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Champions League: Chelsea require another Mendy masterclass to stop Real Madrid

09:58 GMT+3 05/04/2022
Chelsea's Edouard Mendy
Thomas Tuchel will require a strong response from his goalkeeper after Brentford nightmare to thwart Karim Benzema’s Los Blancos

The sight of Edouard Mendy bellowing at his defence was clear and loud for all to see and hear.

In an empty Stamford Bridge, the Chelsea goalkeeper reprimanding his backline after they allowed Karim Benzema to shoot uncontested from the edge of the box in last season’s Champions League semi-final second leg could not have gone unnoticed.

That 26th-minute stop prevented Real Madrid from opening the lead on the night and going 2-1 up on aggregate. Some 90 seconds later, the Blues were scoring at the other end with Timo Werner.

Seven minutes after the Blues edged ahead, their wall between the sticks was at it again, frustrating the Frenchman from close range with 10 minutes of the opening half to play.

While the story was different in the reverse fixture at Valdebebas — where the Real talisman netted a brilliant equaliser out of nothing — Mendy was at his best in West London, twice stopping Los Blancos’ biggest threat with tremendously important saves.

The timing of those stops was crucial to Chelsea making it to last season’s Champions League final, which they owed largely to the Senegal shot-stopper’s heroics in denying Benzema.

They meet again on Wednesday under different circumstances, and while their last encounter in West London promised a final berth for either side, this is only the first leg of a quarter-final clash.

What has not changed is just how much Thomas Tuchel’s team need another massive Mendy performance to make the difference for the home side. While the Blues number one’s overall quality is unquestionable, even the very best can put in concerning performances from time to time.

Last time out against Brentford, the towering Chelsea goalie had a game to forget.

He presented a chance to Ivan Toney in the fifth minute having made a hash of a seemingly simple pass to Antonio Rudiger which set the tone for the Blues’ error-strewn 4-1 defeat by Thomas Frank’s side, the Stamford Bridge outfit’s first loss to the Bees since 1939.

Indeed, an uncharacteristically disorganised and error-prone outing from Tuchel’s team somewhat absolves their shot-stopper — who admittedly could have done better for Vitaly Janelt’s second and arguably Christian Eriksen’s strike — but their German tactician will hope Saturday’s loss was a one-off, especially with Real on the horizon.

The precedent under Tuchel in Europe suggests this is the case, too. The Blues have kept 10 clean sheets in 15 Champions League games under the ex-Paris Saint-Germain boss, and the Senegal international has been in goal for each one since February 2021.

Only two goalkeepers in this year’s competition are outdoing Mendy’s save percentage (83.3 percent), with Thibaut Courtois (86.1%) one of the pair outranking the African champion.

It does come with the caveat of the Real Madrid stopper making a staggering 31 saves (36 shots on target) to Mendy’s five (six efforts on target), although one expects the Chelsea goalkeeper to have a far busier night against the La Liga giants who are not flawless but are undoubtedly an improved team from last season.

The motivation to exact revenge on the West London side must appeal to Carlo Ancelotti’s team, even if the Blues’ eight-game unbeaten run in European competition against Spanish sides and Real’s five-match winless record in England does not bode well.

Mendy will undoubtedly play a significant part if the Premier League side are to continue Los Blancos’ away blues on English soil.

Mohamed Salah’s desire to put Benfica to the sword

The Liverpool frontman may lead the Premier League scoring charts but he has not had things go his way lately, firing blanks in three of his last four league appearances.

It has been a different story in Europe, however, with eight Champions League strikes leaving him just two shy of becoming only the second player representing an English side to score double figures in more than one season, matching Ruud van Nistelrooy’s feat in the early 2000s.

With six of his eight strikes coming on the road, the Egypt superstar will back himself to outdo Adel Taarabt’s Benfica and put the Reds in the driver’s seat after Tuesday night’s fixture at Estadio da Luz.

Sadio Mane may have netted only twice in this year’s competition, but a 20-minute cameo against Watford at the weekend suggests the Senegal superstar could start in Portugal.

Riyad Mahrez is Pep’s main man for Atletico test

Manchester City are often free-scoring at the Etihad Stadium under Pep Guardiola, averaging 2.8 Champions League goals on their turf since the Spanish boss took charge, but they face a test in Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid.

The La Liga side already knocked out city rivals Manchester United last month, owing to a 1-0 defeat of the Red Devils at Old Trafford, which saw Geoffrey Kondogbia and his teammates claim a 2-1 aggregate success.

It was Jan Oblak’s 30th clean sheet in 67 games since his Champions League debut, but City will hope he does not keep a 31st against them on Tuesday.

The Citizens undeniably have a plethora of attacking options, yet Mahrez has been something of a go-to figure on their big European nights.

Four goals and two assists last season placed the ex-Leicester City wide attacker joint-second for goal involvements in 2020/21 and he has already surpassed last term’s tally, scoring six times and setting up one strike this term.

Adding to the aforementioned tally takes City a step closer to a semi-final berth.

Aurier and Chukwueze look to stun favourites Bayern

Samuel Chukwueze faces a race against time to be fit for Bayern Munich’s visit to Estadio de la Ceramica, but Unai Emery must make a tough call at right-back.

A strong Serge Aurier performance on his first start in the competition in two years saw Villarreal stun Juventus 3-0 at the Allianz Stadium, leaving the Spanish boss with the choice of either leaving the Ivorian in the side or reintroducing Juan Foyth.

Villarreal are massive underdogs against FC Hollywood, but they will relish another surprising outcome in their first quarter-final game in Europe’s premier club competition since 2009.