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29 May 2023

Real Madrid sails into Champions League SF, Chelsea adrift

Published
By AP

Real Madrid’s pursuit of a 15th European Cup marches on.
Chelsea, meanwhile, does not know when it will compete on this elite stage again.
Madrid’s 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday completed a 4-0 aggregate victory and saw the Spanish giants advance to the Champions League semifinals for the 11th time in 13 seasons.
Rodrygo scored twice in the second half to derail a spirited Chelsea comeback that lasted the best part of an hour, but ultimately ended in a fourth straight loss under interim manager Frank Lampard.
Madrid can continue its quest for more glory in a competition it has won a record 14 times, with either Manchester City or Bayern Munich to come in the next round.
“We are ready to be there and we are ready to fight for the final,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said.
City was leading Bayern 3-0 after the first leg of the quarterfinals, setting up a likely rematch of last year’s semifinals. Madrid scored twice in added time and another in extra time at the Bernabeu last season to win 6-5 on aggregate.
Madrid is already the only team to successfully defend the Champions League in its modern guise - winning it three consecutive times from 2016-18 - and is still in contention to win it back-to-back again.
It is a record that no other team can compete with - and with a forward line of Vinicius Junior, Karim Benzema and Rodrygo in such daunting form, the defending champions will take some stopping.
Chelsea’s miserable campaign, however, is now destined to end without a trophy.
Defeat left Lampard fielding questions about where the 2021 European champion goes after its troubled start to life under new owners Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital.
“People will make a lot about this season for Chelsea because we’ve had so much success,” Lampard said. “The reality is this club is going to be back, but it will take work.”
Chelsea sits 11th in the Premier League and 17 points off the top four despite spending around $630 million on new signings.
A club that won the Champions League twice under former owner Roman Abramovich now appears certain to miss out on the competition next season.
With the battle for the top four increasing in intensity in the light of a resurgent Arsenal, an improving Manchester United and a Saudi-backed Newcastle, Chelsea’s route back to European club soccer’s elite competition may not be straight forward.
 “In this moment to try to predict what happens going forward, will it be good, will it be bad, I think is pretty pointless,” Lampard said. “But I do think we can set the building blocks now of where we want to get to.”
Chelsea’s slide has been sudden.
Just two years ago, the London club won the Champions League for a second time in its history, under manager Thomas Tuchel.
The German manager, who was hugely popular among fans, was fired earlier in the season and replaced by Graham Potter, who suffered the same fate at the start of this month.
Lampard’s arrival has not prompted an upturn in form, with his team scoring just once in its four losses since his appointment.
That lack of cutting edge was evident again in the quarterfinals second leg against Madrid as Chelsea missed a host of chances.
N’Golo Kante failed to convert clear openings in each half with the score still 0-0. And former Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois beat away a close-range effort from Marc Cucurella just before the break.
The home team was made to pay for those misses as Madrid struck twice on the break.
Ancelotti admitted his team “suffered a lot” before Rodrygo’s goals.
The Brazil forward opened the scoring in the 58th minute when turning in Vinicius’ cutback. He added a second in the 80th, this time after Federico Valverde’s assist.
He might have had a hat trick if not for a first-half effort hitting the outside of the post.
The home fans headed for the exits in numbers once Rodrygo’s second goal crossed the line.
But those who remained applauded at the end after being given some cause for encouragement as Chelsea pushed Madrid for a large part of the match.
 “I think the fans appreciated the performance today,” Lampard said. “Maybe they’ve had moments this season when they are not feeling like that, so we have to latch onto that.”