Exactly one year on from what was almost the most historic or all historic comebacks, Chelsea return to the Santiago Bernabéu. It’s once again the quarterfinals of the Champions League, though this time it’s the first leg rather than the second. This time, a 3-2 win for us (which was 3-1 at then end of regulation) would be a most amazing outcome. Last time, it was also that, and yet also most disappointing in the end.
A lot has changed at Chelsea in the twelve months since. Not much has changed at Real Madrid, who would go on to lift the Big Ears last year. In fact, the winners of this tie, now in its third consecutive season after also occurring in the 2020-21 season, have gone on to win the Champions League in each of the last two years.
But this game feels like the biggest mismatch thus far. Chelsea are in the bottom half of the Premier League. Real Madrid will probably not win La Liga this year, but they are odds-on to repeat in Europe once again.
It feels like we need a 2012-esque miracle run.
Date / Time: Wednesday, April 12, 2023, 20.00 BST; 3pm EDT; 12:30am IST (next day)
Venue: Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid, Spain
Referee: François Letexier (on pitch); Tomasz Kwiatkowski (VAR)
Forecast: Warm but a bit breezy
On TV: BT Sport 1 (UK); Univision, TUDN (USA); Sony TEN 2 (India); SuperSport Football Plus (NGA); elsewhere
Streaming: BT Sport Live (UK); Univision Now, Paramount+ (USA); Sony LIV (India); DStv Now (NGA)
Real Madrid team news: As mentioned above, Real are unlikely to defend their league title as they find themselves 13 points off the pace of leaders Barcelona with just 10 games left. Accordingly, manager Carlo Ancelotti rotated his side heavily over the weekend, losing at home to Villarreal but resting many of those who played in the most impressive 4-0 away win in Barcelona (!) in the Cup semifinal just last Wednesday. His priorities are very clear.
Karim Benzema hit a hat-trick in that game (almost all four goals in fact), becoming just the second player in club history to do that in Barcelona after none other than Ferenc Puskás, the Galloping Major. Benzema won the Ballon d’Or last year and has been almost as good this year: on pace for his fourth 30-goal season in the last five years like it’s no big deal.
But Madrid are much more than just Benzema and the young and talented attackers around him — Vinícius Jr, Rodrygo, and Valverde are all in double-digits in goals. Their midfield still features Luka Modrić while Thibaut Courtois still slithers around in goal. Éder Militão anchors a defense that often also features one Antonio Rüdiger, while young Eduardo Camavinga has ben as good as advertised and leads the team in appearances while playing both midfield and left back as needed. (And Eden Hazard is still here, too, just picking flowers.)
The only notable absence for the Galácticos is left back Ferland Mendy. Fede Valverde was involved in an off-field altercation with Villarreal’s Álex Baena, punching him in the parking lot for some hurtful some comments made during the game. The matter’s been referred to the police, but Valverde remains eligible to play.
View from the enemy: Managing Madrid
Chelsea team news: Chelsea also have a very short injury list, with everyone traveling (including Thiago Silva and N’Golo Kanté!) except Carney Chukwuemeka and Armando Broja, who are slowly coming back up to speed. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Noni Madueke, and Benoît Badiashile remain ineligible.
Just as for Real, these two games are what’s left of our ambitions. This is a season-defining occasion.
“We are not afraid of Real Madrid. We have big respect because this is a big football match and we know the quality they have. We will try to keep them at bay with our defenders and I expect a wonderful match.”
-Enzo Fernández; source: UEFA
Previously: Chelsea mounted a furious comeback in this game last year, only to fall just short in extra time. Overall, we have four wins, two draws, and one defeat against them (and two trophies at their expense, the 1971 Cup Winners’ Cup and the 1998 UEFA Super Cup).