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ROSS BARKLEY GIVES CHELSEA VICTORY IN FINAL GAME OF ABRAMOVICH ERA

Ross Barkley fired the final goal of the Roman Abramovich era as Chelsea edged past Watford 2-1 to tie up a third-place Premier League finish.

One-time England midfielder Barkley could leave Chelsea this summer, and the 28-year-old can be reasonably satisfied if this late winner becomes his Stamford Bridge sign-off.

Kai Havertz’s early tap-in had Chelsea in control until Dan Gosling headed home with two minutes on the clock.

Barkley quickly turned in Reece James’ cross however, to ensure that Chelsea just about ended their home Premier League campaign with more wins than draws.

Stamford Bridge played host to a last-day-of-term affair, with Watford already relegated and Chelsea only requiring to go through the motions to seal third spot.

Abramovich’s Chelsea tenure is now at an end, after 19 years and 21 trophies.

Incoming owner Todd Boehly was on hand at Stamford Bridge again, and finally saw the Blues win in person.

The US magnate was joined by Swiss billionaire and consortium partner Hansjorg Wyss, who enjoyed his first outing at the west London stadium.

Boehly and partners will hope their Chelsea takeover can finally be completed in the coming week, and certainly ahead of the May 31 deadline when the Blues’ temporary operating licence expires.

The end of the Abramovich era will also coincide with the final outing for several Chelsea stars, with Real Madrid-bound Toni Rudiger enjoying a standing ovation on his second-half substitution.

Brazil wing-back Kenedy enjoyed his first Premier League appearance for Chelsea since 2017, and provided the assist for Havertz’s goal.

The 26-year-old still has a year to run on his Chelsea deal, but his solid hour’s work here could yet prove his last appearance in blue.

Saul Niguez will return to Atletico Madrid too, after his Chelsea loan, and he kept shape in his last Blues run-out.

Barkley came off the bench as another who may have turned out for the last time, while Andreas Christensen was not in the squad but is headed to Barcelona.

Club captain Cesar Azpilicueta might just yet join Christensen at the Catalan giants, and after a decade with the Blues, the least the 32-year-old deserved was for this match to end in a home win.

Marcos Alonso was missing too and is yet another Blues star who Barcelona heavily covet.

Abramovich’s UK Government sanctions have left the Blues unable to sign existing players to new deals or to conduct any future transfer business for the last 11 weeks.

The uncertainty around the future ownership might be all-but resolved, but a nucleus of long-serving Chelsea players still do not know their fates.

And that meant neither players nor fans could enjoy the customary goodbye at the final whistle, but at least the home side pulled off the win.

Watford’s defeat spells the end of Roy Hodgson’s remarkable managerial career too, with the 74-year-old adamant that this time, he will retire for good.

The balmy weather did precious little to alleviate the end-of-term atmosphere both on and off the field.

Neither team faced any jeopardy going into the encounter, and neither side truly added any in a benign first-half.

Havertz had three golden chances in front of goal before the break, and put one of them away.

For the first, a slightly heavy initial touch from Mount’s ball over the top pushed him wide, and the shot was then easily deflected.

The second yield the only goal of the half, with the Germany forward tapping in from Kenedy’s driven cross.

Kenedy sent Havertz through again in the last move of the half, and the 22-year-old angled an effort against the bar.

Both sides coasted through the second-half, until Gosling headed in from Adam Masina’s cross.

That spurred the Blues into action to seek the win, and Barkley delivered, to cap a difficult campaign in at least victorious fashion.

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CHELSEA CLOSE ON THIRD PLACE DESPITE LEICESTER DRAW

Chelsea all but guaranteed themselves a third-place finish in the Premier League courtesy of a 1-1 draw with Leicester City at Stamford Bridge.

James Maddison fired Leicester into a sixth-minute lead from the edge of the penalty area before Marcos Alonso met a Reece James cross on the volley to restore parity on 34 minutes.

The hosts upped the ante after the interval with Romelu Lukaku heading wide, Christian Pulisic missing from close range and Antonio Rudiger being thwarted in a frenetic six-minute spell.

Further chances fell to Trevor Chalobah and James but the hosts were unable to find a winner.

The result takes Chelsea’s points to 71, three more than Tottenham Hotspur with the Blues boasting a superior goal difference.

Leicester stay ninth with 49 points from 37 matches.

