Karim Benzema’s hat-trick with Real Madrid puts Chelsea on the brink of exit | Champions League

Sometimes the old ones are the best. Considered too slow to handle the pace of modern football, this was Real Madrid turning back the clock and reminding the rest of Europe that there will always be a place in the game for midfielders as clever as Luka Modric and strikers as deadly as Karim Benzema.

It did not matter that Modric is 36 years old or that Benzema, who has scored consecutive hat-tricks in the Champions League, is 34 years old. In the end, the idea that Chelsea would go through Madrid seemed absurd. Carlo Ancelotti, a veteran of these meetings, had outwitted Thomas Tuchel. Toni Kroos, who turned 32 in January, had helped Modric run the game. Benzema had completely devastated the Chelsea defense.

This was a beating. It was only 3-1, which gives chelsea hope of reaching the quarter-finals when they visit the Bernabeu on Tuesday, but it’s hard to see the European champions turning these quarter-finals around.

Madrid are not in the habit of wasting leads and unless Chelsea find a way to repair their defensive weaknesses, Benzema will surely make them suffer again.

Tuchel desperately needs a quick fix. Chelsea, working under the uncertainty of her property problems, is a mess. As Tuchel acknowledged, there were no signs of improvement after last weekend’s 4-1 loss to Brentford. Once again, Chelsea’s form disappeared when their opponents had the ball and Tuchel’s concern is that too many of his players look unfocused, with a high error count and the upset summed up by Édouard Mendy gifting Benzema his third goal with a unfortunate turn as a goalkeeper-sweeper at the start of the second half.

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Not that Mendy was the only Chelsea player to struggle. Vinícius Junior gave Andreas Christensen such a torrid time that the centre-back had to retire at half-time. Unable to pin down Modric and Kroos, N’Golo Kanté also failed to stand out in the second half. As for Romelu Lukaku, he was given 26 minutes to turn the game in favor of Chelsea and he did nothing but miss the kind of opportunity that £97.5m strikers have to seize.

Madrid, who had never beaten Chelsea before, would not be so generous. The Spanish are a different proposition than the one that fared so poorly when these teams met in the semi-finals last season. Ancelotti has them 12 points clear at the top of La Liga and although Tuchel emphasized speed – who chose a moving front three of Christian Pulisic, Mason Mount and Kai Havertz – the feeling that Madrid would soon be overpowered. turned out to be out of place.

Admittedly, the signs for Chelsea were encouraging when Mount brought in Kroos early on. At that time, Madrid seemed to be in trouble. Chelsea were pressing fiercely and they had chances, Havertz fired and Thibaut Courtois fended off a Reece James free kick.

However, he was too frantic from Chelsea. They lacked positional discipline and Madrid soon found room to create. There was a warning when Benzema and Fede Valverde released Vinícius, who hit the crossbar, and Tuchel looked worried even before the opening goal came.

Real Madrid's Casemiro (left) tackles Chelsea's Christian Pulisic as Luka Modric (right) looks on.
Real Madrid’s Casemiro (left) tackles Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic as Luka Modric (right) looks on. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

The match was played at Madrid’s majestic pace, Modric, Kroos and Casemiro dominated the midfield, and Chelsea weren’t quick enough to smell danger. They didn’t seem to realize that the visitors wanted to take advantage of the gaps behind James. The Chelsea right-back was failing to protect Christensen and that weakness proved critical in the 21st minute. Vinícius hit a one-two double with Benzema and crossed for the French striker to steer a glorious header past Mendy.

It was a superb goal, made possible by a deep shot from Benzema to tie the game together, and another soon followed. Valverde, preferred to Marco Asensio on the right, found Modric and the Croatian was able to cross for Benzema, who broke away from Thiago Silva and Christensen before overtaking Mendy again.

Chelsea was everywhere. Havertz pulled one back before half-time, escaping from Éder Militão and David Alaba before powering in a Jorginho cross past Courtois, but it was unconvincing. Tuchel was not fooled, especially after seeing Benzema miss out on a babysitter just before half-time. Something had to change and Tuchel took advantage of the interval to adjust, replacing Christensen and Kanté with Mateo Kovacic and Hakim Ziyech.

Unfortunately, no one will be able to tell if those substitutions were the right ones. It was a minute into the second half when Mendy came out of his box and sold Antonio Rüdiger short, allowing Benzema to steal possession and launch the ball into an empty net from 25 metres.

Chelsea was deflated. They tried to mount a counterattack, but the mood worsened when Lukaku headed wide from six metres. In the end there was nothing but regret. Madrid had all the poise. Chelsea just has a mountain to climb.

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