Chelsea welcome Real Madrid to Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night for the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie.
Having suffered a 2-0 defeat in the first meeting, Frank Lampard’s Blues face the uphill task of usurping the reigning champions to a place in the last four.
However, they haven’t had the best preparation for the mouth-watering showdown, heading into the clash on the back of a 2-1 defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion in the Premier League.
Carlo Ancelotti’s defending champions will storm London having made light work of Cadiz in their La Liga clash, swatting aside the relegation battlers 2-0 on Saturday.
The Italian tactician will ask for more of the same from his side as they look to formalise their place in the Champions League semi-final, having put themselves in a strong position already.
Lampard’s second coming has been nothing short of a disaster, with the former Everton boss losing all three of his games in charge since replacing Graham Potter.
Goals from Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio on either side of half-time helped Madrid establish a foothold in the tie, with the Blues reduced to ten men in-between following a professional last-man foul from Ben Chilwell.
Lampard refused to throw in the towel, insisting the tie is still up for grabs, but their preparation for the return fixture was not ideal as they lost the subsequent game against Brighton despite opening the scoring.
The Blues raced to the lead just 13 minutes into the game through Conor Gallagher, whose deflected strike looped over the stranded Robert Sanchez in the Brighton goal.
However, Danny Welbeck drew the Seagulls back level three minutes from half-time before Julio Enciso rifled a ferocious effort past Kepa Arrizabalaga to complete the comeback.
The scoreline flattered the Blues, who were second best from start to finish, with Roberto De Zerbi’s side missing five big chances while Arrizabalaga was called into nine saves to spare Chelsea’s blushes.
Despite his best efforts, Lampard could not hide his disappointment at the defeat to Brighton, insisting his side will have to work harder to turn their fortunes around with Chelsea now winless in their last six games (D2, L4).
However, the odds are stacked against them ahead of Tuesday night’s showdown as they have lost two of their last three Champions League games against Madrid (W1) – both in quarter-finals across the last two campaigns.
Chelsea have lost just one home game in the Champions League in the last two seasons (W7, D1), so despite their appalling form, they could feed off their fans and rally to victory.
That defeat came against Madrid, who could become the first team to win two Champions League games at the Bridge against the Blues.
Chelsea have also progressed from five of their last seven Champions League ties when losing the first leg away from home, including each of the last two (vs Napoli in 2011-12 and Paris Saint-Germain in 2013-14), but the daunting task of knocking out the 14-time champions remains unenviable.
They could also become only the third team to reach the semi-final of Europe’s most prestigious tournament after overcoming first-leg deficits in both the last 16 and quarter-final in a single campaign after AS Monaco in 2003/04 and AS Roma in 2017/18.
Ancelotti has tasked his white army to fight until the last second in their bid to catch up with runaway league leaders Barcelona.
But the prospect of retaining their domestic crown remains hopeful rather than realistic, especially with an 11-point gulf separating them.
However, they will look to make up for the La Liga setback by defending their European crown, starting by formalising their spot in the last four.
Relegation-threatened Cadiz had done a stellar job repelling Los Blancos for much of the game, but with the clash heading towards a stalemate, the reigning champions pulled a cat out of their hat to sweep the hosts off their feet.
Nacho Fernandez and Marco Asensio, who continues to prove the point of difference following his contract renewal, scored in four minutes to ensure Madrid returned to winning ways in the league, having lost 3-2 to Villarreal in their previous outing.
They will now switch their attention back to the continental stage, looking to continue their impressive record, having progressed from 18 of their 19 Champions League ties after winning the first leg by two or more goals.
Only Monaco, in the quarter-finals of the 2003/04 campaign, have eliminated Madrid from a winning position.
But Los Blancos’ record against English teams suggests another routine outing could be on the cards during the midweek contest.
Madrid have won their last five Champions League knockout matches – their joint longest winning run in this stage of the competition – with all five coming against English teams.
Madrid captain and talisman, Benzema will be licking his lips at the prospect of facing Chelsea again, as each of his last 11 Champions League goals have come against English teams.
His last 14 have all been in the knockout stages of the competition – the longest such run by a player in the tournament’s history.
Chelsea will be without Kalidou Koulibaly, who is set for a spell on the sidelines after picking up a knock in the first-leg clash in Madrid.
He joins Armando Broja (knee) on the sidelines – while Kai Havertz (knee), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (back) and Carney Chukwuemeka (knock) will all need to be assessed ahead of Tuesday’s showdown.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Benoit Badiashile, David Datro Fofana and Noni Madueke are all ineligible, while Ben Chilwell will serve his suspension after picking up a straight red in the Spanish capital for a last-man foul on Rodrygo.
Thiago Silva and N’Golo Kante were left out of the squad to face Brighton with the second leg in mind and could be recalled to the squad along with Reece James, Joao Felix and Mateo Kovacic.
Vinicius Junior and Toni Kroos are expected to return to the fold for Madrid, having missed the weekend outing with muscular overloads.
Ferland Mendy continues to recover from a calf injury, so Eduardo Camavinga should deputise for the Frenchman again despite Fernandez’s goal-scoring exploits at the weekend.
Asensio, who has been in sensational form in recent weeks, should also keep his place in the starting line-up after registering his seventh league goal of the season against Cadiz.
Chelsea potential starting line-up:
(4-3-3): Kepa Arrizabalaga; Reece James, Wesley Fofana, Thiago Silva, Marc Cucurella; Enzo Fernandez, N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic; Mykhaylo Mudryk, Kai Havertz, Raheem Sterling.
Real Madrid potential starting line-up:
(4-3-3): Thibaut Courtois; Daniel Carvajal, Eder Militao, David Alaba, Eduardo Camavinga; Luka Modric, Federico Valverde, Toni Kroos; Rodrygo, Karim Benzema, Vinicius Junior.
We Say: Chelsea 0-2 Real Madrid (Agg: 0-4)
Lampard’s dream return to the Bridge has been a nightmare, and the Blues did precious little against Brighton to suggest they have what it takes to thwart the reigning champions.
Gallagher’s fortuitous goal was Chelsea’s first in five games, and for all their attacking talents, Madrid should have no problems building on their first-leg success to progress to the next round.
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