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Preview: Real Madrid vs Chelsea – prediction, team news, line-ups

Santiago Bernabeu forms the backdrop for the first leg of a mouth-watering Champions League quarter-final tie between defending champions Real Madrid and out-of-sorts Chelsea on Wednesday.

For the third season on the trot, these two European heavyweights will lock horns in the Champions League knockout stage, with the winners of the last two ties going on to conquer the competition.

With both sides running well below their seasonal goals in domestic championships, going the distance in Europe’s most prestigious tournament could be the only saving grace, especially for Chelsea.

Frank Lampard kicked off his interim managerial tenure at Stamford Bridge with a dismal 1-0 loss at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday, which left the Blues languishing in the lower reaches.

As they risk missing out on a top-half finish in the Premier League for the first time since 1995/96, avenging last season’s quarter-final elimination against Madrid is their best chance to settle fans’ nerves. 

However, Carlo Ancelotti’s men are well-documented ‘Champions League specialists’, and not even a 3-2 home league defeat to Villarreal at the weekend could be insufficient to dampen their enthusiasm ahead of this clash.

That result has likely sealed Madrid’s fate in La Liga, letting pacesetters Barcelona go a whopping 12 points clear at the summit with a game in hand. 

But they can always find a welcoming distraction on the European front. 

Match Preview

After strolling to a top-table finish in Champions League Group F, Madrid made light work of Chelsea’s fellow Premier League adversaries Liverpool in the round of 16, running out 6-2 aggregate winners. 

That success has maintained the Spaniards’ outrageous record against English clubs in the Champions League two-legged knockout ties, as they’ve now progressed from nine such assignments, including the last three in a row.

A 1-0 home win in the return leg of their last-16 tie against the Reds saw Ancelotti’s side extend their impressive scoring run to 30 consecutive Champions League outings at the Bernabeu. 

Speaking of Madrid’s scoring prowess, they have netted an average of three goals per game in their last four competitive matches on home turf, while their seasonal home average in the Champions League reads 2.5 per fixture.

Omens can be a funny, often irrelevant thing, but the reigning Champions League holders should be aware of one as they bid to stretch a four-match winning streak against Premier League clubs.

They have suffered elimination twice in their last three Champions League knockout ties when playing the first leg at the Bernabeu, including a semi-final exit at the hands of Chelsea in 2020/21.

Since a 3-1 demolition of Premier League relegation fighters Leicester City in early March, the Blues have alternated between drawing and losing in their last four competitive games (D2, L2). 

But that may not worry travelling fans as much as the fact the Londoners have revived their nasty habit of drawing blanks, failing to get on the scoresheet in three consecutive matches.

And while there’s not much Lampard can deem encouraging in the build-up to this trip, Chelsea’s recent fortunes on Spanish soil could provide a glimmer of hope in these difficult times for the London powerhouse.

They have only lost once on their last nine visits to the Iberian country in the Champions League knockout stages (W3, D5) and are undefeated in the three most recent such contests (W2, D1). 

If that’s not enough to make Chelsea feel a bit more comfortable ahead of this clash, they can draw further courage from going unbeaten in their last six Champions League encounters against reigning holders (W2, D4).

However, the Pensioners’ ever-growing travel sickness remains the elephant in the room, with the visitors managing just one win on their last 13 road trips in all competitions (D3, L9). 

Player to Watch: Karim Benzema

Last season’s Champions League MVP award winner, Karim Benzema, has been in terrific form this term, bagging 25 goals in 32 competitive appearances for Madrid.

His last ten Champions League goals have come against English clubs, including four against Chelsea, highlighting the Frenchman as the leading source of threat. 

Player to Watch: Joao Felix 

Given Chelsea’s underwhelming scoring exploits in 2023, finding a candidate that could stand out in Madrid is complicated, but Joao Felix may be the one due to his familiarity with the opposition. 

During his four-and-a-half-year career at Atletico Madrid, the 23-year-old had enough time and opportunities to discover Los Blancos’ strengths and weaknesses, and he could be the Blues’ secret weapon.

Team News

Besides long-term absentee Ferland Mendy, Madrid won’t have further injury concerns on Wednesday after David Alaba recuperated from a nasty muscle injury. 

Ancelotti had the luxury to rotate his squad against Villarreal last weekend, leaving his all-star midfield duo Luka Modric and Toni Kross on the bench to have them fresh for this fixture. 

The same goes for star defender Eder Militano and Ancelotti’s utility man Federico Valverde, who also started Saturday’s game on the bench.

As for Chelsea, the trident of Benoit Badiashile, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Noni Madueke are not part of the Blues’ Champions League squad.

In addition to those omissions, Lampard will be without Thiago Silva, Armando Broja and Cesar Azpilicueta as they’ve yet to overcome their physical issues. 

While Mason Mount can return to the fold after serving a one-game ban in the return of Chelsea’s last-16 tie against Borussia Dortmund, the Englishman’s abdominal problem leaves his availability in doubt. 

Real Madrid potential starting line-up:

(4-3-3): Thibaut Courtois; Dani Carvajal, Eder Militao, Antonio Rudiger, David Alaba; Luka Modric, Eduardo Camavinga, Toni Kroos; Federico Valverde, Karim Benzema, Vinicius Junior.

Chelsea potential starting line-up:

(4-3-3): Kepa Arrizabalaga; Reece James, Wesley Fofana, Kalidou Koulibaly, Ben Chilwell; Mateo Kovacic, Enzo Fernandez, N’Golo Kante; Raheem Sterling, Kai Havertz, Joao Felix.

We Say: Real Madrid 3-0 Chelsea

Despite seemingly possessing a recipe to handle Champions League reigning holders, Chelsea should suffer an epic fiasco in Madrid unless Lampard performs some voodoo in the next couple of days.

Not only are the Blues unable to score, but without Silva to hold the backline, they are prone to giving away cheap goals, as witnessed by their recent home results against Aston Villa and Everton

By contrast, Los Merengues may not be a definition of a rock-solid defensive unit, but their tremendous attacking potential should have them covered on Wednesday.

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