LONDON, VILLAREAL: Carlo Ancelotti hailed Karim Benzema’s “fantastic” hat-trick as he fired Real Madrid to a 3-1 win against Chelsea that put the Champions League holders on the brink of elimination after Wednesday’s quarterfinal first leg.
Benzema produced a masterclass at Stamford Bridge as the France striker netted twice in the first half with two perfectly-taken headers.
Kai Havertz reduced the deficit before the interval, but Benzema punished a woeful mistake from Chelsea keeper Edouard Mendy in the second half to complete his treble.
It was the sublime Benzema’s second successive Champions League hat trick after he single-handedly inspired their epic comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 second leg.
Ancelotti’s side are in pole position to advance to the semifinals as they return to Madrid for the second leg on April 12.
After losing to Chelsea in last season’s Champions League semifinals, Real will have the opportunity to exact revenge at the Bernabeu.
“We had a fantastic performance up front from Benzema,” Ancelotti said.
“He’s getting better every day like wine. We played well. It was a good night.
“We have an advantage but we have a lot of respect for this team who were the winners of the last Champions League.”
Real won the last of their 13 Champions League titles in 2018 and, while they may not be favorites in this year’s tournament, their ruthless victory in west London was a significant statement of intent from the La Liga leaders.
With 11 goals this term, Benzema has scored more times than any other Frenchman in a single European Cup campaign, moving past Just Fontaine’s 10-goal haul in 1958-59.
“They’re magic nights. Today we came out to win, to show we’re Real Madrid,” Benzema said.
“We played well from the first minute to the last. They’re very important goals.”
Chelsea were a shadow of the supremely organized side that marched to their second Champions League crown last year and won six successive games in all competitions before the recent international break.
Blues boss Thomas Tuchel had dismissed Saturday’s 4-1 home defeat against Brentford in the Premier League as nothing to worry about.
But in truth that shock loss had exposed some major flaws in Chelsea’s defense that Real gleefully exploited.
“The first half was a repetition of the second half against Brentford. We were so far off our level in every aspect that this game demands,” Tuchel said.
“The game was killed off with a big mistake in the second half. We gave it away in a moment that is simply impossible.
“The individual decisions were far from our level and our standards. It is on all of us. I’m included in this.”
Benzema put Real ahead in the 21st minute at the end of a rapier thrust.
Vinicius Junior’s cross was perfect for Benzema and he looped a superb header over Mendy into the top corner from 10 yards.
Benzema was proving Madrid’s maestro once again and three minutes later he doubled Real’s advantage.
Showing all his experience, the 34-year-old peeled away from Thiago Silva before planting a clinical header into the far corner from Luka Modric’s pin-point cross.
Five minutes before halftime, Jorginho’s deft cross caught Dani Carvajal ball-watching and Havertz glided behind him to bury a powerful header past Thibaut Courtois.
Tuchel sent on Mateo Kovacic and Hakim Ziyech at half-time, but Mendy’s nightmare moment arrived just one minute after the break.
There should have been no danger when Mendy intercepted a long pass outside his area, but the Senegal keeper horribly miscued his ball towards Antonio Rudiger.
Benzema punished Rudiger’s surprising reluctance to commit to the tackle, stealing possession to slot into the empty net as Tuchel looked on in disbelief.
Benzema is the first player to score hat tricks in consecutive Champions League knockout ties since Cristiano Ronaldo for Real in 2017.
Chelsea tried to hit back and Courtois made a brilliant tip-over from Cesar Azpilicueta’s strike.
But Romelu Lukaku’s wretched headed miss summed up a night to forget for Chelsea.
Villarreal stun Bayern to keep alive upset hopes in Champions League
Villarreal pulled off another surprising Champions League result, this time against six-time champions Bayern Munich to boost their hopes of returning to the semifinals for the first time in 16 years.
After making it past the group stage and eliminating Juventus in the round of 16, the modest Spanish club took a big step toward reaching the last four by holding on to a 1-0 victory against favorite Bayern in the first leg of the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
Arnaut Danjuma’s goal early in the first half was enough for Villarreal at the La Cerámica Stadium, with Bayern unable to get past the solid defense of Unai Emery’s squad and losing only for the second time in 30 Champions League matches.
Bayern was unbeaten in its last 22 away games in the Champions League, with 17 wins and five draws in a record run that had started after a loss in 2017 to a Paris Saint-Germain team coached by Emery.
The return leg is next week in Munich, where Villarreal will need a draw to get to the semifinals for the first time since its first last-four appearance in the Champions League in 2006. Villarreal stunned Juventus 3-0 in Italy after a 1-1 draw at home in the last 16.
Villarreal looked in control from the start and Bayern struggled to create significant scoring chances. The hosts threatened the most and had some good chances to add to its lead.
“There was talk about them being favorites and wanting to seal their place in the semifinals tonight, but we came out very hungry, very humble,” Villarreal midfielder Giovani Lo Celso said. “There’s no doubt they are one of the best teams in the world, but we managed the game well and could have scored even more goals.”
Danjuma opened the scoring in the eighth minute by redirecting a close-range shot by Dani Parejo as the Bayern defense was caught off guard. It was Danjuma’s sixth goal in nine Champions League appearances this season, and seventh in 11 career games in the competition.
Villarreal thought they had doubled the lead in the 41st but Francis Coquelin’s goal from a tough angle was disallowed for offside.
Striker Gerard Moreno twice had opportunities to add to Villarreal’s lead after that. First with a low shot from outside the area that hit the post in the 53rd, and 10 minutes later after intercepting a bad pass by Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer near midfield and missing his long-range shot into the open net. The ball ended up curling too much as Neuer desperately tried to run back into position.
Bayern increased the pressure near the end but again it was Villarreal that nearly added to the lead when substitute Alfonso Pedraza missed from close range on a counterattack in the 87th.
Villarreal did a good job containing Robert Lewandowski throughout the match and he had few opportunities inside the area. He entered the match as the Champions League’s leading scorer with 12 goals from eight matches and had scored seven goals in his last five games in all competitions. The Poland striker is ranked third on the all-time list of Champions League scorers, behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Bayern’s Canadian player Alphonso Davies made his first appearance since Dec. 17 after a long injury layoff because of cardiac issues.
Villarreal, based in a city of about 50,000 people, is playing in the quarterfinals for the first time in 13 years. It qualified for the Champions League by winning last season’s Europa League.
Bayern was eliminated by PSG at this stage last season. The German club made it to the last eight 10 times in the last 11 seasons. The team is playing in the quarterfinals for a record 20th time.
The winner will play either Benfica or Liverpool in the semifinals. Liverpool won the first leg in Lisbon 3-1.
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