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CHELSEA CLINCH THIRD STRAIGHT WSL WITH COME-FROM BEHIND WIN OVER MANCHESTER UNITED

Chelsea secured a third consecutive Barclays Women’s Super League championship as they came from behind twice to beat Manchester United 4-2 and hold off Arsenal’s title challenge.

The Gunners knew they could snatch the title on the final day of the WSL campaign if they achieved a better result against West Ham than the Blues could manage against the Red Devils.

It looked within their reach when Chelsea twice trailed to United at Kingsmeadow, first through Martha Thomas’ header and then an Ella Toone volley.

But the Blues roared back in the second period. Sam Kerr drew them level with a stunning volley, Guro Reiten’s close-range finish gave them the lead and another Kerr volley afforded them breathing space.

Arsenal did everything they could, securing a 2-0 win away to West Ham, but it proved to be in vain.

Jonas Eidevall’s team were in pole position at half-time, with the score in their match 0-0 while Chelsea trailed. However, the Blues’ recovery ultimately rendered second-half goals from Stina Blackstenius and Vivianne Miedema meaningless.

Miedema’s future with the Gunners is uncertain, with the Dutch star out of contract this summer.

Manchester City clinched the third Champions League berth with a 4-0 victory over Reading.

At kick-off they knew that if they lost and local rivals Manchester United won they would be pipped for third place, but City were comfortable by half-time after goals from Lauren Hemp and Khadija Shaw.

An 85th-minute goal from Ellen White and an added-time penalty from Alex Greenwood made the result safe, and means City head into next Sunday’s FA Cup final against Chelsea in fine form.

Tottenham consolidated fifth place with a 1-0 win over Leicester thanks to Ashleigh Neville’s goal early in the second half, while Brighton and Everton drew 1-1.

Nathalie Bjorn’s penalty in stoppage time gave the Toffees a half-time lead but it lasted just seven minutes after the restart when Aileen Whelan pulled Albion level.

Birmingham, who were already relegated to the Championship, ended the season on a high with a 1-0 win over midlands rivals Aston Villa.

Greek forward Veatriki Sarri netted the only goal in the 10th minute.

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CRISTIANO RONALDO RESCUES PREMIER LEAGUE POINT AS MANCHESTER UNITED HOLD CHELSEA

Cristiano Ronaldo secured absentee-hit Manchester United a scarcely-deserved Premier League draw against Chelsea as Old Trafford witnessed more protests against the Glazer family.

With Champions League qualification all but beyond them following defeats at Liverpool and Arsenal, interim boss Ralf Rangnick’s side escaped with a point on a night dominated for the most part by Thomas Tuchel’s Blues.

Marcos Alonso’s volley was the only goal wasteful Chelsea managed against United’s porous defence and that was cancelled out two minutes later as star man Ronaldo struck to seal a 1-1 draw.

The build-up was dominated by news that Rangnick was considering taking over as Austria manager and protests against the Glazer family’s ownership at a second-straight home match.

‘Glazers out’ read a banner above the tunnel before kick-off at Old Trafford, where a mixture of David De Gea’s saves and poor-decision making meant Chelsea failed to turn their 11 shots into a deserved lead.

Tuchel’s men finally broke the deadlock when Alonso volleyed home in the 60th minute but it did not kick open the floodgates. Instead, former Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic’s clipped ball put Ronaldo through to equalise.

Outstanding Reece James struck the post in the closing stages but United, without eight players on Thursday, somehow ended Chelsea’s club record run of eight-successive away wins in all competitions.

It was one-way traffic in the first half, with James stinging De Gea’s palms from 20 yards before slipping in Timo Werner to get away a low shot on goal.

United managed to avoid conceding inside the opening five minutes in a third-successive match, but the space Chelsea continued to find was alarming.

Kai Havertz directed the ball wide after stand-in United skipper Bruno Fernandes saw a tame header saved at the other end, with Ronaldo clobbering a hopeful overhead kick off target.

They were rare voyages forwards by United as Chelsea all too easily found space and created chances.

De Gea raged at his defence when N’Golo Kante got a shot on target as protesters entered the ground, having missed a minute for each of the Glazers’ 17 years in charge.

There were continued chants against United’s owners as the team struggled, with Havertz lashing an effort into the side-netting after Chelsea broke through the giants gaps left by the home side on a rapid counter.

