Occasions don’t get much bigger than Real Madrid in the Champions League, and doubly so when you add in the controversial window dressing of the Super League. But beyond those shenanigans, we have the original continental superpower and still the most successful club in the European Cup’s history against the club who would’ve represented England in the inaugural edition of said cup were The FA not a bunch of nitwits (as always), and still the only London club to have ever won Europe’s (still) biggest prize.
Oh, and it’s our first ever meeting in any guise of this competition, with our only three previous competitive meetings occurring in the 1971 Cup Winners’ Cup (so nice we played it twice) and the 1998 Super Cup. We emerged victorious in both of those finals. This one may be “only” a semifinal, but it’s just about as important, if not more so.
The second leg will be played next Wednesday at the Bridge. We can’t win the tie in this first leg, but we can certainly lose it. Let’s not do that.
Date / Time: Tuesday, April 27, 2021, 20.00 BST; 3pm EDT; 12.30am IST (next day)
Venue: Estadio Alfredo Di Stéfano — Real’s normal stadium, the Santiago Bernabéu is undergoing renovations, so they have been playing their home games at their training facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is still a proper stadium with a capacity of 6000 (twice the size of Kingsmeadow, for example), though of course the match will be held behind closed doors.
Referee: Danny Makkelie (on pitch); Kevin Blom (VAR) — Makkelie refereed last year’s Europa League final; this will be his third Chelsea game after group stage matches against Atlético Madrid (2017-18; 1:1) and NK Maribor (2014-15; 6:0).
Forecast: April showers bring May trophies
On TV: BT Sport 2 (UK); CBS Sports Network, Univision (USA); Sony TEN 2 (India); SuperSport Máximo 1, Canal+ Sport 3 (NGA); elsewhere
Streaming: BT Sport Live (UK); Paramount+, Univision Now (USA); Sony LIV (India); DStv Now (NGA) — CBS All Access is now called Paramount+, which is the same not-great thing but we have a sparkly new affiliate link for it, which makes it a tiny per cent better. We also have a Fubo TV affiliate link, if you’re so inclined.
Real Madrid team news: The big news is that Eden Hazard is back healthy and fit again, though perhaps not quite 100 per cent just yet. He made a 13-minute cameo over the weekend, his first appearance in over a month and just his second in the last three months. Hazard’s time in Madrid has been rather disastrous, especially on a personal level, with injuries aplenty and not much else (just 4 goals and 37 appearances in almost two whole seasons), but if he sticks it to us here, the local mob might sheath their pitchforks for a bit.
Of course, Real might not even need Eddie. Karim Benzema’s having a career year at age 33 and may yet set a new career high in goals, even, while 20-year-old Vinícius Júnior is blossoming into a superstar just as expected. All the other usual Galacticos are still here as well — Luka Modrić, Toni Kroos, Sergio Ramos (albeit injured), Courtoisssss, Casemiro, Asensio, Isco, and so on — a year older but still just about as good as they’ve been over the past however many years. They may not be winning the league — though Atlético doing their level best to throw it away — but when it comes to the Champions League, it’s never wise to bet against them.
Zidane, who clearly loves this competition more than any other, will also be without usual left back Ferland Mendy, with Nacho or a fading Marcelo set to deputize. Toni Kroos however looks to be back after missing their last two games. Fellow midfielder Fede Valverde is in COVID protocol. Right (wing-)back Lucas Vazquez recently tore his cruciate. Dani Carvajal (recently back from injury himself) and a lesser spotted Álvaro Odriozola have both filled in since, with the former possibly getting the nod here.
This may be an “off-year” for the Galacticos, but they haven’t lost a match in nearly three months: 12 wins, 5 draws since the start of February in all competitions, conceding just 8 goals. Just have to remember to shoot low, boys!
View from the enemy: Managing Madrid
Chelsea team news: Former Real Madrid player Mateo Kovačić could be fit for the second leg but didn’t travel with the team for this one. Everyone else did, including former Real Madrid trainee Marcos Alonso.
Thomas Tuchel has never lost a match against Real, and neither have Chelsea outside of pre-season friendlies. But none of those records really matter at all. What matters is being confident, playing smart and precise football, and sticking to our strengths. We have played very well against the best in England since Tuchel’s taken over. Now it’s time to do the same against the best in Europe.
“Be ourselves. Rely on our strengths and do the things that make you confident. We have these things as a team and this is what we try to do at the best level. The challenge is to be ourselves, the best version of ourselves, for 90 or 94 minutes against Madrid.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Footbal.London
Previously: Let’s wind back to 1998 one more time. Good vibes only.