Chelsea defense hangs by a thread after Benzema scares the Blues into submission

The Brentford midfielder doubled past Chelsea in Saturday’s 4-1 loss – and here it was Benzema, whose hat-trick left the European champions’ hopes of retaining their trophy hanging by a thread.

The France international – who had been named by Thomas Tuchel as the Real Madrid player he would most like to add to his squad – gave a masterclass in the art of centre-forward play.

His two headers in the first half were finished off with such precision that he might as well have picked up the ball and placed it with his hands.

His third, just after half-time, was a giveaway following a mix-up between Edouard Mendy and Antonio Rudiger, but it’s impossible to ignore the feeling of panic his mere presence causes.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that he didn’t put the result of that tie beyond doubt when shooting wide with only the goalkeeper to beat at the end of a bare-knuckle run from a first half.

Chelsea will have conflicting opinions on that grueling night at Stamford Bridge when, at times, it looked like they had never played in wet conditions.

On the one hand, there will be a sense of luck that there is still something in the draw – even if it will take a famous comeback to overcome Real’s 3-1 advantage.

On the other, they will regret their failure to add Kai Havertz in the first half on a night when anything seemed possible. As shaky as Real made Chelsea’s defense look, such an open encounter was ripe for more goals.

Thibaut Courtois’ acrobatics deprived Cesar Azpilicueta of a memorable goal – and substitute Romelu Lukaku failed to hit the target as he headed for an open goal from six yards out.

At that time, the contrast between the £97.5million striker and Benzema couldn’t have been more stark. And that chance could prove crucial in Chelsea’s defense of the crown.

Of course, the precarious position in which Tuchel’s team finds itself cannot be kicked out of Lukaku.

It was a night when Chelsea’s famous blue wall came down. What was weakened by Brentford at the weekend, was razed by Real four days later.

Vinicius Jr made such light work of Andreas Christensen in the first half that the Dane didn’t emerge for the second. Real’s ease of charging in midfield, meanwhile, was such that Tuchel made the almost unthinkable decision to replace N’Golo Kante mid-term as well.

On slippery ground, too many Chelsea players struggled to keep their footing. Passes were under-hit and over-hit – their judgment of the pace of play was generally misjudged. Thiago Silva has been unmasked. Azpilicueta, playing on the left, was uncomfortable under attack.

PA

Vinicius Jr hit the bar after just 10 minutes, in which Real had looked in danger of being overrun until a flurry from Benzema opened Chelsea up. It was a warning Chelsea ignored as they continued to press high with abandon.

After 21 minutes, Benzema punished them by bending over to head Vinicius Jr’s cross into the roof of the net. Three minutes later, he repeated the trick – this time directing Luka Modric’s cross to the opposite side beyond Mendy’s reach and into the corner.

Stamford Bridge were stunned – but it didn’t seem to be over. Especially when Jorginho’s cross was headed off by Havertz five minutes before half-time. Tuchel’s team had gained a foothold and felt a comeback.

Mateo Kovacic and Hakim Ziyech emerged for the second half – but within seconds Chelsea had handed Madrid another goal and potentially the draw.

Mendy – 20 yards from his area – under-hit his pass to Rudiger. Rudiger still could have cleared, but instead tried to overpower him.

Benzema leapt and rolled home for his hat-trick and, potentially, keep Real in the semi-finals.


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