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  • by Yann Tear at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea v Real Madrid: Five talking points on a night when the European champions had grip loosened


Chelsea face an uphill task in the second leg in Madrid after succumbing to a Karim Benzema hat-trick at the Bridge. Kai Havertz's first half header keeps the Blues in it - just about. But this was a night when Los Blancos one again looked a side transformed in the competition they consider their own. We look at the key talking points of a thrilling night of drama

An atmosphere to savour

Fans have waited forever to witness this fixture. After years of arm-wrestles with Barcelona, it was high time the Blues got to host the Iberian giants. Last year’s semi-final meeting saw Chelsea cruise to an impressive win over two legs on their way to lifting the trophy but that was behind closed doors. This was the real thing. The super-charged atmosphere was spine-tingling – as was the quality on display. A couple of weeks ago it was feared this match might also be played out in an empty stadium as a result of the sanctions imposed on club owner Roman Abramovich. It would not have been the same. A noisy away contingent added to tension and vibrancy. It's what games like this deserve.

A tale of two keepers

Thibaut Courtois was given a predictably tough ride from Chelsea fans for turning his back on their club to move to the Spanish giants. They delighted in reminding him that he missed out on a Champions League trophy last year as a result. But the Madrid stopper has been in fine form this season, by all accounts and he made one spectacular tip-over save from Cesar Azpiliucueta to show he is still a top-class talent. He was calm when taking the vilification of the Matthew Harding faithful behind him during the first half and could not really be faulted for the Havertz header which beat him. By contrast, Edouard Mendy had a miserable night. His terrible blunder gifted Karim Benzema his hat-trick goal at the start of the second half and he almost made a mistake for another Real chance. Had looked off key against Brentford at the weekend too.

World class Benzema

The French striker is now at the absolute peak of his powers and bagged his second successive Champions League hat-trick with a sublime display of finishing. Thiago Silva was left trailing in his wake when the Frenchman sprinted onto a return pass from Vinicius to head Real in front and the superb placement was matched by his second goal when he knew exactly what was needed to beat Mendy from a first-time cross from the ever-excellent Luka Modric. World class players in action. And the striker hardly needs gifts like the one Chelsea gave him for his treble. While Kylian Mbappe is being mooted as the future for Real, their current number nine, who has already been around for a long while, remains very much the man of the moment.

Havertz justifying Tuchel’s faith

The German kept Chelsea in the hunt with a fine header towards the end of the first half as Real were threatening to run away with it. His form has made it very difficult for Romelu Lukaku to get a look-in. He is improving all the time and his pace, movement, awareness and ability to ghost into the danger zone have been increasingly impressive. Havertz has already shown too that he enjoys the big occasion, having netted the winner in Porto in last year’s final. Lukaku came on and was guilty of a glaring miss from a free header. It summed up the underwhelming nature of his time at the Bridge so far. Another player to really shine was Reece James – who has again shown an aptitude for the grand stage. Most of Chelsea’s best moments stemmed from his sorties down the right. Almost scored late on with a raking low shot.

The tie is still alive

In seasons gone by, conceding three at home in the first leg of a tie was a virtual death warrant. The removal of away goals this season takes away that particular source of jeopardy and means that a 2-0 away win is no longer useless after a 3-1 reverse on home soil. Needless to say, it remains a very tall order for the European champions to turn this around at the Bernabeu next Tuesday, and few will expect them to do it, but there is a glimmer of hope, whereas before, there might have been next to none.

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