In pictures: Chelsea v Real Madrid
Frank Lampard chose to rest Chelsea’s stars and give his younger players chance to earn their stripes. But it was a sobering end to the competitive season for the club’s new American owners.
Todd Boehly looked glum in the back of the stands as Real Madrid rode an enterprising Chelsea attempt to perform the impossible comeback before killing them off with the sort of devastating finishes the Premier League side no longer seem able to find.
N’Golo Kante and Reece James in particular deserve mentions in despatches for their unstinting attempt to make the interim head coach’s master-plan work. But the masterclass over two legs was entirely property of the men in white – a compelling team outplaying a brave but disparate bunch of individuals.
European football, it turns out, is not to be so easily cracked, even with nearly £600million ploughed into the project. And it is a measure of just how disjointed the thinking has been since they arrived that their fourth manager in their first 11 months in charge left most of the big-money signings on the bench for their most important game so far.
With a back three and midfield five stuck behind Kai Havertz up top and Conor Gallagher the surprise selection to play off him in a No 10 role, Real Madrid’s two-goal advantage never really looked in danger from the moment the team-sheets were handed in.
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Lampard’s plan was to press high and it was a tactic that should have paid off in the 11th minute when James found space on the right to cross. Kai Havertz miskicked, sadly, and even though the ball fell to Kante, if anything the World Cup winner’s finish was even worse.
In their very first attack, Real Madrid showed a much keener eye for goal, with Rodrygo thumping a shot against the outside of the post. Then right on half-time Chelsea finally had their second chance to turn the pressure up on their visitors.
James was again the creator and when his cross want all the way through to Marc Cucurella, he needed to find a way past Thibaut Coutois. He couldn’t. In the second half Chelsea continued to pay for their poor finishing, Gallagher’s header teeing up Kante but his shot was blocked by Eder Militao at close range.
Lampard felt the Real centre-back should have been given a second yellow moments later for a challenge on Trevoh Chalobah, but while Chelsea had been forced to play with 10 men at the Bernabeu, this was going to be a full 11v11 encounter.
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The goals tally was the only number that counted – and that was to change depressingly soon for Chelsea. It was the classic sucker punch. In the 58th minute, Rodrygo beat Chalobah to the ball in a straightforward foot race down the right flank, crossed to Vinicius Jr and then stole into the area to collect the return and hammer it past Kepa.
Stamford Bridge, save for one exuberant stand full of Real fans, was silenced. Bizarrely, the sight of Chelsea’s biggest most expensive guns – Raheem Sterling, Mykhailo Mudryk and Joao Felix – lined up on the touchline ready to come on did nothing to dispel the sense that the tie was already game over.
There was only time for the final exhibition of Madrid’s superiority – Federico Valverde dancing through the Chelsea defence with the ball glued to his foot for Rodrygo to supply the finish that truly underlined the difference in class.
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