Next it was De Gea denying the Germany international, who was played through by Kante but could not beat the outstretched goalkeeper. Tuchel looked furious on the touchline.

A wicked James cross just evaded fellow wing-back Alonso at the far post as the Chelsea onslaught continued, with De Gea denying Havertz as he stretched to reach a close-range header.

Somehow United managed to go into half-time with the match still scoreless.

Mason Mount dragged a chance wide 34 seconds into the second half as Chelsea continued to toy with the home side, who had Fernandes to thank for getting back and prevent Havertz putting Kante free.

Werner just failed to get a stud on a whipped Mount cross but United’s goal would finally be breached in the 60th minute.

James was given time to float over a cross from the right that Havertz flicked on for Alonso to hit a crashing volley at the far post.

But United are a peculiar side and have an unrelenting great leading the line.

Some sloppy possession allowed Matic to put Ronaldo behind with a clever pass, with the veteran lashing home a 62nd-minute equaliser in front of the Stretford End.

Matic and James tangled and De Gea shoved Mount as things became heated between two frustrated teams.

Boos greeted former United striker Romelu Lukaku’s introduction as he came on with Christian Pulisic in a bid to swing the match back Chelsea’s way.

James came agonisingly close to putting the visitors back ahead in the 80th minute, but his beautiful left-footed effort curled onto the post.

Victor Lindelof saw a stoppage-time header denied and the highlight of the closing stages the introduction of exciting 17-year-old talent Alejandro Garnacho for his United debut.

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ANTONIO RUDIGER TO LEAVE CHELSEA IN THE SUMMER

Thomas Tuchel acknowledged replacing Antonio Rudiger will prove “incredibly difficult” for Chelsea after confirming the Germany defender will leave the club in the summer.

Rudiger will depart Stamford Bridge after rejecting the chance to become the highest-paid defender in the club’s history, with Real Madrid poised to wrap up his signing on a free transfer.

The 29-year-old almost left Stamford Bridge during Frank Lampard’s tenure but has excelled under Tuchel, transforming his Chelsea career to become an integral part of the Blues’ 2021 Champions League triumph.

Chelsea are eager for the club’s sale to be complete, with the Blues unable to recruit new players or hand existing stars new contracts due to UK government sanctions.

And boss Tuchel has conceded they will struggle to replace Rudiger, for both the defender’s excellence and the government constraints.

Asked if the Blues can recruit a suitable replacement this summer, Tuchel said following Sunday’s dramatic victory over West Ham: “Well, in the moment no; because of the sanctions, and even if hopefully the sanctions will be in the past, even then it will be incredibly difficult.

“Because Toni is what he is, a big personality, and a big leader.

“He takes fear away from other people, gives you confidence when he’s next to you and he played between 50, 60 matches over 90 minutes on an incredible level of consistency.

“It will be challenging, but like always, no matter how much I love Toni and how big a role he played, there will be life, there will be Chelsea without Toni Rudiger, and we will need to find solutions.

“The situation is that Toni will leave the club this summer, he wants to leave the club. He told me this privately.

“Toni is a key figure and will stay that way until the end of the season, but it is disappointing of course and we will miss him a lot.

“I had a big connection with Toni from day one, and he deserves my full support because he delivered incredible performances until today, so reliable.

“So it was a give and take.

“And I know that he’s very aware of it, and I’m just happy to have had the chance to coach him and to have him in the team.

“Because he was nothing else but brilliant until today.

“And the club did as well. We had offers, we had big offers for him and the club tried everything for him.

“But since some weeks we cannot fight any more, since we had the sanctions we cannot adjust, we cannot continue. So it is what it is.”

Chelsea have fallen under UK government restrictions since owner Roman Abramovich was sanctioned by Downing Street on March 10th.

Russian-Israeli billionaire Abramovich put Chelsea up for sale officially on March 2nd, owing to Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine.

The 55-year-old was then sanctioned with the government claiming to have proven his links to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly, Martin Broughton and Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca are the three bidders left vying to buy Chelsea.

New York merchant bank the Raine Group still hopes to select a preferred bidder in time for the sale to be completed in May.

Asked if he wants the takeover sorted as soon as possible to help planning for next season, Tuchel said: “Yeah it would be ideal, but even if we wish for it you cannot pull grass that it grows faster.

“We have to deal with the reality and at the moment sanctions are still in place.

