The last time Chelsea binned off Frank Lampard, they won the Champions League four months later.
They brought him back, have immediately lost four games on the trot and won’t be kings of Europe this year. Nor will they be contesting this competition next year.
Sometimes good things come to an end, but Chelsea and Lampard have past glories they can rely on and seem happy enough together again, so don’t cry for them.
All those signings in January, and then this? All the brilliant leadership from Todd Boehly, and then this?
Real Madrid have more past glories than any club in the history of this competition, landing their 14th title last May, and they cleared the Chelsea hurdle after Carlo Ancelotti somehow outwitted Lampard.
Honestly, who saw that coming?
18 – Chelsea have lost four consecutive matches in all competitions for the first time since November 1993, while they’ve failed to score in 18+ different matches in a season for the first time since 1980-81 (21). Fall. pic.twitter.com/fa17NxpOFq
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 18, 2023
This was football as some sort of abstract performance art from the men in blue and their boss.
Stealth tactics, confuse the hell out of them. Play N’Golo Kante as a roving forward, why not? Have Conor Gallagher as the man nodding down crosses for the little Frenchman, why not? Madrid won’t know what’s hit ’em!
On seeing Chelsea’s starting line-up, featuring world-beating holding midfielder Kante as the frontline attack dog, snooker star and Blues fan Neil Robertson tweeted: “I’m a little confused with this lineup. Hopefully a master plan!”
Sure Neil, let’s call this a master plan. Just like playing a frame of snooker with the butt end of a cue would be considered a sound tactic, this was a master plan all right.
Eleven minutes in, this supreme strategy should have brought Chelsea a goal when Reece James’ cross broke to an unmarked Kante.
From 12 yards the French World Cup winner surely would hit the opening goal and give Chelsea the dream start they were after.
Reader, he did not. A wild swing of the left boot sent the ball wide, but my word, did Madrid already look confused.
After playing 30 games in the Champions League without ever scoring, it was surely a matter of time before Kante broke that duck in this game. He was born to be the match winner.
James took a hapless touch on another Chelsea attack and Madrid’s Vinicius Junior shepherded the ball out of play for a goal kick, being told to ‘f*** off’ by at least one Chelsea supporter for his efforts.
Madrid were surely on the ropes now with such vitriol adding to their woes.
Sure, Rodrygo whacked a shot against the outside of the Chelsea right post. But the home side were flying.
Kante had four touches in the first 20 minutes, the fewest of any player on the pitch. Madrid were being lulled into a false sense of security, their 2-0 first-leg lead suddenly so vulnerable.
Sure, Luka Modric’s sharp shot from a tight angle was then bundled behind by Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Chelsea full-back James got in on the right and looked to play a quick ball to the striker attacking the near post, except that player unfortunately did not exist.
In the 38th minute, Kante was the man dashing down the right, and the makeshift winger’s cross would have been ideal if Chelsea had a striker in their ranks. As it was, it ran through the penalty area and out again before Madrid cleared their lines.
Kante then won a corner, and Kai Havertz flicked it on, Conor Gallagher headed it up, and nobody nodded it in.
In first-half stoppage time, Chelsea had the best chance of the half, when James’ delicious low cross from the right inevitably missed the players in the middle and ran through to left-back Marc Cucurella.
The £55million defender was not necessarily acquired for his finishing, having only netted once for Brighton and Hove Albion, and he duly kept up his record of never having netted for Chelsea as Thibaut Courtois kept out his strike.
By half-time, Kante had pulled level with the goalkeepers on 17 touches each. Progress.
The chances kept coming after the break and Kante had another glorious opportunity when Gallagher nodded the ball down. Kante got to the ball and smacked his shot straight at defender Eder Militao.
Chelsea in April 2023. pic.twitter.com/8xzGlvHPxy
— Opta Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) April 18, 2023
Havertz trickled a low shot straight at Courtois, and Madrid were surely by now boggled by this master class in mind games. You could knock them down with a feather by this point.
Yet after almost an hour of banter-ball, Madrid scored when a short pass from Vinicius teed up Rodrygo to smash in from close range.
But wait! In the 67th minute, Lampard introduced three players with goals in their veins: Raheem Sterling, Mykhailo Mudryk and Joao Felix.
Hold them back until the game’s lost, Frank, then unleash them, baby!
The Spanish giants withdrew Benzema after 70 minutes, sparing him from such advanced confusion tactics.
All Chelsea needed now was four goals.
Madrid scored next, Federico Valverde dancing past Thiago Silva and squaring for Rodrygo to net again. Two-nil on the night, four-nil on aggregate.
Just five goals needed now.
Frank, I don’t think this is going quite to plan.
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