Facing the unenviable task of trying to record a three-goal win over the reigning European champions, Chelsea host Real Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday night.
The teams renew hostilities at Stamford Bridge with Los Blancos boasting a 2-0 advantage from their Bernabeu showdown, and Frank Lampard’s homecoming has done little to end the Blues’ blues.
There is no shame in losing to the European champions in their own backyard, and Lampard could have taken a few positives from his side’s valiant efforts in the Spanish capital, where strikes from Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio led to a predictable victory for those in white.
However, the under-performing Blues were played off the park by Brighton & Hove Albion in Saturday’s Premier League clash – at one stage conceding 70% possession to the soaring Seagulls – as Conor Gallagher’s deflected strike was cancelled out by Danny Welbeck’s header and Julio Enciso’s rocket.
A 2-1 scoreline flattered Chelsea, according to Lampard, as the interim Blues boss admitted that his side were fortunate not to lose by more, and the 44-year-old now boasts an unsightly record of three defeats from three games in charge; Todd Boehly cut a dejected figure as he was given an earful from the Stamford Bridge faithful, as Lampard’s dream return turns into a nightmare.
Now winless in six successive matches since a 3-1 triumph over Leicester City under Graham Potter, Gallagher’s fortunate strike against Brighton at least managed to end a four-game streak without a goal for Chelsea, who did reverse a first-leg deficit against Borussia Dortmund at Stamford Bridge to progress to the last eight.
The West London giants have now advanced from five of their last seven Champions League ties in which they have lost the first leg away from home, but they have failed to win any of their last four Stamford Bridge games since seeing off BVB, and historical omens will count for nought unless Lampard’s side can suddenly find their best shooting boots.
Potentially playing his way into a contract renewal, Real’s bit-part winger Asensio came up with another telling contribution in Los Blancos’ trip to Cadiz at the weekend, a few days after drilling home his side’s second against Chelsea.
Ancelotti understandably rang the changes for Saturday evening’s clash with the bottom-half outfit, and patience was the name of the game for the La Liga champions, but Nacho Fernandez’s strike preceded another Asensio effort to keep their fanciful hopes of domestic glory alive.
A return to winning ways in the top flight allowed Real Madrid to cut the gap to Barcelona down to 10 points, but La Blaugrana have the chance to respond against Getafe on Sunday, and Ancelotti’s men would be forgiven for prioritising continental glory as the season approaches its home straight.
From their 19 Champions League knockout ties in which they have won the first leg by at least two clear goals, Real Madrid have progressed from 18 of them – only falling to eventual runners-up Monaco in 2003-04 – and even then Los Blancos were only knocked out courtesy of the now-abolished away goals rule after a 5-5 aggregate draw.
A sixth successive Champions League knockout win would also see Real Madrid set a new continental record, which have been bread and butter for the 14-time European champions, and their visit to Stamford Bridge 12 months ago ended in a 1-3 triumph – avenging a 2-0 loss away to Chelsea in the 2020-21 semis.
Chelsea Champions League form:
Chelsea form (all competitions):
Real Madrid Champions League form:
Real Madrid form (all competitions):
We say: Chelsea 1-2 Real Madrid (Real Madrid win 4-1 on aggregate)
Having witnessed Real Madrid’s defenders suffer an early capitulation at Anfield, the Chelsea faithful would do well to take a leaf out of Liverpool’s book and create a boisterous Stamford Bridge atmosphere, although such tactics are unlikely to intimidate Ancelotti’s crop.
It is not impossible to envisage Lampard’s side making the net ripple as they adopt a gung-ho approach, but a near full-strength Real Madrid with plenty of well-rested key players should march on to the final four and end the Blues’ hopes of finishing a troubled campaign on a continental high.