Chelsea’s scoring continues
The complexion of this tie may look different had Joao Felix seized his luck when put through on goal early on at the Bernabeu but it was no surprise that he didn’t. This is just what Chelsea do.
An inability to convert scoring chances is a long-standing issue. So long-standing, in fact, that it is threatening to become part of their identity. It was there during Frank Lampard’s previous spell in charge and he has returned to the same problem.
The lack of cutting edge was evident again when Raheem Sterling was denied by Thibaut Courtois and Mason Mount saw his late effort blocked by Antonio Rudiger. Chelsea have now failed to score in four consecutive games for the first time since the early 90s. The goal drought spans over six hours, during which they have had 61 shots without finding the net.
So, while the tie is still alive, with Madrid only able to add one goal to Karim Benzema’s opener despite their dominance and the second-half sending off of Ben Chilwell, it is hard to see much cause for optimism that Chelsea will actually turn it around.
Because, in order to do that, they will need to score at least two goals and that is something they have only managed four times in their last 22 games in all competitions. They have six days to find some ruthlessness. But the search has been ongoing for years.
No stopping relentless Vinicius
Reece James defended superbly against Vinicius Junior when Chelsea last visited the Bernabeu, a year ago to the day, but this time there was no stopping him. The Brazilian was irrepressible, ripping Frank Lampard’s side apart on their right-hand side.
James endured a chastening evening at wing-back and it was even tougher going for Wesley Fofana behind him in Chelsea’s back three, the Frenchman’s early booking for a clumsy foul on the 22-year-old setting the tone for all that followed.
By the end, Vinicius had created more scoring chances (four) and made more successful dribbles (four) than anyone else on the pitch while only Karim Benzema had managed more shots (three).
He did not score himself but he was the architect of both Real Madrid goals, first entertaining Dani Carvajal’s searching ball over the top into the path of Benzema, then teeing up substitute Marco Asensio for the second following a corner routine.
There were plenty of other highlights and most of them involved him galloping past James and Fofana and causing havoc in Chelsea’s defence. Incredibly, he had 19 touches in the opposition box – the most by any player in any Champions League game all season and 15 more than anyone else on the night.
The numbers underlined the extent of the chaos he caused for Carlo Ancelotti’s side and the sheer relentlessness of his performance is all the most impressive considering this was his 97th appearance for Real Madrid since the start of last season.
No player in any of Europe’s major leagues has played more minutes in that time and few can claim to have had more of an influence in this competition. This tie still alive, for now, but it would be no surprise if Vinicius is the one to kill it in next week’s second leg.
Silva, Kante provide Chelsea with timely boost
It’s not a secret that Chelsea have struggled for form in recent months. While there are numerous issues facing the squad, they have been hampered by the absence of two of their key players in Thiago Silva and N’Golo Kante.
Silva was given the captain’s armband on his return to action after six weeks on the sidelines and he proved his worth. He was the most reliable of Chelsea’s back three, with Wesley Fofana and Kalidou Koulibaly found wanting up against Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo.
He made a match-high four clearances and had the highest passing accuracy of the Chelsea XI that started the game. One of his standout moments came in the first half as he cleared an effort inside the six-yard box.
His class shone through, but it is his leadership and experience that the Blues have arguably been missing. Silva is a player you want in the metaphorical trenches when times are tough, and Chelsea have been having plenty of those recently.
The Blues have also missed Kante’s influence in midfield after his own lengthy injury lay-off. It was a bold move from Frank Lampard to start him, but it paid off in large parts. The midfielder popped up all over the field, making interceptions and pouncing on Real Madrid errors, of which there were a fair few.
Kante won possession seven times – the second highest of the Chelsea squad – and will bring some needed quality into the midfield play.
It’s a tough ask to overturn a two-goal deficit against Real Madrid, but the Blues will have home advantage in the second leg next week. Silva and Kante provide a timely return for that fixture, and the remaining games this season as Chelsea look to salvage their season.
Runaway Serie A leaders schooled by CL old-timers
Footballing heritage matters, just ask seven-time European champions AC Milan. They are 22 points adrift of Napoli in Serie A standings and only a matter of weeks away from handing over their Scudetto crown to Luciano Spalletti’s side – the champions elect. Yet this fixture, on this night, belonged to them.
The fierce San Siro crowd added to the hostilities but, in truth, Milan hardly needed a helping hand in this clash of Calcio titans. They are the masters of game management. The so-called ‘dark arts’. Barring a first-minute raid down the right, which gifted Napoli’s Khvicha Kvaratskhelia a golden chance to break the deadlock, the hosts were comfortable and secure. They weathered each Napoli storm admirably – albeit much of the visitors’ attacking play resembled no more than April showers.
So often this term, as Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool can attest to, we have seen fireworks from Napoli’s wonderfully creative frontline. Against Milan they were subdued, blunted by missing man Victor Osimhen. The Nigeria striker is expected to make a welcome return from injury ahead of the second leg, which will be played in southern Italy in six days, and just in time too.
Milan are far too streetwise to roll over – they have been here before. But Champions League knockout novices Napoli hold a secret weapon, and should he be fit and ready to play his part at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium next week, you can bet on an all-action display. This tie has plenty of legs in it yet, even if Milan’s impressive efficiency was enough to edge round one.