The Champions League has reached its business end as the last 8 teams gear up for a grueling two-legged quarter-final tie against each other. The current holders Real Madrid host crisis-hit Chelsea in a tie that has seen the two teams play against each other in each of the last 2 seasons in the competition. The winner of the tie, when these two sides have met each other, has gone on to lift the trophy at the end of the season the last couple of years, and a similar storyline could be on the card this season too.
The hosts head into the game on the back of a 3-2 loss against Villareal at the Bernabeu which further inflicted damage in their pursuit of winning La Liga as they are 13 points behind league leaders FC Barcelona with 10 more games to go. Ancelotti’s men have had an underwhelming domestic campaign so far has been inconsistent and also failed to win the Super Copa de Espana against their bitter Blaugrana rivals. They did however manage to progress through to the final of the Copa Del Rey allowing them to win silverware this season even though their focus will also be on the Champions League as they yet again stand a chance to win the competition in back-to-back seasons.
Chelsea on the other hand also head into the game on the back of a defeat as the managerial change didn’t bear any fruit as they yet again succumbed to a defeat. Lampard’s first match as Chelsea manager in his second stint at the weekend ended in a dull 1-0 defeat to 13th-placed Wolverhampton Wanderers in a game that saw them have just 1 shot on target throughout the 90 minutes. A disappointing return for the club legend and the only chance to revive the already disappointing season is by producing a miracle in the Champions League against the current champions Real Madrid. The pressure will not be on the Blues as they head into the fixture being heavy underdogs whose miserable domestic season has by no means affected their Champions League performances so far as they have tasted defeat just twice in the competition since the group stage.
When and Where?
Date: 12th April, 2023.
Time: 7:00 PM GMT.
Venue: Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid.
Referee: Francois Letexier.
Assistants: Cyril Mugnier, Mehdi Rahmouni.
VAR: Tomasz Kwiatkowski.
Assistant VAR: Willy Delajod.
Fourth Official: Stephanie Frappart.
Real Madrid just have one player in the treatment room as Ferland Mendy is still recovering from a calf injury. Ancelotti rested 4 key first-team players in the defeat against Villareal at the weekend with Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Eder Militao, and Eduardo Camavinga all fresh and fit to return to the starting XI. Federico Valverde remains a doubt for the game as he allegedly was involved in a brawl with Villareal defender Alex Baena after the two exchanged words. The latter has filed a police complaint for the same and it remains to be seen whether Valverde will be able to be involved in his side’s quarter-final game.
Lampard will be a happy man heading into this season-defining two-legged tie as he welcomed back Thiago Silva and Mason Mount to first-team training and the duo have also traveled to Spain with the squad. N’golo Kante made his injury return against Liverpool last week and was rested at the weekend which means he will be raring to go against Real Madrid and is expected to start in the middle of the park for the Blues. Ben Chilwell was also on the bench against the Wolves and could make his return to the starting XI.
The winners of the two previous editions of the competitions will go head to head and it will be the master against his apprentice as Ancelotti will go head to head with his former player Lampard. Plenty of storylines for this one but the focus will be on the pitch with the tactical battle between the two being the key focus. Ancelotti will deploy his usual 4-3-3 with a more or less fully fit squad while there could be surprising changes for the Blues.
Lampard’s first game at the weekend saw the return of the 4-3-3 though it was a rather disappointing tactical tweak as the team lacked creativity and failed to create any tangible chance to open the scoring throughout the game. The Englishman is expected to revert to a 3 at the back system to counter the Galacticos’ 4-3-3 similar to what we say Thomas Tuchel do last season in the quarter-finals against the same opponents. Chelsea lost over the two legs on aggregate but the Blues had a spirited performance at the Bernabeu which will go down as one of the best European performances in a while as they almost managed to overturn a 3-1 first-leg deficit. It wouldn’t be surprising if we see Lampard trying to replicate the same tactics to outplay the hosts as the midfield trio of Mason Mount, Mateo Kovacic and N’golo Kante completely outclassed Real Madrid’s midfield of Casemiro, Kroos and Modric. This time though the midfield trio could be different with Enzo Fernandez, N’golo Kante and Mason Mount deputizing in the 3 man midfield in the middle for the Blues.
Real Madrid have won their last 5 European games at home and Chelsea were the last European team to beat them on home soil. The hosts have also scored in every European home game since 2018 and the game promises to be a goal fest given the attacking firepower the two sides possess. Chelsea have a remarkable record against current European champions as their last loss against the reigning champions came in the 2004/05 season against Porto. This record could be on the line and Lampard will need his side to deliver a top defensive display to keep Madrid at bay to stand a chance to fight and seek revenge for the last season’s defeat exactly a year since the two sides met at Bernabeu last season.
The Frenchman’s return to 100% match fitness could be the difference between the two sides. The 32-year-old’s return against Liverpool saw the Blues play with much-needed confidence and his presence all around the pitch after seven months of absence due to injury helped the Blues create plenty of clear-cut chances even though their miserable finishing let them down. Kante’s performance against Madrid in the title-winning 2020/21 season went down as one of his best ever in a Blue shirt winning him the Player of the Match award while also helping the Blues in the final third with his runs off the ball and his ability to win back possession in dangerous areas of the pitch to start swift counter-attacks. These qualities will yet again be needed by the Blues and the fans will be hoping another Kante masterclass can guide their side to a win and get the tie back to the Bridge next week.
The Frenchman requires no introduction as to why he is his side’s key player. His goal-scoring exploits have continued this season as he has scored 17 goals in 24 appearances with injuries disrupting his impeccable run of form. With 3 goals against the Blues over two legs in their last quarter-final encounter last year, Benzema will be geared up yet again inflict damage on the already leaky Chelsea defence.
Real Madrid(4-3-3): Courtois, Militao, Rudiger,Alaba, Camavinga Tchouameni, Kroos, Modric, Vinicius Jr, Benzema, Rodrygo.
Chelsea(3-4-1-2): Kepa, Fofana, Silva, Koulibaly, Chilwell, Enzo, Kante, James, Mount, Felix, Mudryk.