Following an enthralling and rain-soaked first leg in the Spanish capital, Chelsea prepare to welcome Real Madrid to Stamford Bridge for the second leg of their Champions League semi-final battle on Wednesday night.
The tie is delicately poised following a 1-1 draw at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano last week, during which Christian Pulisic’s opener was cancelled out by an equally impressive Karim Benzema finish.
Both European powerhouses enjoyed 2-0 victories in league action at the weekend, as Chelsea overcame Fulham while Los Blancos comfortably swept aside Osasuna.
The raucous crowds of the Bernabeu have witnessed some historic Champions League ties in years gone by, and while the players may never get used to behind-closed-doors games at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, the first leg was a real treat for the neutrals.
After Timo Werner had added to his alarming catalogue of gilt-edge chances missed, the ever-impressive Pulisic took it upon himself to break the deadlock after a ball over the top from Antonio Rudiger, as the American winger left Thibaut Courtois sprawling before firing home past Raphael Varane and Nacho Fernandez.
Serial Champions League winner Zinedine Zidane saw his defence carved open at will by Tuchel’s bright attacking forces, but Chelsea’s lead lasted all of 15 minutes as European veteran Benzema netted his 71st Champions League goal – and a stunning one at that – to restore parity just before the half-hour mark.
The net rippled for the final time on the night with Benzema’s thunderous effort, as Chelsea took a potentially priceless away goal back to London for the second leg, and their most recent outing at Stamford Bridge saw Kai Havertz steal the show in a routine 2-0 success over Fulham in the Premier League.
The Blues’ top-four destiny is firmly in their own hands with only four games of the domestic season left to play, and a third-placed finish is not beyond the realm of possibility either, but a Champions League winners’ medal after only six months in charge would go a long way to securing Tuchel’s long-term future in the Chelsea hotseat.
Benzema’s stunning equaliser is the only goal that Chelsea’s resilient defence has conceded in their last five games across all competitions, but while Tuchel’s unbeaten away record is still intact, he has already witnessed West Bromwich Albion upset the odds at Stamford Bridge.
Defeat in the second leg of their quarter-final tie with Porto represents the Blues’ only loss of this season’s Champions League so far, though, and they are yet to concede more than one goal in a single game in the 2020-21 tournament – keeping seven clean sheets and conceding just four times in their 11 continental matches so far.
Istanbul is on the horizon, and defence may be the best form of attack for Tuchel given that his side simply need to hold on to what they have on Wednesday. However, only two of their five Champions League games at home this season have ended in victory, as Frank Lampard could not mastermind wins over Sevilla or Krasnodar at Stamford Bridge in the group stage.
Out of the last seven times that Chelsea have avoided defeat in a Champions League first leg away from home, they have advanced to the next round in five of them, but Atletico Madrid managed to break that trend by dumping them out of the 2013-14 tournament, and Real will hope to follow in the footsteps of their local rivals this week.
Zidane certainly knows a thing or two about success in the Champions League, and amid intense speculation surrounding his Bernabeu future, the Frenchman would do well to propel Real Madrid back to the top of the continental game this time around.
Los Blancos have managed to banish the demons of their back-to-back last-16 exits in 2019 and 2020, and in the previous three times that Zidane has overseen a Champions League semi-final, his side have progressed on all three occasions, with their spate of dominance between 2016 and 2018 yet to be replicated.
Only three celebrated names in Marcello Lippi, Carlo Ancelotti and Sir Alex Ferguson have reached the final more times, but Zidane’s front men must find their shooting boots if they are to help their manager join that illustrious crowd, and Real had to rely on two unlikely scorers to get them over the line against Osasuna.
After a goalless 76 minutes on Saturday, centre-back Eder Militao rose highest to head home the opener before his compatriot Casemiro made sure of the win four minutes later, and that 2-0 win sees Real pile the pressure on Atletico Madrid at the top of the La Liga standings.
At least one of Barcelona or Atletico will drop points in their mouthwatering top-of-the-table clash next weekend, which leaves the door open for Zidane’s side to boost their own hopes of glory, but Los Blancos must only focus on the task at hand at Stamford Bridge before they can dream of more La Liga silverware.
Not since a shock 2-1 home defeat to Levante on January 30 have Real Madrid lost a game in any competition – embarking on a remarkable 19-game unbeaten run since then – and Madrid travel to London having kept five clean sheets in their last six matches.
Los Blancos have also shipped just nine goals in their 19-game unbeaten run – a statistic that becomes all the more impressive when taking into account the absences of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane – and no team has managed to breach Zidane’s defence more than once in a match since Levante’s surprise win over three months ago.
Real’s hot streak also includes a run of six Champions League games unbeaten, although they have drawn their last two, but Zidane’s side cannot play for another stalemate as they bid to reach their 17th final in Europe’s elite competition, where 13 of their 16 so far have ended with Los Blancos lifting the trophy aloft.
Zidane’s men have already managed to keep a clean sheet on English soil this season – although they had some wasteful Liverpool finishing to thank for that – but it is at the other end of the pitch where Benzema and co must shine if they are to book their spot in the showpiece event against Manchester City.
Chelsea Champions League form:
Chelsea form (all competitions):
Real Madrid Champions League form:
Real Madrid form (all competitions):