“The situation is not cleared for next season, so we try to focus on what we can influence, and this is the next match.”

Chelsea edged out 10-man West Ham 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, thanks to Christian Pulisic’s last-minute strike.

Jorginho missed a penalty four minutes from time in an incident which saw West Ham defender Craig Dawson sent off for bringing down Romelu Lukaku, leaving USA forward Pulisic to spare the Italy midfielder’s blushes.

“The performance today was a bit due to uncertainty of the last results,” said Tuchel.

“Games like West Ham are very hard to have spectacular open games. But we grew into it, we never lost discipline and we never lost patience.”

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CHRISTIAN PULISIC NETS WINNER AS CHELSEA DEFEAT 10-MAN WESTHAM AFTER LATE DRAMA

Christian Pulisic’s last-minute goal handed Chelsea a 1-0 Premier League win over 10-man West Ham and spared Jorginho’s penalty blushes.

Second-half substitute Pulisic swept home Marcos Alonso’s low cross at Stamford Bridge to seal Chelsea’s first home win in four matches in all competitions.

The USA forward’s crisp finish also offered Jorginho a major reprieve, with the Italy midfielder having missed a penalty with just four minutes left on the clock in an incident that also saw West Ham reduced to 10 men.

Craig Dawson was sent off for hauling back Romelu Lukaku in the box, gifting Chelsea the perfect chance to turn a dispiriting performance into a much-needed win.

Jorginho stepped up and delivered his trademark hop, skip and side-footed penalty effort – only to see Lukasz Fabianski guess correctly and pull off a comfortable save.

Former Napoli man Jorginho missed two crucial penalties against Switzerland as reigning European champions Italy failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup.

But just when another penalty failure looked set to haunt the 30-year-old at Stamford Bridge, up popped Pulisic with a vital rescue act.

A win to keep Chelsea solidly in third place in the Premier League table, but given its dramatic nature also a result that ought to boost some weary bodies and minds in west London.

Manager Thomas Tuchel admitted on Friday that his players are “fragile”, tired and running short of ideas on how to fix their ailing home form.

A dismal first half devoid of any invention or quality did absolutely nothing to disabuse anyone in the ground of those notions.

The much-changed Hammers were content to sit in two banks of four and invite Chelsea to break down their regimented set-up.

The Blues had no answers before the break, and turned around as flat as they were frustrated.

The hosts finally upped the ante and the tempo after the interval, with a deflection helping Fabianski to keep out N’Golo Kante’s strike.

Trevoh Chalobah’s 20-yard drive forced Fabianski into another save, but still Chelsea failed to fire.

The Blues’ malaise was encapsulated by Thiago Silva powering between West Ham’s lines and picking his spot with a shot – only to see team-mate Timo Werner deflect his effort wide. Werner was flagged for offside just for good measure.

Dawson’s fine block thwarted Mason Mount and Werner could only blast wide after collecting the loose ball in the six-yard box.

Werner was then presented with the chance of the match as the ball dropped to him just eight yards out, but the Germany forward could not connect properly at full stretch, allowing Fabianski a straightforward save.

Pulisic, Lukaku and Hakim Ziyech replaced Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Kai Havertz and Werner for the final 15 minutes as the Blues went for broke.

The triple substitution paid off in the end, but not without further drama.

Lukaku thought he had produced a vital act by drawing the penalty from Dawson, only for Jorginho – so often so secure from the spot – to miss again.

Pulisic stepped into the break as the super sub instead then, making no mistake when racing onto the ball with the goal at his mercy.

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NKETIAH STARS, SAKA SCORED FROM SPOT-KICK AS ARSENAL BEAT CHELSEA TO BOOST TOP-FOUR HOPES

Bukayo Saka banished his Euro 2020 final penalty shoot-out ghosts by converting a spot-kick as Arsenal toppled Chelsea 4-2 to reignite their bid for a top-four Premier League finish.

The England forward slotted home his first-ever penalty for Arsenal to seal the Gunners’ vital win over the Blues, that drew Mikel Arteta’s men level with fourth-placed Tottenham in the table.

Saka missed the last penalty in England’s 3-2 shoot-out defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley last July.

The 20-year-old won the late spot-kick at Stamford Bridge by drawing a foul from Cesar Azpilicueta, and quickly insisted on taking the penalty himself.

