Real Madrid went into the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Chelsea with one foot in the last four.
Karim Benzema’s show-stopping hat-trick saw Los Blancos leave Stamford Bridge as 3-1 victors last week, returning to the Santiago Bernabeu with a sizeable lead and with the Blues a shambles.
But Thomas Tuchel’s side are the reigning champions of Europe for a reason and they weren’t willing to forfeit their title just yet. They blitzed Carlo Ancelotti’s men from the off on Tuesday, with Mason Mount’s strike sending them into the break a goal up on the night.
Real were struggling to get going, to even get in positions to feed the talismanic Benzema. Toni Kroos was given the runaround by Ruben Loftus-Cheek, which is as damning an indictment as you will get for how poor the hosts were.
Chelsea remained in the ascendancy after the break, with Antonio Rudiger thumping in an equaliser soon after the restart, Marcos Alonso was cruelly denied the Blues’ third of the evening for a controversial VAR handball call, while Real were beginning to feed Benzema and get him into gear.
Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti admits his side are reliant on the goals of striker Karim Benzema ahead of facing Chelsea in the Champions League.
Timo Werner must have thought he had killed the tie when he notched in Chelsea’s legal third, but Luka Modric – to this point a player on the periphary of the match – picked out substitute Rodrygo with a wonderful ball over the top and so we went to extra-time.
Over the course of this second 90 minutes, Chelsea were probably worthy semi-finalists. If not for Benzema going berserk at the Bridge, they would have secured their passage to the last four. Instead, they needed one final push to book their spot, but they were again denied by the Frenchman.
A rare slip at the back from Rudiger allowed Benzema to tower over him and head home what would prove to be the final goal of the tie, scoring four of Real’s five goals to see them into the semi-finals.
Ancelotti’s side have not been impressive for long stretches of their Champions League knockout campaign, but goals win you games and there are few scorers around that carry the inevitability that Benzema does nowadays, firmly filling the boots left behind by Cristiano Ronaldo on this stage. You don’t have to be the best, you just have to be able to beat the best.
The French media are already putting together their case for Benzema to win the Ballon d’Or, and should he lead a Real Madrid side as largely uninspiring as this to Champions League glory, it’s going to be hard to argue against him.