Real Madrid's French forward Karim Benzema heads the ball during the UEFA Champions League quarter final first leg football match between Real Madrid CF and Chelsea FC at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on April 12, 2023 | Photo: AFP
MADRID: Karim Benzema struck yet again against Chelsea, leading Real Madrid to a 2-0 win in the first leg of the quarterfinals of the Champions League on Wednesday.
Substitute Marco Asensio also scored for Madrid after Benzema had netted his sixth goal in five matches against the English club in the latest meeting between the last two European champions.
Chelsea played the final half-hour with 10 men after Ben Chilwell was sent off for stopping a Madrid breakaway. It was a second consecutive defeat for new Chelsea interim coach Frank Lampard after he replaced Graham Potter amid the team’s disappointing results.
The second leg is next week in London. AC Milan defeated Napoli 1-0 in the other quarterfinal match on Wednesday.
Benzema opened the scoring by hitting the open net off the rebound of a save by Kepa Arrizabalaga after an attempt by Vinícius Júnior from close range in the 22nd minute at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
Benzema had scored four times against Chelsea in the last-eight last season, including the decisive goal in extra time in the second leg in Madrid. He had a hat trick in the first leg in London. The French veteran has scored 20 goals in 27 matches against English opposition. His last 14 goals in the competition have come in the knockout stage.
Asencio netted the second in the 74th after another assist by Vinícius.
“We played very well. It was one of our best matches of the season,” Vinícius said. “It’s great to win at home like this, but there is still a lot left and we need to win the second game. We will have to come out strong there as well.”
It is the third consecutive time Madrid and Chelsea meet in the Champions League, with Madrid prevailing at this same stage last season and Chelsea advancing past the Spanish powerhouse in the semifinals in the previous year.
Madrid is looking to make it to the semifinals for the 11th time in 13 seasons, while Chelsea has appeared in the last four only once since 2013-14.
Lampard began his new stint with Chelsea with a 1-0 loss at relegation-threatened Wolverhampton in the Premier League over the weekend. The former midfield great also coached the team from 2019-21.
Chelsea's winless run extended to five games. It has won only two of its last 11 matches in the Premier League, where it sits in 11th place.
The visitors had the first significant chance in a breakaway two minutes into the match, with former Atletico Madrid player João Félix having his shot saved by Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois in a one-on-one situation.
The match remained mostly even until Madrid broke the deadlock with Benzema’s tap in. Chelsea nearly equalized a minute later when Raheem Sterling’s close-range shot was stopped by a brilliant reflex save by Courtois by the post. The shot appeared to deflect off Madrid defender Éder Militão, making Courtois’ save even harder.
Chelsea’s chances were reduced after Chilwell pulled Rodrygo from behind to stop the Brazilian forward from entering the area in a breakaway in the 59th. Chilwell on Tuesday signed a two-year contract extension with Chelsea.
Asensio came off the bench in the 71st and added to Madrid’s lead three minutes later with a low shot from just outside the area.
Chelsea struggled to create any danger near the end but it nearly got on the board in stoppage time with a shot by Kai Havertz that was blocked by Madrid defender Antonio Rüdiger in front of the goal.
Madrid was coming off a 3-2 home to Villarreal that all but ended the team’s hopes of winning the Spanish league.
Madrid eliminated Liverpool in the last eight, while Chelsea got past Borussia Dortmund.