Saka dismissed any nerves by side-footing home to boot, to put the seal on a crucial win for the Gunners.

Eddie Nketiah had twice seized upon slipshod defending to drive Arsenal into a 3-2 lead before Saka’s strike.

Nketiah capitalised on Andreas Christensen’s woefully under-hit back-pass for his first Arsenal goal in 367 days, to open the scoring in west London.

The 22-year-old forward later settled a scrappy but engrossing contest when three attempted Chelsea clearances landed the ball straight into his path and through on goal.

Timo Werner’s deflected effort had Chelsea level quickly after Nketiah’s first goal, with captain Azpilicueta then cancelling out a fine finish from Emile Smith Rowe before half-time.

The fatigued and off-kilter Blues were made to pay for a string of errors however, with £98million striker Romelu Lukaku again failing to fire.

Toni Rudiger’s absence with a minor groin problem destabilised Chelsea’s defence, and Christensen endured a night to forget.

The Denmark international was withdrawn at half-time in a below-par showing, but not even the peerless Thiago Silva could sharpen up the hosts.

Arsenal took full advantage of Chelsea’s malaise to notch just their second win in six league matches, breaking a wretched run of results to move below Spurs on goal difference, leaving the race to finish fourth wide open.

Lukaku’s sole meaningful act of a quiet first half was to drag wide after being played in by Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

Chelsea had been under precious little pressure from the off, but constituted their own downfall with Christensen’s horror-show attempted back-pass.

The defender majorly under-sold his attempted pass to Edouard Mendy, instead gifting Nketiah a stroll in on goal.

Nketiah needed no second invitation, and duly cantered in before providing a crisp finish.

Chelsea were level just four minutes later however, as Werner’s 20-yard strike took a significant deflection off Granit Xhaka to beat Aaron Ramsdale at his near post.

Smith Rowe quickly had Arsenal 2-1 ahead however, with a sharp sidefooted finish after Saka had combined well with Martin Odegaard, who provided the assist.

The Blues needed just five minutes this time to level, with Azpilicueta sneaking in to provide a poacher’s finish to Mason Mount’s teasing cross.

Smith Rowe had the last word in the half as Arsenal attacked again, but this time could only whip his effort wide of the post.

Silva replaced Christensen at the break, with the 37-year-old clearly drafted in to sure up the Blues’ backline.

Not even the peerless Brazilian could solve Chelsea’s defensive shortcomings however, as Arsenal took the lead again.

Silva won the ball at full stretch only for Malang Sarr to bungle the attempted clearance, allowing Nketiah to pounce for his second of the night.

The ball fell kindly for Nketiah, but Chelsea again set themselves up to fail with woeful defending.

Lukaku was replaced by Kai Havertz moments after the goal, with a large swathe of the Blues support booing the Belgium striker.

Chelsea could find no route back into the contest, and at the death the Blues conceded a spot-kick.

Saka stepped up seemingly well aware of his attempt to erase any lingering Euros memories, and he wrapped up a fine Arsenal result with a coolly converted effort.

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CHELSEA’S CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FIGHTBACK FALLS SHORT AGAINST REAL MADRID

Karim Benzema’s punishing header crushed Chelsea’s remarkable comeback as Real Madrid lost 3-2 at the Bernabeu Stadium but reached the Champions League semi-finals 5-4 on aggregate.

Ruthless France hit man Benzema produced a carbon-copy of the two headed goals he scored in last week’s quarter-final first-leg at Stamford Bridge, where his hat-trick had Real expecting to stroll into the last four.

Champions League holders Chelsea turned up in Madrid with other ideas however, big ideas in fact, of a memorable and odds-defying comeback in this pulsating second-leg.

The Blues shook off their 3-1 deficit from the first leg and took Carlo Ancelotti’s Madrid apart.

Mason Mount, Toni Rudiger and Timo Werner put the Blues 3-0 up and on the very cusp of completing that miracle of Madrid, and that with a Marcos Alonso effort chalked off for handball.

Luka Modric rescued Real though, delivering a sublime raking pass that allowed Rodrygo to race on and volley into the net past a stunned Edouard Mendy.

Chelsea’s fourth stint of extra-time this season duly ensued and after all their efforts and three smart goals, one flick of the head from Benzema brought the Madrid house down.

