Benzema continues record-breaking campaign, Emery eyes landmark victory – Champions League in Opta numbers

By Sports Desk April 12, 2022

The Champions League quarter-final second legs are here, and the competition's two most recent winners must overcome first-leg deficits to reach the final four on Tuesday.

Defending champions Chelsea were downed by a stunning Karim Benzema hat-trick at home to Real Madrid, who are bidding to be crowned European champions for a 14th time.

Bayern Munich, meanwhile, suffered a shock reverse at Unai Emery's Villarreal, who will surely require a remarkable defensive performance to keep the free-scoring Bundesliga leaders at bay in Bavaria.

Here, Stats Perform unpacks the pick of the data from Tuesday's crucial European ties. 

Real Madrid v Chelsea: Benzema brilliance puts hosts in driving seat

Benzema's Stamford Bridge hat-trick has put Los Blancos on the brink of a semi-final spot, and he will be looking to continue his incredible European campaign when Chelsea try to overcome a 3-1 deficit in Spain.

After hitting consecutive European trebles, Benzema's tally of 11 goals is a new record for the most strikes by a French player in a single edition of the competition, and matches his record across the last two editions combined (he scored six goals in 2020-21 and five in 2019-20).

The 34-year-old's understanding with Vinicius Junior caused Chelsea all sorts of problems in London, and the duo have now assisted each other a combined five times in the Champions League this term (Vinicius providing four assists, Benzema one), the most of any two team-mates in the competition.

Carlo Ancelotti will qualify for the semi-finals for a record eighth time if Madrid can maintain their advantage against his former employers, equalling Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho.

Chelsea, meanwhile, are making their first trip to the Santiago Bernabeu in European competition, and must become the first English side to win a Champions League game there by more than one goal to have any chance of progressing.

Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy's costly mistake at Stamford Bridge has left the Blues on the brink of an exit, with his dire pass to Benzema representing his first error leading directly to a goal in 20 appearances in the competition.

Chelsea may be encouraged by the fact they have not lost both legs of a Champions League tie since going down to Bayern Munich in 2019-20's last 16, and have won three and drawn two of their last six meetings with Los Blancos.

However, with Madrid progressing from nine of their previous 10 ties after winning an away first leg (the exception being a 5-3 aggregate loss to Ajax in 2019), Chelsea look unlikely to revive their title defence.

 

Bayern Munich v Villarreal: Emery eyes landmark success against Bavarian giants

Elsewhere, Bayern Munich are looking to avoid consecutive last-eight eliminations when they host Villarreal, with Arnaut Danjuma giving Unai Emery's men a precious 1-0 first-leg lead.

Danjuma has six Champions League goals this term, with only Robert Lewandowski (12), Benzema (11), and Mohamed Salah (eight) managing more, and could prove the visitors' best outlet on the counter-attack.

Indeed, Villarreal will certainly require a resolute defensive performance in Munich, having conceded 22 shots in their surprising home triumph.

However, Julian Nagelsmann's side were uncharacteristically wasteful in Spain, and their four shots on target last Wednesday marked the lowest such tally managed by a team to attempt over 20 shots in the competition this season.

 

Bayern unquestionably have what it takes to turn the contest around, however, and haven't gone consecutive Champions League games without scoring since a 5-0 aggregate loss to Real Madrid in 2013-14's semi-final tie.

Lewandowski will carry the burden of rescuing the Bavarian giants, having already scored two European hat-tricks in Munich this season (against Benfica and RB Salzburg). Only Cristiano Ronaldo (for Real Madrid in 2015-16) has ever managed three trebles in one Champions League campaign.

If the Yellow Submarine can pull off a remarkable success at the Allianz Arena, Emery will progress beyond the competition's quarter-finals for the first time in his career.

But the omens do not make for great reading for the Spaniard. The only previous time a side of his won an opening leg in the competition's knockout stages (Paris Saint-Germain's 4-0 win over Barcelona in 2017), they became the first team to be eliminated after winning a first leg by four goals, falling to an incredible 6-1 away loss. 

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    Pedri described playing with Robert Lewandowski as a "luxury" after both players starred in Barcelona's 6-0 demolition of Pumas UNAM in the Joan Gamper trophy on Sunday.

    The Blaugrana ran riot in their traditional Camp Nou curtain-raiser, with goals from Pedri (two), Lewandowski, Ousmane Dembele, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Frenkie de Jong condemning the Mexican side to a crushing loss.

    Barca took just 20 minutes to establish a 4-0 lead as Pedri scored twice after laying on new signing Lewandowski's opener, with the Poland striker returning the favour to tee up the skilful midfielder's second strike.

    Lewandowski – who scored 50 goals in all competitions during his final season with Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich last term – was named as man of the match, leading Pedri to shower him with praise. 

    "It was important for us to win in front of our fans and we have achieved it by playing a good game," the midfielder said.

    "The coach asks us all to reach the top and that we score goals, and I hope it continues like this. We've had a good pre-season and we wanted to start scoring soon.

    "It is a luxury to play with Lewandowski, I really enjoy seeing how he finishes and how he links up.

    "The president [Joan Laporta] and everyone have done a great job, and we will fight until May for it to be a very beautiful year for us all."

    With Lewandowski joining Franck Kessie, Andreas Christensen, Jules Kounde and Raphinha in moving to Camp Nou ahead of the 2022-23 season, hopes are high that Barca can challenge for silverware – even if speculation persists that they may be unable to register their newcomers.

