Carlo Ancelotti finally tested negative and flew to London, where he was able to savour a fine display from a side that showed their Champions League title credentials. It’s the first time this season that Real Madrid have looked to me like true contenders. Particularly after some weak recent displays - the Clásico defeat, the win in Vigo - I felt they were behind several others in the running. But after beating the holders on their own patch in such commanding fashion, you have to at least consider them a primus inter pares. Madrid feel right at home on the European stage, there can be no doubt about it, and they have a pair of real ace cards in their goalkeeper and centre-forward. In each of the penalty areas, which is where everything that happens elsewhere on the pitch comes to a head, Madrid boast an absolutely world-class performer.
Karim Benzema amazes me more and more every day. After so long as an insipid figure who stood in Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow and limited himself to the odd flash of quality, he has blossomed into the complete striker. He’s a player who creates and finishes, and is an inspirational leader who, with the minimum of fuss, sets standards and drives his team on. Yesterday, he again scored a hat-trick. And, as against Paris Saint-Germain, he plundered one of his goals after dispossessing the goalkeeper. Mendy, Donnarumma, Karius, Ulreich… There’s now a growing club of keepers who’ve fallen victim to the craftiness of a player who just seems to get better and better. Before picking Mendy’s pocket last night, Benzema had planted two headers into the Chelsea net that were worthy of the very best specialist in the art.
After a period of tactical confusion since the PSG game, Ancelotti has returned to the formula he has embraced this season: sit and wait, and break at top speed. It’s a style that somewhat goes against Madrid’s history, but it’s the right thing to do with a squad that’s short on energetic midfielders able to maintain a high press, and is stocked with quick attacking players. Yesterday, Vinícius Júnior and Benzema were joined up front by Fede Valverde, who was an improvement on Rodrygo Goes and Marco Asensio, two lads with a knack for going missing on the big occasion. We still have the second leg to go and Chelsea are the defending champions, but a 3-1 advantage ought to be enough for Madrid. They’ve atoned for their Clásico catastrophe.