vladimir Putin.
Abramovich put the club up for sale a couple of weeks ago— today is the final day for bids to be submitted.
The Blues got a taste of what they can expect for the foreseeable future on Wednesday when the LOSC Lille crowd serenaded them with boos and jeers during the match. Chelsea went on to win 2-1 and advanced 4-1 on aggregate.
Chelsea-Real Madrid history
Real Madrid is the most winning team in the history of the Champions League. They also have a much-improved side that features David Alaba and an ascending Vinicius Junior, all under the steady stewardship of legends such as Benzema, Luka Modric, and Toni Kroos.
Chelsea successfully booked its ticket to the final last season largely because of N’Golo Kante’s ability to minimize the impact of Modric, Kroos, and Casemiro, seemingly by himself at times. Chelsea usually operates with a double-pivot in the midfield, which means that Kante and one of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic will be playing two-on-three against Madrid.
Benzema is far and away the most clinical goalscorer in the matchup, whereas Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel faces an interesting dilemma with his team selection.
The Blues have won five straight games on the back of excellent performances from Kai Havertz, who has four goals and an assist during this stretch. Havertz’s history as an attacking midfielder allows him to knit together the attack when he is deployed as the lone striker.
On the other hand, $124.3 million striker Romelu Lukaku is known as a man that can find goals in a hurry, although he has fallen out of favor after controversy and poor performances. Lukaku has no goals or assists in his last seven appearances.
Whoever advances out of the quarter-final will face the winner of Manchester City and Atletico Madrid, which will pit the attacking flair of the English champions against the defensive structure of the Spanish champs.
The first leg will kick-off on April 6, and the second leg will commence on April 12.