    For Xavi, the performance against Pumas – for whom Barca legend Dani Alves featured – represented the standard the Catalan giants must hit in every match.

    "Everything went well tonight, I'm very happy with the good game and for the fans, who have been excited. This is the way," Xavi declared.

    "We are in a good dynamic of play and results, but we have to continue working for this to work. The sensations are good, yes, but there is no need to lower the pace or the intensity during the 90 minutes.

    "Today it is understood that we relaxed a bit because we were 4-0 very early and it was a friendly, but in official competition you cannot lower your guard."

    Barca begin their LaLiga campaign at home to Rayo Vallecano next Saturday.

  • Neville hits out at 'desperate' Man Utd transfer strategy amid Arnautovic links Neville hits out at 'desperate' Man Utd transfer strategy amid Arnautovic links

    Gary Neville launched a scathing attack on Manchester United's transfer strategy after their 2-1 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion, labelling the Red Devils "desperate" amid reports linking them with Marko Arnautovic.

    United began the Erik ten Hag era in dismal fashion on Sunday as Pascal Gross' double condemned them to an opening-day defeat to the Seagulls.

    The result made Ten Hag the first United boss to lose his first Premier League game at the helm since Louis van Gaal did so against Swansea City in August 2014.

    With wantaway striker Cristiano Ronaldo starting on the bench and fellow forward Anthony Martial injured, United struggled to test a resolute Brighton rearguard and only pulled a goal back when Alexis Mac Allister put through his own net.

    In the aftermath of United's defeat, widespread reports suggested they had a £7.6million (€9m) bid for Bologna's 33-year-old forward Arnautovic rejected.

    United have also failed to entice top target Frenkie de Jong from Barcelona thus far, and Neville did not hold back when discussing the club's recruitment.

    "The first thing you do when the phone rings from Manchester United is reject the bid, because the reality of it is after losing that game against Brighton on Sunday, they're actually negotiating from an even worse position than they were on Saturday, and that's an even bigger problem for them," the former United defender said on Sky Sports.

    "I've got a comment on everything in the world, apart from Manchester United signing Marko Arnautovic. I've got nothing to say.

    "We've seen Radamel Falcao, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edison Cavani, Odion Ighalo - desperate, it's a pattern. 

    "It's happening time and time again. I don't even get angry or animated about it anymore. I'm not going to comment about it."

    Micah Richards was also unimpressed by the potential acquisition of Arnautovic, adding: "What has happened to Manchester United, seriously? I'm not going to stick the boot in. Arnautovic was a quality player, but he's 33 playing in Italy."

    After playing in the Premier League for Stoke City and West Ham, Arnautovic spent two years in China with Shanghai Port before moving to Bologna – for whom he scored 14 Serie A goals last season – in 2021.

    In his post-match media conference, Ten Hag declined to mention Arnautovic by name, only lamenting the unavailability of the strikers in his squad, with Ronaldo limited to a substitute appearance.

    "I don't go into names because I think in this pre-season 250 players are involved or linked with Manchester United, so that's it," Ten Hag said. "We have two strikers, maybe a third one, with Marcus Rashford as well.

    "We considered him as a striker, but he had a really good pre-season on the left side and today he had two really good chances coming in from the left side.

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  • India spinners rip through Windies to secure 4-1 series win India spinners rip through Windies to secure 4-1 series win

    Ravi Bishnoi claimed career-best Twenty20 International figures as India thrashed West Indies by 88 runs in Fort Lauderhill to win the series 4-1.

    Shreyas Iyer top scored with 64 off 40 balls and Deepak Hooda made 38 as India posted 188-7 in the final match of the series in Florida on Sunday, 

    The Windies were skittled out for 100 in reply, with all 10 wickets falling to spinners for the first time in a T20I.

    Bishnoi took 4-16, while Axar Patel (3-15) and Kuldeep Yadav (3-12) also capitalised on West Indies' batting frailties as Shimron Hetmyer (56) scored over half of their runs.

    India were not fazed by losing Ishan Kishan early on, Iyer and Hooda putting on 76 for the second wicket to put them on course to an imposing total.

    Iyer finally fell to Jason Holder after Hayden Walsh saw the back of Hooda, but captain Hardik Pandya made a brisk 28 before he was run out by Odean Smith.

    Smith (3-33) claimed his third scalp by sending Axar (9) packing in the final over, but the Windies were soon in big trouble in the run chase.

    Axar bowled Holder for a duck with the third ball of the innings before getting Shamarh Brooks (13) stumped and the tweaker also cleaned up Devon Thomas (10) in the fifth over.

    Kuldeep stepped up to remove West Indies skipper Nicholas Pooran, reducing the Windies to 50-4, before Bishnoi trapped Rovman Powell (9) and Keemo Paul (0) lbw with successive balls.

    Hetmyer was running out of partners as the procession of wickets continued, with the left-hander falling to Bishnoi, who then finished off the job by getting Obed McCoy caught in the deep.

    India put Windies in a spin

    Bishnoi was outstanding as the Windies failed a trial by spin, with Axar and Kuldeep also tormenting Pooran's side.

    The excellent Bishnoi took four wickets for the first time in the shortest format at international level, ending the series on a high note.

    Iyer shows his class

    With such competition for places in a T20 World Cup year, Iyer gave another exhibition of his class.

    He struck two sixes and another eight boundaries, setting India on their way to a total that was far too many for the Windies.

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