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Benzema And Asensio Win First Leg For Real Madrid Against 10-Man Chelsea

Todd Boehly’s belief didn’t last long. Stopped outside the restaurant where directors from these two teams had lunch in the hours before this Champions League quarter-final first leg, the club’s owner had told Chelsea fans: “Have faith, we’re going to win 3-0 tonight.” A prisoner of his words as well as his deeds, within 20 minutes of kick-off, he had been proven wrong, Karim Benzema’s goal giving Madrid the lead. By the time the clock reached 90, it wasn’t just the game that had escaped them, it might have been the tie.

Ultimately, that did not surprise much. In fact, although Chelsea had a huge chance three minutes into injury time, Antonio Rüdiger diving in to stop Mason Mount, they might still have been relieved that the deficit is only two – something, however small, to hold on to in the second leg, some tiny glimmer of hope not really born out by what they had seen here. By the end Madrid had racked up 18 shots, Benzema headed the last of them over when he had an open goal. The current European champions were ultimately too good for the previous winners and are well positioned to progress.

Chelsea might have got the perfect start, too. Twice they were away inside four minutes. Both times N’Golo Kanté got them up and running and both times it was almost astonishingly simple, but neither brought the opening goal. The first time, Kanté released João Félix, whose sprint began inside his own half and continued right through the middle. Momentarily clear, doubts crept in and he put the brakes on. Éder Militão caught him and although he shifted to the left, the opportunity had slipped from him slightly and his shot did not have enough to beat Thibaut Courtois.

Within two minutes Kanté was scampering through himself. A ball to the right would have released Raheem Sterling but the gap was closed before he spotted it and he was forced left to Felix instead, where the attack broke down. Two minutes after that, Enzo Fernández did set Sterling away, but he was taken out by Eduardo Camavinga.

This was a good beginning; it was also brief. Benzema was blocked by Thiago Silva, Vinícius’s effort was saved by Kepa Arrizabalga and then he went down wanting a penalty, after Wesley Fofana had lost it – and that was becoming a recurring theme already. Next Fede Valverde shot. That flew wildly over but Madrid had taken a step forward and Chelsea could not handle it, unable to avoid the press. The two full-backs in particular looked cornered, trapped in, escape impossible, yet it was the whole back line, a nervousness every time they had the ball.

Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell fouls Rodrygo and is subsequently sent off. Photograph: Óscar del Pozo/AFP/Getty ImagesOnly Fernández found passes out, while Kanté’s legs occasionally carried him through. Otherwise, Chelsea looked deeply uncomfortable. Pushed back, even their throw-ins were a problem, boxed in deep. In fact, it was from a throw on the right that they fell behind. Madrid won the ball, worked it out to Dani Carvajal, who clipped into the area. Vinícius, dashing behind, reached it, Arrizabalga saved it and Benzema followed up, all so easy.

At the other end, Courtois almost immediately made a superb save when Sterling reached Reece James’s cross and there was a moment when Felix turned Militão. But while there were moments when it opened up, Madrid had taken control. Vinícius clipped over Arrizabalaga only to see it cleared off the line. Benzema and Rodrygo combined, denied by Kepa. And just before the break came a moment that seemed to sum it up: Fofana, under pressure, turned back towards his own goal, lost possession, and could only watch Valverde dash away, grateful that the Uruguayan took on the shot rather than play a pass. It was Madrid’s 10th.

Madrid’s 11th didn’t take long, Modric curling fractionally over early in the second half and Chelsea’s problems deepened when Kalidou Koulibaly, who had sprinted to prevent Rodrygo running on to a long punt into their area, pulled up soon after. Even more so when Ben Chilwell was sent off just three minutes after, having pulled down Rodrygo who was again running clean through on to Valverde’s simple clipped pass.

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David Alaba’s resulting free-kick from the edge of the area was saved but this was probably only going one way now. Now? It always had been. The plan seemed clear: Madrid now had half an hour to kill Chelsea off; Chelsea had half an hour to resist.

Carlo Ancelotti, aware that an opportunity had opened up, sought not to let the momentum slip and introduced Marco Asensio who did what Marco Asensio tends to do: come on and score, guiding virtually his second touch low into the corner from the edge of the area. He had been on for only a minute.

Madrid had 16 more of them but couldn’t end the whole thing, relieved in the end to escape a late, late scare of their own, when Mount had the chance that could have made given Chelsea something to take back other than empty words.

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