The 34-year-old turned home Vinicius Junior’s cross with another potent aerial finish to wrestle the Champions League-holders status from Chelsea’s grip.

Benzema now has 38 goals in as many games for Real Madrid in all competitions this season. Such marksmanship invariably yields trophies and Madrid will feel themselves well capable of claiming Champions League title number 14 this year.

Chelsea warmed to their task without delay, with Reece James’ yellow card for a tug on Vinicius the only early concern.

The Blues boasted far more poise and control than in the home leg and duly took the lead when Mount capitalised on a ball falling nicely for him in the area.

Chelsea built steadily in the move for the goal and Mount steered home in style to hand the visitors the perfect start.

Vinicius again threatened on the left but could never cut loose as at Stamford Bridge in a first-half full of frustration for the hosts.

By the time Benzema was booked for an aerial challenge on Thiago Silva, the home supporters’ jeers appeared to have rattled the Madrid men.

Ancelotti’s side seemed jittery and certainly lacking any rhythm or fluency.

Chelsea negotiated pretty much the ideal half from their perspective, taking that 1-0 lead on the night into the interval.

Thomas Tuchel’s side sustained the pressure straight from the restart, with Madrid continuing with their curious ploy of sitting off and allowing Chelsea to dominate the ball.

The hosts’ passivity continued unabated, even after the chance to recalibrate at half-time.

When Rudiger powered home a headed finish from Mount’s corner, the Blues were ahead 2-0 on the night and level in the tie.

Alonso thought he had sent them into dreamland and a 3-0 lead, only for his crisp strike to be chalked off after a VAR review. The Spanish defender was judged to have handled the ball after a ricochet in the area, handing Madrid a major reprieve.

The home side almost took immediate advantage but Benzema struck the bar when he should have scored.

Chelsea kept their cool and set about yet more well-structured attacks and Mateo Kovacic’s fine threaded ball sent Werner through on goal.

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BENZEMA HAT-TRICK LEAVES CHELSEA’S CHAMPIONS LEAGUE HOPES IN TATTERS

Karim Benzema bullied Chelsea to the brink of relinquishing their Champions League crown with a stunning hat-trick in Real Madrid’s 3-1 triumph at Stamford Bridge.

The prolific striker moved his competition goal return to 11 in just eight matches after hitting back-to-back trebles as Madrid overwhelmed the Blues in Wednesday’s quarter-final first-leg.

Benzema took his season’s tally to 37 goals in 36 matches for Real, handing his side a major chance of making the semi-finals in their bid to land a 14th Champions League title.

The 34-year-old stalked the beleaguered Andreas Christensen like a heavyweight prize fighter closing off the ring to a frenzied and frazzled foe.

Kai Havertz dragged Chelsea back into the contest from nowhere before half-time, but the luckless Edouard Mendy gifted Benzema his hat-trick goal with an undersold pass.

Chelsea will now need a performance to trump perhaps all others from Thomas Tuchel’s highly-decorated reign to overturn this deficit in Madrid’s intimidating Bernabeu Stadium.

The Blues, who dazzled Europe by toppling Manchester City 1-0 to swipe the Champions League trophy in May last year, will head out for the return leg on Tuesday, where a generational showing for this talented squad could well be required to keep their title defence alive.

Madrid meanwhile will head home in total control of this tie, with former Chelsea manager and figurehead Carlo Ancelotti particularly buoyed.

The urbane Italian coach almost did not make it to his old Stamford Bridge stomping ground due to Covid, but returned a negative test in time to link up with his players on the morning of the match.

April showers left the 60-year-old’s coiffured locks requiring a towelling-off, before he donned a beanie hat to ward off the weather.

Benzema’s three-minute, one-two punch left Chelsea flailing on the canvas.

The France striker must have thought the Blues were out for the count after delivering two thumping headers.

First he nodded home by racing onto Vinicius’ cross, then the Real talisman showed the other side of his aerial prowess, hanging in the air to dispatch Modric’s delivery.

A dazed and confused Chelsea found themselves staggering around the Stamford Bridge pitch. None more so than the hapless Christensen, who wound up continually exposed by Chelsea’s first-half system.

The Denmark defender could not decide whether to tuck in tight on the inside-right, or pull out to the right-back area.

James’ advanced right-sided role left Christensen with too much ground to cover, but the Dane should still have avoided the comprehensive work-over he received for his troubles.

