Sunday, June 4, 2023

Another hat-trick from Benzema gives Madrid a 3-1 lead over Chelsea

LONDON ( Associated Press) — Successive Champions League hat-tricks reinforce the enduring value of Karim Benzema’s clinical sophistication for Real Madrid.

Carlo Ancelotti sees much more being provided by the 34-year-old forward, comparing it to a fine wine.

“He is more of a leader every day,” Madrid’s coach said after Benzema’s goals in a 3-1 win over Chelsea in the quarter-finals on Wednesday. “He feels more and more important in this team and I think that makes a difference. He has a lot of personality. He is an example to everyone.”

This latest goal blast could end Chelsea’s title defence, except in the type of second-leg collapse by Madrid that Paris Saint-Germain endured at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium last month.

Benzema now has 37 goals in 36 games in all competitions this season, including three goals in a last-16 meeting with PSG.

“Those are magic nights,” Benzema said. “Today we came out to win, to show that we are Real Madrid. From the first minute to the last, we played well and things worked out well for us.”

The France international is almost single-handedly putting the Spanish giants on their way to a record-extending 14th European Cup – and a fifth for themselves – and giving them the power to clinch the La Liga title.

10 of Madrid’s last 11 goals have been scored by the team’s mainstay for the past 13 years.

Three were thumping headers within the first-half minutes in the first two driving rain at Stamford Bridge, while the third was gifted to them in a way that raised doubts whether Chelsea could return to Madrid on Tuesday.

“I think it helped us that we had a good build-up game from behind,” said Ancelotti, who won the 2010 Premier League with Chelsea. “We found space between the lines. And then with Benzema and Vinicius we were dangerous.”

Chelsea gave themselves hope of recovery when Kai Havertz cut the deficit with a header from Jorginho’s cross five minutes before halftime.

But only a minute had elapsed in the second half when Chelsea’s sluggish defense proved so costly.

Edouard Mendy was about 30 yards from goal when the ball came to him and the goalkeeper lowered it to his chest. Instead of clearing the field, he sent a short pass to the dwarf Antonio Rudiger. It was a gift for Benzema to intercept before striking an unsafe net, with Mendy still trapped outside the penalty area.

“I am the happiest to score third,” he said, “as I missed the first half and I was thinking about that opportunity because scoring a goal is very important. Then I got another And I’m very happy.”

The accuracy of Benzema’s first-half header – after receiving it at the end of a cross from Vinicius Jr in the 21st minute and Luka Modric in the 24th – was in contrast to the shortcomings of Chelsea’s No. Substitute Romelu Lukaku had a great chance with his own header when there was still more than 20 minutes to go, but looked wide of the post, resulting in moans around Stamford Bridge.

“Very important,” said Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel of Miss.

The chances of an all-English semi-final look slim. The winner of this quarter-final will face either Manchester City or Atletico Madrid, with City leading 1-0 after the first leg at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.

When asked if his quarterfinal is still alive, Tuchel replied scathingly: “No.”

His team’s hold of third place in the Premier League showed their dismay after a surprise 4-1 loss to Brentford on Saturday.

“We have to find our level back,” Tuchel said, “but we don’t know where it is.”

The most important action for Chelsea on Wednesday may not have been even on the field. Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehli took off for the game as the struggle to buy the team from sanctioned Russian owner Roman Abramovich intensified, with contenders in recent weeks.

This just adds to the uncertainty hanging over the West London team.

“I won’t accept that as an excuse,” Tuchel said.

There was a surprise in Wednesday’s second quarterfinal with Bayern Munich losing 1-0 at Villarreal.


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