The hectic April schedule continues for Chelsea as they make a swift return to action against Real Madrid this evening in the Champions League, just days after suffering a headline-grabbing 4-1 defeat to top-flight debutants Brentford.
The Blues will need to put that rare home loss – which was the Bees’ first win in the fixture since 1939 – behind them quickly as they look to take the next step on their journey to retaining their European crown, although face stern opposition in the form of 13-time winners, Los Blancos.
Ahead of Carlo Ancelotti’s return to Stamford Bridge, his counterpart Thomas Tuchel will be looking to repeat last season’s feat, in which a 2-0 second-leg home victory over the La Liga giants helped secure their place in the showpiece.
Following on from the weekend drubbing, however, the German visionary will certainly need to shuffle his pack for this eagerly-anticipated encounter, with the return of a certain Reece James to the starting lineup likely to spark an improved performance this time around.
On the chalkboard
Having been so unexpectedly underwhelming against Thomas Frank’s side, it would be no surprise to see hefty alterations in tonight’s fixture, with a return to the manager’s preferred 3-4-3 formation likely to see an instant boost in performance.
The use of a flat back four in Saturday’s mauling seemingly backfired on the one-time Borussia Dortmund boss, although the distinct lack of options at wing-back had provided the 48-year-old with a real defensive headache.
That conundrum should well be resolved, however, by thrusting young James back into the starting line-up, with the 21-year-old, England international providing some much needed attacking quality down the right flank.
The £49.5m-rated man was rightly eased back into action at the weekend, coming on as a second-half replacement for fellow defender Marcos Alonso, in what was just his second competitive outing in 2022 after a lengthy absence due to a hamstring issue.
His previous appearance this calendar year showed the type of impact he can make to the west London outfit, with the £58k-per-week star – who has been dubbed “phenomenal” by talkSPORT pundit Ally McCoist – registering a goal and an assist in the 4-0 thrashing of Burnley at Turf Moor.
While a further muscle injury had kept him sidelined since then, the former Wigan loanee – who has recently received praise from Barcelona icon Dani Alves – is now seemingly ready to be handed another starting berth against Madrid, with the versatile defender hoping to add to his mightily impressive tally of 12 goal contributions so far this season.
James’ recall to the starting line-up could prove crucial to the club’s success in this year’s competitions – his manager simply must unleash him tonight.