Vinicius and Benzema doubled up on Christensen, with Ancelotti clearly identifying the Denmark centre-back as the weak link in Tuchel’s system on the night.

Benzema should have completed his hat-trick before half-time too, only to drive a low shot wide of the goal.

That let-off seemed to clear Chelsea’s punch-drunk haze and in a flash the Blues were on the scoreboard and back from the dead.

Jorginho’s sumptuous lofted ball bisected the Real defence, allowing Havertz to steal in at the far post and nod home.

Hakim Ziyech and Mateo Kovacic replaced Christensen and N’Golo Kante at half-time, with Tuchel well aware the shape had to change.

The Blues went to a flat-back four, but had not even settled when disaster struck.

Mendy underhit a pass to Toni Rudiger when out of his area and Benzema pounced, rolling the ball home to complete his devastating treble.

Proactive boss Tuchel emptied the bench in a bid to claw another foothold, but £98million striker Romelu Lukaku could in no way follow Benzema’s lead.

Where the Real marksman had proved unerring, instead Lukaku could only nod wide from a glorious chance.

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CHELSEA CRUMBLE AT HOME AS JANELT SCORES TWICE IN SHOCK BRENTFORD VICTORY

Vitaly Janelt’s quickfire double put Brentford on the brink of Premier League safety after their 4-1 rout of a Chelsea side beset by unrelenting takeover talk.

Christian Eriksen also netted in a win that puts Thomas Frank’s Brentford on the verge of cementing their top-flight status following a hugely impressive debut campaign.

Toni Rudiger hammered home a long-range strike to stun Stamford Bridge and hand Chelsea a 1-0 lead just after half-time.

But Brentford punished Chelsea’s out-of-character defensive disarray three times in six minutes to seal a memorable win for the Bees.

And by the time Yoane Wissa drilled home a fourth at the death, the travelling Brentford fans were in dreamland.

Chelsea’s fine run of six wins on the spin in all competitions came to a crashing halt in West London, with the Blues now perhaps looking over their shoulders in the league.

Fourth-placed Arsenal could cut their deficit on third-placed Chelsea to two points with a win at Crystal Palace on Monday.

Chelsea had shut out all the takeover noise to fine effect with those six wins in a row, but now boss Thomas Tuchel will need all his powers of man-management to set the Blues back on track.

Chelsea’s fans had started the day promising a protest against prospective new owners the Ricketts family.

But perhaps only 100 supporters took to the streets around Stamford Bridge before kick-off, and plans to unveil a banner in the ground never materialised.

Roman Abramovich will sell the club after 19 years as owner, with four consortiums locked in a bidding battle.

Boss Tuchel had kept his players’ minds off those boardroom wrangles so impressively in a flawless March schedule.

But after the international break a refreshed Brentford executed a classic smash-and-grab victory.

A tepid protest before the match gave way to a lukewarm first half, where Brentford spurned several half-chances and Chelsea failed to get going.

Chelsea returned after the break reinvigorated and ready to crank up the level.

And Rudiger’s thunderbolt provided a magical moment for the Stamford Bridge faithful.

The Germany defender finally struck gold – and the net – on his latest long-range attempt.

Chelsea’s players were as adoring as the supporters for their cult hero’s howitzer goal.

Such lingering celebration could perhaps account for the speed of Brentford’s equaliser – but assuredly not the two further rapid Bees goals.

Janelt swept home a smart finish after Chelsea ceded possession too cheaply in the middle of the field, and less than two minutes after Rudiger’s strike the match was back on level terms.

Tuchel’s Chelsea would so often steady the nerves and wrestle control after such a setback.

Frank’s Brentford had other ideas, with Mbeumo racing down the left and playing in Eriksen for a tap-in to put the Bees 2-1 to the good.

By the time Janelt dinked in Brentford’s third, from Ivan Toney’s ball, just 12 minutes had elapsed from Rudiger breaking the match’s deadlock.

Four goals in 12 minutes that must surely set Brentford en route to Premier League safety, but also a sequence of strikes to add another layer of intrigue to the race for a top-four finish.

Wissa added a fourth at the death to gloss Brentford’s fully-deserved victory, but also potentially dragged Chelsea back into an unwanted top-four scrap.

Beat Crystal Palace on Monday and fourth-placed Arsenal will be fired up for a tilt at Chelsea’s grip on third place.