If there was a moment to make Todd Boehly think twice about making such a bold prediction ever again, it came when Karim Benzema took a pass with his back to goal just before half-time and used the outside of his right foot to produce a flick so deceptive it completely flummoxed N’Golo Kanté, the ground giving way as the ball span away from the Chelsea midfielder and Real Madrid set off on yet another counterattack.
Welcome to the Bernabéu. And Todd, thanks for your take on where European football has been going wrong all these years. A word to the wise, though: maybe keep your thoughts to yourself the next time you feel compelled to tell the world that Chelsea are going to beat the most successful club in Europe 3-0.
This was yet more misplaced confidence. There has been a lot of noise from Chelsea’s owners since last summer but, as things stand, little to back it up on the pitch. They are already on to their fourth manager of the season and, unless they can summon the spirit of 2012 when they host Madrid in the second leg of this quarter-final at Stamford Bridge next Tuesday, are heading out of the Champions League.
Perhaps there is some hope. Chelsea finished with 10 men, losing Ben Chilwell to a red card early in the second half, but a 2-0 defeat keeps them alive. Madrid were a little loose at times, even a little complacent. Yet they still had too much class in the big moments. They had control, whereas Chelsea lacked identity and conceded too much space despite being sent out by Frank Lampard with the apparent intention of keeping it tight.
Perhaps none of this was a surprise given that Lampard took over less than a week ago. At times it was hard to work out what Chelsea wanted to be. Surely, after picking a cautious starting 11, Lampard did not intend the first half to be quite so wild. It all felt too chaotic and, as the play lurched from one end to the other, one question came to mind: did a side as blunt as Chelsea expect to outscore Benzema and Vinícius Júnior?
This is a team crying out for direction from a top manager. Lampard had looked at ease with his surroundings during the pre-match chat, urging Chelsea’s big performers to rise to the occasion, though whether he had intended the message for Boehly was debatable. On balance, probably not. Not for Boehly, though, the polite no comment after being approached by a Sky Sports reporter. This was showbiz. This was the owner of an elite club trash-talking on the afternoon of a big game.
Was this wise? On the one hand Chelsea came into this tie in 11th place in the Premier League, with an interim manager and without a goal in three games. On the other hand: have faith. Three-nil.
At least Lampard’s set-up – Thiago Silva in the middle of a back three, poise and power in midfield, Raheem Sterling a pest on the break – made sense. At times it served Chelsea well. For five minutes they snapped into Madrid, breaking the press, Kanté rampant and João Félix extending Thibaut Courtois.
But Madrid never get flustered. Ten minutes in, Federico Valverde, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos began to dominate, Modric slipping behind Enzo Fernández and Mateo Kovacic, Vinícius and Rodrygo romping down the flanks.
Nobody was struggling more than Wesley Fofana. The defender’s first real involvement, to pick up an early booking for fouling Vinícius, was not ideal. Madrid targeted Fofana, both by isolating the Frenchman against Vinícius and by squeezing him every time he received the ball.
Madrid were too aggressive. Chelsea had no way out. After 22 minutes Reece James hurled a throw into play and Vinícius went hunting possession. The ball came to Dani Carvajal and the right-back caught Chelsea cold, his ball exposing Fofana and Silva. Vinícius volleyed, Kepa Arrizabalaga saved, Benzema scored.
It was during this part of the match that Lampard’s tactical flaws flared. Stopping the counterattack has never been his forte and Madrid were pulling Chelsea apart, repeatedly springing Vinícius down the left, Silva ranting after clearing the Brazilian’s dink off the line.
To their credit, Chelsea did battle bravely. Sterling almost equalised but Madrid were too wily. Early in the second half Valverde released Rodrygo and Chilwell pulled him back. The red card for denying a goalscoring opportunity was inevitable and it was soon 2-0, Marco Asensio coming off the bench to fire home from 20 yards.
By the time it was over Carlo Ancelotti was standing in his technical area, catching a stray pass from Arrizabalaga and delighting the crowd with some keepy-uppy. It was all too easy for Madrid.
A little humility from Chelsea would not go amiss next time.