Chelsea have made it a habit to snatch success from adversity and instability – but their current predicament must mean beyond their ability to hold on to the Champions League crown.
With sanctions on owner Roman Abramovich for alleged links to Russian President Vladimir Putin and three of the four potential successors selected at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea have dealt another blow to what is developing in a turbulent season.
Chelsea have navigated the way out of dangerous situations in this competition in the past, but even their ability to deny adversity will certainly not be reversed. A 3-1 quarter final deficit Second leg against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.
The tie-off of Thomas Tuchel comes back to the side Brentford’s stunning 4-1 win Stamford Bridge and after-shocks remained on a shaky defensive display on Saturday.
And with Karim Benzema’s world-class striker seemingly on a personal mission to bring the trophy to Real Madrid for the 14th time, it was another bad 90 minutes for Chelsea and Tuchel.
For those who want to buy Chelsea with their billions, it was not a great advertisement but past history tells us never to stop them.
Real could have gone out of sight by half time as they went ahead and showed Chelsea’s weakness with painful regularity. Not surprisingly, Tuchel was so critical of his team’s performance in the first 45 minutes.
He said: “We need to get our level back, I don’t know where it is since the international break, but the first half is a repeat of the second half against Brentford, in the quarter-final against Real Madrid.
“We were far from our level in all the demands of the game. It’s up to all of us, including me. Personally we have lost shape and sharpness in the international break.
“I don’t really have an explanation because we’ve got to be very, very competitive.”
Benzema masterclass in contrast to the lack of Lukaku
Chelsea had a chance to save former goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois from Cesar Azpilicueta in the second half, but Real carried that wind of authority as they traveled year after year around this particular block, a height embodied by Benzema.
And how the 34-year-old France striker’s ability to improve with age provides a sharp contrast to the struggle of Romelu Lukaku, who looks like a £ 97m misfit per week.
At the start of the second half, Benzema gave a full performance with two skillful headers and a poaching instinct in the first half to punish Chelsea keeper Edward Mendy for a mistake. He actually missed an easy chance to complete a hat-trick earlier but it was a minor flaw in a masterclass.
In contrast, Lukaku seems to be Chelsea’s last resort weapon, not really credible by his manager and his confidence is fragile.
He was introduced on Saturday when Chelsea lost 3-1 to Brentford and had the same drill here.
And, with Benzema emphasizing the bay in the classroom, Chelsea fans cry out in unison as he manages to weaken a wide header with a wide range of goals over time and space when given the chance to put at least some pressure on Real.
Lukaku still has time to make an impact in Chelsea’s season with the FA Cup semi-final against Crystal Palace, the top four in the Premier League and the second leg against Real – but his time is running out.
The theory behind Lukaku’s return to Chelsea from Inter Milan in the summer was that Lukaku would be a missing part of a team that had won the Champions League but was still prone to excessive generosity towards the goal.
In between interviews expressing public dissatisfaction with his role, average performance and regular exclusion from Chelsea’s starting line-ups, it just didn’t work.
The Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid was definitely brought to Stamford Bridge to impress Lukaku. He didn’t start here. He didn’t even start against Brentford. This is a disgusting reflection of his form.
It would be hard to blame Lukaku for this rate but Benzema’s enduring brilliance illuminated the Belgian struggle.
Can Chelsea turn it around?
Asked if Tie was still alive, Tuchel said “no” but Chelsea would still travel to Madrid with some hope. However, they are the three-time winners of the tournament, against Real’s Canyon operator and their coach Carlo Ancelotti.
Even he is rarely seen for former Arsenal loan player Dani Seballos and Real Madrid – Gareth Bale seemed to be able to give Trott a run at the last minute.
It was Chelsea’s first defeat to Real in six meetings and the memories of how they beat Zinedine Zidane’s side, who sent Liverpool to the semi-finals last season, are still fresh.
Times and circumstances have changed and this time Chelsea will be at the Bernabeu, not behind closed doors on Real’s training ground.
Chelsea have turned many dangerous situations in the Champions League. If they can come back in the second leg to reach the last four, Tuchel can rank it with their best achievement.