June 3, 2023

Karim Benzema’s brilliance spells the end of Chelsea’s Champions League defence; Thomas Tuchel unable to make a case for holders after alarming decline continues at Stamford Bridge

Karim Benzema reminded everyone of just how ruthless he can be at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night, as he came up clutch again for Real Madrid on another huge European night.

The 34-year-old striker scored with three of his four shots in a clinical showing, which was juxtaposed by Romelu Lukaku missing two key chances at the other end after coming off the bench for Chelsea.

Benzema continues to show us that he belongs in that elite bracket of European players. Only three others – Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luiz Adriano – have managed to score back-to-back hat-tricks in the Champions League.

While the France striker will rightly get the headlines, the performance of Vincius Jr should not go unmentioned. He was constantly a thorn in the side of the Chelsea defence, and his partnership with Benzema is becoming a real problem for opponents – no two players have combined for more goals (5) in this season’s competition.

Few squads have the experience to match that of this Real Madrid side – not even Chelsea, the winners of last season’s competition – and it showed at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night. Real, the 13-time winners of Europe’s top prize, have now beaten the reigning champions of the Champions League in the last four such encounters – no side has done that more than them (6).

Last season, many pointed to Real’s ageing midfield as part of the problem when they went out to Chelsea at the semi-final stage. But with Wednesday night’s showing, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro, have certainly put to bed any concerns about their ability to compete at the top level.

Saturday’s humbling at the hands of Brentford was supposed to be a blip, but it was compounded by another calamitous Chelsea outing on a night of acute frustration at Stamford Bridge.

An evening which started with the reigning European champions intent at laying down a marker at the quarter-final stage, ended with a sobering Champions League clinic being administered by the 13-time winners.

Chelsea’s defence – and season – hangs in the balance. With the Premier League title long gone, defending their European crown was the last big prize on offer to Thomas Tuchel’s side but, now, not even the German can make a case for a comeback.

When in charge of Paris Saint-Germain, Tuchel became the only manager in Champions League history to see a two-goal first-leg lead overturned on home soil when Manchester United knocked the Parisians out at the last-16 stage of the 2018/19 campaign.

Tuchel will need no reminding of that defeat, one he labelled “painful and cruel”, particularly while his latest managerial venture stoops into uncharted lows. But that is the task now placed in front of Chelsea, and the message is clear – salvage your season while they still have one.

Jack Wilkinson

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