By Our Sports Correspondent
Karim Benzema’s hat-trick propelled Real Madrid to a stunning 3-1 win over Chelsea on Wednesday, putting the Champions League holders on the verge of elimination following a dramatic first leg of the quarter-finals.
Benzema put on a clinic at Stamford Bridge, scoring twice in the first half with two perfectly executed headers.
Kai Havertz cut the deficit before halftime, but Benzema completed his treble in the second half after Chelsea keeper Edouard Mendy made a costly error.
It was Benzema’s second Champions League hat-trick in a row, after he single-handedly inspired their epic comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the second leg of the last 16.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side are in pole position to advance to the semi-finals when they return to Madrid on April 12 for the second leg.
Real Madrid will have the opportunity to exact revenge at the Bernabeu after losing to Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals last season.
Real Madrid won the last of their 13 Champions League titles in 2018, and while they are not considered favorites in this year’s tournament, their ruthless victory in west London was a significant statement of intent from the La Liga leaders.
Chelsea were a shell of the team that marched to their second Champions League title last year and won six consecutive games in all competitions before the recent international break.
Blues manager Thomas Tuchel dismissed Saturday’s 4-1 loss.
The Premier League defeat at home to Brentford is nothing to be concerned about.
But, in reality, Chelsea’s shocking defeat exposed some major flaws in their defense, which Real gleefully exploited.
Ancelotti, who led Chelsea to the Premier League title in 2010, was back on the bench after testing negative for Covid, and Real were soon in control.
Federico Valverde and Karim Benzema combined on an incisive counter to set up Vinicius Junior for a fierce strike that cannoned off the crossbar.
Thibaut Courtois was booed mercilessly by Blues fans when he returned to Stamford Bridge, where he spent seven seasons as Chelsea’s goalkeeper before joining Real Madrid in 2018.
But Courtois got his just desserts when Benzema put Real ahead in the 21st minute.
– Rapier thrusting
It was a rapier thrust, with Benzema sending Vinicius surging away from Andreas Christensen, who was out of position.
Vinicius’ cross was perfectly placed for Benzema, who looped a superb header over Mendy and into the top corner from 10 yards.
Benzema was once again proving Madrid’s maestro, and three minutes later he doubled Real’s lead.
The 34-year-old drew away from Thiago Silva before planting a clinical header into the far corner from Luka Modric’s pinpoint cross.
It was Benzema’s 10th Champions League goal of the season, matching the European Cup record set by Just Fontaine in 1958-59.
Chelsea were stunned, and Dani Carvajal slalomed through for a shot that Mendy blocked before Christensen scrambled it away.
Tuchel’s team was desperate for a response, and Havertz came through five minutes before halftime.
Jorginho’s deft cross drew Carvajal’s attention away from the ball, and Havertz glided behind him to bury a powerful header past Courtois for his 12th goal of the season.
Tuchel introduced Mateo Kovacic and Hakim Ziyech at halftime, but Mendy’s nightmare moment came just one minute later.
When Mendy intercepted a long pass outside his area, there should have been no danger, but the Senegal goalkeeper horribly miscued his ball.