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Real Madrid reign supreme again as Chelsea crash out

  • April 19, 2023

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it was that Chelsea could not pass. Was it Thibaut Courtois? Doubt? The weight of recent history? Or the white shirts and regal badge? All of the above, probably. Though the lack of anything resembling a clinical finisher in one of the most expensively-assembled squads ever does not help.

“The only thing that was missing from our game was a goal. We had really good chances to do that,” Chelsea coach Frank Lampard said. “And at this level, they’re [opponents are] so clinical.”

Chelsea huffed more than last week, puffed more than last week but ultimately couldn’t blow down a side built on the solid foundations of experience and sustained success. A second half brace from Rodrygo proved enough for Real to record a second 2-0 win in a week over their Premier League opponents.

“I still don’t know how to explain how the Champions League makes us all react and perform but I have to say that it’s very special indeed,” the Brazilian told UEFA afterwards. 

Chelsea fluff their lines

Strong as they are, Chelsea should really have at least shaken those solid foundations 10 minutes in, when a blocked Kai Havertz header fell to N’Golo Kante in space. But the defensive midfielder panicked in unfamiliar surroundings, slashing wide without conviction. Just before the break, Marc Cucarella also found himself with only Courtois to beat. He, like Liverpool in last year’s final, could not do so. He was not alone.


Even if Kante or Cucarella had scored, there’s a hard-won sense that Carlo Ancelotti’s side don’t suffer such mortal foibles as panic, or self-doubt. Their sense of manifest destiny in this competition seems to carry them through tougher times, like Tuesday’s first half, without leaving a mark.

“I think that overall we have a team that has experienced a bit of all sorts of things together,” German midfielder Toni Kroos told Amazon Prime after the game. “We had to suffer a lot in many games. And when you get through phases like that and still come out the winner in the end, then that gives you the calm and confidence in phases when things aren’t going so well or when the opponent has a chance.

While Chelsea may have had the clearer chances, Real were always alive, always composed and always capable of producing those lethal bursts of class that have defined their recent European success.

Real step up when it counts

As Frank Lampard and his coaching staff continued to seethe at the lack of a second yellow card for Eder Militao for an innocuous challenge, Carlo Ancelotti looked on, raised an eyebrow, chewed his gum. 

Meters away, his side had recovered possession and looked long for Rodrygo. Trevor Chalobah, seemingly as over-pumped as those on the touchlines, dived in. Fatally. The Brazilian drove across goal and exchanged passes with Vinicius Jnr on the other side of the box, then took a touch before hooking home.

Frank Lampard walks among his Cheslea players
Frank Lampard has now overseen four successive defeats. The first time Chelsea have had sucha run in 30 years.Image: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Lampard threw on a few more of his expensive misfiring wide forwards, but to no avail. There were hopes of a consolation, shots on goal and further substitutions but Real continued to keep their Premier League opponents at arm’s length. 

“By the end, we had produced a very complete performance,” said Ancelotti. “We hit a good level, and we were particularly solid at the back. This is a merited result and we’re all absolutely delighted.”

Kroos and Modric offer control

That they could exert some much control, even without the ball, is partly down to Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. At 37 and 33 respectively, the pair have won so much, seen so much and learned so much that even a Chelsea midfield packed with runners and harriers could not trouble their temperament or technique. They were dispossesed just once each and had pass completion rates of 89% and 94% respectively.

Toni Kroos on the ball for Real Madrid
Toni Kross completed 58 of his 64 attempted passes in 76 minutes of actionImage: Vincent Mignott/DeFodi Images/picture alliance

It’s a theme for a team built in the image of their coach. The simple option is best. Calmness is key. Defeat is not an option. We are the “kings of the competition.”

That last statement, uttered by Ancelotti on the eve of the game, was reference to the club’s unparalleled 14 wins in this tournament, including five in the last nine seasons.

With Manchester City their likely opponents in the last four, another trophy may seem like a longshot to some. Madrid, Kroos, Modric and Ancelotti won’t be remotely bothered by that.

Edited by: Wesley Dockery

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