Real Madrid, Chelsea lock horns in Champions League quarter-final
The last two winners of Europe’s most coveted footballing prize lock horns in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday, as holders Real Madrid play host to Chelsea.
Carlo Ancelotti reunites with his former club after overseeing a 6-2 aggregate win over Liverpool in the last 16, while the Blues overcame a first-leg deficit to defeat Borussia Dortmund 2-1.
Amid talk of a shock return to the Stamford Bridge dugout as the Blues hierarchy search high and low for a new permanent head coach, wily Real Madrid manager Ancelotti has a fab five in his sights as he looks to add to his glistening continental trophy haul.
The four-time Champions League-winning manager typically showed no signs of panic when Liverpool roared into a 2-0 lead at Anfield during their last-16 first leg, as Los Blancos left the Anfield crowd shell-shocked by scoring five without reply before a slender 1-0 win at the Bernabeu got the job done with minimal fuss.
Not since an astonishing 3-0 loss to CSKA Moscow in December 2018 have Real failed to score in a Champions League home match, and each of their last five European games at the Bernabeu has ended in victory, but there are no prizes for guessing who inflicted Los Blancos’ last continental loss in front of the sea of white shirts.
The second managerial baptism of fire for Frank Lampard was expected to take place at the Bernabeu rather than Molineux, but there was no new manager bounce for a toothless Chelsea side on Saturday, as Wolverhampton Wanderers ruined the Englishman’s Premier League homecoming.
The 2022-23 season marks the third time in a row that Chelsea have reached the Champions League quarter-finals, and the Blues have remarkably not lost to the defending champions since being put to the sword by Porto in 2004-05 – winning two and drawing four for the longest-ever unbeaten streak against the European cup holders.
Fans were treated to a blockbuster quarter-final between Real Madrid and Chelsea last year, where a 3-2 Bernabeu win was in vain for the Blues as Real advanced 5-3 on aggregate to end the West London club’s defence of their crown. Exactly 365 days on from triumphing in the Spanish capital, Lampard and co will commence an identical revenge mission.
Villarreal proved that Ancelotti’s men are far from watertight at the back, but Los Blancos rested several big-name stars at the weekend and should feel wholly confident of gleaning a healthy first-leg lead before a trip to Stamford Bridge next week.
In the teams’ first-ever Champions League meeting, Milan will aim to emulate their four-goal victory in Naples earlier this month, while their visitors – surely soon to succeed the Rossoneri as Italian champions – seek to continue some scintillating form in Europe’s top club competition.
Though the defence of their Scudetto has not gone entirely to plan, as Wednesday’s opponents have streaked clear at the top of the table, Milan have still managed to navigate their way to the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2012.
Ahead of their first leg contest this week, the Rossoneri preserved their place in Italy’s top four with a grim goalless draw at home to Empoli last Friday.
Napoli will prefer to focus on the fact that Milan have won just three of their 16 most recent Champions League knockout matches, failing to score in 10.
Without the totemic presence of star striker Victor Osimhen, though – due to an injury sustained on Nigeria duty – they stumbled badly when meeting Milan at Stadio Maradona two weeks ago.
Having just won their seventh straight Serie A away fixture, Napoli may expect to continue their recent dominance over Milan at San Siro. However, absences could blunt a prolific attack enough for the Rossoneri to shut them out for the second time in a fortnight – setting up a tantalising return in Naples next week.