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.
Should the 2022-23 season prove to be Ancelotti’s farewell campaign in the Blancos dugout, it would take a miracle for the Italian to depart on the back of another La Liga and Champions League double, with a 3-2 defeat to Villarreal at the weekend handing Barcelona the chance to move 15 points clear at the top with victory over Girona on Monday night.
As their Catalonian counterparts continue to ride off into the sunset, Real Madrid – who will also take on Osasuna in the Copa del Rey final – have earmarked Champions League title number 15 as priority number one, as they aim to eliminate an English team from a knockout tie for the fourth time in a row.
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.
Matheus Nunes came up with a scorcher of a goal that Lampard would have been proud of scoring himself – firing a stunning half-volley across goal in a 1-0 win for Julen Lopetegui’s side – further denting Chelsea’s hopes of rising back into the top seven let alone igniting a fanciful Champions League charge.
Only a few weeks before his inevitable sacking, Graham Potter orchestrated one of Chelsea’s finest performances of his short-lived era against a Karim Adeyemi-less Dortmund, who were deservedly beaten 2-0 at Stamford Bridge in the second leg of their last-16 tie after gleaning a narrow first-leg advantage in Germany.
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.
The Real Madrid medical team are only looking after one injured player in the shape of Ferland Mendy, who is still recuperating from a calf injury sustained in training last month, and he should be the hosts’ only absentee for this contest.
Ancelotti did not shy away from resting several big names for the defeat to Villarreal, and the likes of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Eder Militao and Eduardo Camavinga – who played the full 90 in both legs against Liverpool – should all be in line for recalls to the starting lineup.
The same can be said for Federico Valverde, who allegedly punched Villarreal’s Alex Baena after the game due to a personal comment that the 21-year-old made about his unborn child, which Baena has strongly denied.
Villarreal have confirmed that Baena has filed a complaint with the police, but at the time of writing, there is nothing to suggest that Valverde will not be available for Wednesday’s game.
As for Chelsea, Mason Mount would be eligible to return from a Champions League suspension for the first leg, but a recurrence of the Englishman’s abdominal issue means that he is a doubt for the Bernabeu battle, despite travelling with the squad.
Armando Broja (knee) and Cesar Azpilicueta (head) are still on the road to recovery, but Thiago Silva has made the journey, and the quartet of Benoit Badiashile, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Noni Madueke and David Datro Fofana are not part of the Blues’ Champions League squad.
Eyebrows were raised when N’Golo Kante was absent from the squad to face Wolves, but the Frenchman’s absence was merely precautionary following his return from a hamstring problem, and he can expect a swift recall to the fold alongside Dortmund hero Ben Chilwell.
Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Rudiger, Alaba; Modric, Camavinga, Kroos; Valverde, Benzema, Vinicius Jr
Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Kepa; James, Fofana, Koulibaly, Chilwell; Kovacic, Fernandez, Kante; Sterling, Havertz, Felix