The last two winners of Europe’s most coveted footballing prize lock horns in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final at the Bernabeu on Wednesday, as holders Real Madrid play host to Chelsea.
Carlo Ancelotti reunites with his former club after overseeing a 6-2 aggregate win over Liverpool in the last 16, while the Blues overcame a first-leg deficit to defeat Borussia Dortmund 2-1.
The Real Madrid medical team are only looking after one injured player in the shape of Ferland Mendy, who is still recuperating from a calf injury sustained in training last month, and he should be the hosts’ only absentee for this contest.
Ancelotti did not shy away from resting several big names for the defeat to Villarreal, and the likes of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Eder Militao and Eduardo Camavinga – who played the full 90 in both legs against Liverpool – should all be in line for recalls to the starting lineup.
The same can be said for Federico Valverde, who allegedly punched Villarreal’s Alex Baena after the game due to a personal comment that the 21-year-old made about his unborn child, which Baena has strongly denied.
Villarreal have confirmed that Baena has filed a complaint with the police, but at the time of writing, there is nothing to suggest that Valverde will not be available for Wednesday’s game.
As for Chelsea, Mason Mount would be eligible to return from a Champions League suspension for the first leg, but a recurrence of the Englishman’s abdominal issue means that he is a major doubt for the Bernabeu battle.
Armando Broja and Thiago Silva join Mount on the sidelines with their respective knee injuries, while Cesar Azpilicueta is yet to return from his sickening head injury, and the quartet of Benoit Badiashile, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Noni Madueke and David Datro Fofana are not part of the Blues’ Champions League squad.
Eyebrows were raised when N’Golo Kante was absent from the squad to face Wolves, but the Frenchman’s absence was merely precautionary following his return from a hamstring problem, and he can expect a swift recall to the fold alongside Dortmund hero Ben Chilwell.
Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Rudiger, Alaba; Modric, Camavinga, Kroos; Valverde, Benzema, Vinicius Jr
Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Kepa; James, Fofana, Koulibaly, Chilwell; Kovacic, Fernandez, Kante; Sterling, Havertz, Felix
Real Madrid 3-1 Chelsea
While seemingly possessing a formula for success against Champions League winners, Chelsea’s stellar streak of avoiding defeat versus the holders should come to an end in comprehensive fashion.
Villarreal proved that Ancelotti’s men are far from watertight at the back, but Los Blancos rested several big-name stars at the weekend and should feel wholly confident of gleaning a healthy first-leg lead before a trip to Stamford Bridge next week.