Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta believes the Blues will need to show why we are the reigning champions of Europe if we are to beat Real Madrid and continue our current Champions League campaign.
Having defeated Lille 4-1 on aggregate as our defence of the Champions League trophy entered the knock-out stages, Chelsea have now been draw against Real Madrid in this season’s quarter-finals, with the defender being asked about the tie as he spoke to the media while on international duty with Spain.
We also faced the Spanish side in our triumphant 2020/21 campaign, defeating them 3-1 over two legs in the last four, but Azpilicueta dismissed suggestions we could go into these matches as the favourites. Instead, he pointed to Real Madrid’s dramatic comeback to beat Paris Saint-Germain, despite trailing by two goals with 30 minutes remaining, as proof of the challenge we are up against.
‘The favourites have to be shown on the pitch,’ he said. ‘We were not the favourites when we played them in last season’s Champions League and we managed to win it.
‘We know it will be a difficult tie facing a club like Real Madrid, they are the team that has won the Champions League the most times. They are coming off a great tie against PSG, where they showed their strength.
‘It’s going to be hard to beat them but we’re the champions and we have to show it because it’s a tie and an opponent that will demand everything from us.’
Azpilicueta also highlighted a big potential difference between last season’s tie and our meetings in 2022. The two previous matches were both played behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic, while the away game took place in Real Madrid’s reserve-team stadium at their training complex on the outskirts of the city, rather than their usual home at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
There is still a question mark over the ability of fans to attend due to the current Government sanctions, but our captain is hoping a solution can be found so that crowds can be present this time around at both the Bridge and the Bernabeu.
‘Last year we were fortunate enough to beat Real Madrid and qualify for the final, but we know this will be a complicated tie with different circumstances. We still don’t know if we will play behind closed doors because of the sanctions or not, although of course we hope we can play with a crowd.
‘So these are different circumstances. Then there were no supporters, now we hope to have them at Stamford Bridge for the first game. It also changes in Madrid because last year we played at the sports city at Valdebebas, now we are going to do it at the Bernabeu.
‘After two years without supporters because of the pandemic, we know how difficult it is to play a game like this in an empty stadium. We want to keep the fans close.’
As Azpilicueta was speaking to the media on international duty, where he is joined by Blues team-mate Marcos Alonso in the Spain squad for back-to-back home friendlies against Albania and Iceland, he also discussed the prospect of a first winter World Cup in 2022 and the advantage his country have in being able to look ahead to that tournament already after securing their qualification in November.
‘A winter World Cup at the end of the year is going to be something new and unfamiliar, but we have to adapt. There will only be one week of training camp before the first game, which is why these international weeks when the group get together are becoming more and more important.
‘Other teams are playing for qualification, we qualified already in Seville against Sweden. We have to continue improving in each training session and we have a magnificent opportunity ahead of us to keep building when we play two friendlies with the national team at home in front of our fans.
'There is great competition to be part of this group. The group here is working very well and we all want to be part of the national team for the World Cup. We want to show what we can do and continue to grow as a team.’