Real Madrid took a leap towards the Champions League semi-finals on Wednesday night, with Karim Benzema scoring another European hat-trick to guide the LaLiga leaders to a 3-1 win away at Chelsea. There’s still the second leg to come, but this was a massive first leg result. Let’s analyse what happened at Stamford Bridge with three pre-match questions we had, plus three new post-match ones that have come up.
1. Would Ancelotti be in the dugout? And would this make an impact?
The big talking point on the day of the game was whether or not Carlo Ancelotti would be there at Stamford Bridge, his former home. Ultimately, the Italian was able to test negative for COVID-19 and fly out in Florentino Pérez’s charter. There were memes and jokes on social media about Ancelotti’s presence being good news for Chelsea. Well, the veteran coach proved that he deserves respect. He has won one trophy already this season, is set to win the league as well and has Real Madrid three-quarters of the way into the Champions League semi-finals. Not bad.
2. Would Fede Valverde get the start?
Ancelotti did mess up in El Clásico, that’s true. But, as he said after that game, he doesn’t usually make multiple mistakes in a row. In this match, his setup was spot on as he gave Fede Valverde the start. As the coach outlined in his post-match press conference, Valverde was to play as a third forward in a 4-3-3 when César Azpilicueta stayed deep and the Uruguayan was to drop back and provide assistance to Dani Carvajal when Azpilicueta went forward. Using him as a false wing-back like that worked perfectly.
3. Would the Chelsea fans boo Courtois?
Thibaut Courtois admitted before the game that he expected he might be booed by the Chelsea fans, given the way he left the club in 2018. And they did. “Sometimes these kinds of receptions are because they respect his quality,” Ancelotti said of the jeers for the goalkeeper after the game and that’s the crux of it. The Chelsea fans know that they lost Courtois for just €35m as he forced his way out of the club and that the club had to spend €104m combined on Kepa Arrizabalaga and Edouard Mendy. Even if we must keep in mind that Mendy’s mistake in this game was a one-off, Courtois is still a better goalkeeper overall. So, Chelsea have seen the quality of the goalkeeping position diminish at a net loss of €69m. That’s why they booed. It makes sense.
1. Benzema for Ballon d’Or: Is this the year?
After his three goals to knock out Paris Saint-Germain, Benzema produced another hat-trick to earn this 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge. He now has 37 goals, in addition to his 13 assists, to mean he has been directly involved in 50 goals this season, the first ever time he has done this. Is this finally the year when Benzema will win the Ballon d’Or? He was close last term, but has been even better this year.
50 - @Benzema has been involved in 50+ goals (37 goals, 13 assists) in all competitions a single season for the first time in his club career. At @realmadriden, only @Cristiano (eight times) did it in 21st Century.— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 6, 2022
2. Who’ll finish with more Champions League goals? Benzema or Lewandowski?
Sticking with Benzema, here’s another question about the No.9. When he and Robert Lewandowski each hang up their boots, who will have more Champions League goals to his name? With his hat-trick tonight, and with the Pole being held by Villarreal’s excellent defence on the east coast of Spain, Benzema has now pulled closer as he now has 82 Champions League goals to the 85 of the Bayern Munich man. Benzema is 34 years old and Lewandowski is 33 and a half, so they’re basically the same age. With it clear that nobody will reach the number of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the race to be the third-top Champions League goalscorer of all time is a fascinating one.
3. Can Real Madrid now defeat Aberdeen, Ispwich and Arsenal?
Chelsea, tick. At the sixth attempt, Real Madrid have finally defeated Chelsea, who until tonight were the team to have faced them the most times in official matches without losing to the Spanish side, having achieved three wins and two draws. That makes this a historic night. Now, then, time for a curious stat. There are now only three teams that Real Madrid have yet to defeat in Europe: Aberdeen (one defeat in one match), Ipswich Town (one draw and one defeat in two matches) and Arsenal (one draw and one defeat in two matches). They might never face Aberdeen and Ispwich again, let’s be honest, but at least they’ve finally defeated Chelsea. Let’s see if victory number two against the English side comes next Tuesday.