London: Two consecutive UEFA Champions League hat tricks enhance the lasting value of Karim Benzema’s clinical finishes against Real Madrid. Carlo Ancelotti sees the 34-year-old striker doing a lot more than he compares to a good wine.
“He is a leader every day more,” the Real Madrid coach said after Benzema’s goals in a 3-1 win over Chelsea in the quarter-finals on Wednesday. “He feels increasingly important in this team and I think that’s what makes the difference. He has so much more personality. He is an example to everyone.”
This last goal could end Chelsea’s title defense, except for the collapse in the second leg by Real Madrid that Paris Saint-Germain suffered last month at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Benzema now has 37 goals in 36 games in all competitions this season, including the three goals that went into the last 16 against Paris Saint-Germain. “It’s magical nights,” Benzema said.
“Today we went out to win, to show that we are Real Madrid. It went well for us as we played well, from the first minute to the last.”
The French international almost single-handedly keeps the Spanish giant on the path to achieving the 14th European Cup, which expands a record – and a fifth for himself – and leads him to regain the Spanish League title.
Of the last 11 goals scored by Real Madrid, 10 have been scored by the team’s mainstay over the past 13 years. The first two goals at Stamford Bridge were headers during three first-half minutes in the rain, while the third was gifted in a way that cast doubt on whether Chelsea could make a comeback in Madrid on Tuesday.
“I think it helped us that playing from behind was good,” said Ancelotti, who won the 2010 Premier League title with Chelsea. “We found a space between the lines. Then with Benzema and Vinicius we were dangerous.”
Chelsea gave themselves hope of a recovery when Kai Havertz headed home five minutes from the end of the first half from Jorginho’s cross. But just a minute into the second half had elapsed when Chelsea’s sluggish defense proved too costly.
Edward Mendy was about 30 yards from the goal when the ball came to him and the goalkeeper dropped it with his chest. Instead of clearing the field, he quietly sent a short pass to Antonio Rudiger. It was a gift for Benzema to intercept before firing into the unprotected net with Mendy stranded outside the penalty area.
He said: “I am happy that I scored the third goal, I missed a goal in the first half and I was thinking about this opportunity because it is very important to score goals. Then I got another and I am very happy.”
The accuracy of Benzema’s headers in the first half – after receiving a cross from Vinicius Junior in the 21st minute and Luka Modric in the 24th – contrasted with the shortcomings of ninth-placed Chelsea. With his own header when he still had more than 20 minutes left, but he peeked off the post, making a groan around Stamford Bridge.
“Very important,” Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel said of the defeat. An all-English semi-final seems less likely. The winner of the quarter-finals will meet either Manchester City or Atlético Madrid, with City leading 1-0 after the first leg on Tuesday at the Etihad Stadium.
When asked if the quarter-finalist is still alive, Tuchel replied sharply: “No.”
That showed his frustration after his side lost control of third place in the Premier League after a shock 4-1 loss to Brentford on Saturday.
“We have to get back to our level, but we don’t know where he is,” Tuchel said. Perhaps the most important on-court action for Chelsea on Wednesday was not.
Los Angeles Dodgers partner Todd Boyle was involved in the game as the struggle to buy the team from sanctioned Russian owner Roman Abramovich intensified, with the contenders dwindling in recent weeks. It only adds to the uncertainty surrounding the West London side.
“I won’t accept that as an excuse,” Tuchel said. There was a surprise in the other quarter-finals on Wednesday as Bayern Munich lost 1-0 at Villarreal.
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