Karim Benzema celebrates with Vinicius Junior

Karim Benzema celebrates with Vinicius Junior

Real Madrid’s plans for the transfer window before the start of next season are far from a secret. Their sole aim will be to ensure they do what many expect, and lure Kylian Mbappe from Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer after his contract expires.

If anybody was in any doubt of their ambitions, Karim Benzema reaffirmed them this week.

“Kylian Mbappe could be the third star with Vinicius and me? Yes, I say this a lot of times,” Benzema told L’Equipe of his France team-mate.

“With Mbappe we get on well because we know what the other is going to do on the pitch. It’s perfect.”

But on Wednesday’s evidence, Los Blancos may not even need to add Mbappe to their ranks to regain the Champions League.

Indeed, the argument for Madrid as a team ready to reclaim what they see as their rightful place atop European football is an increasingly compelling one after Carlo Ancelotti’s men took a commanding 3-1 lead in their quarter-final tie with holders Chelsea.

It was the ruthlessness of Benzema that put the Blues to the sword at Stamford Bridge, Madrid clinically taking advantage of the passivity of opponents whose exertions in going seven games unbeaten in normal time in all competitions amid a club crisis appear to be rapidly catching up with them.

Madrid followed Brentford, 4-1 winners at the same ground last Saturday, in slicing through a Blues defence who had conceded just two goals in their last five games prior to being stung by the Bees.

Chelsea could take some solace in suffering at the hands or, in this case, the head of Benzema in the first half. His pair of deft headers to put Madrid 2-0 up inside 24 minutes were of the highest quality, coming from Vinicius Junior and Luka Modric crosses that were themselves worthy of great admiration.

And, with Kai Havertz halving the deficit, making this fixture the first Champions League knockout game to see three headers scored in the first half since Bayern Munich versus Porto in the 2014-15 quarter-final, Thomas Tuchel’s men could afford reason for hope.

Chelsea’s confidence may have been boosted further when Benzema skewed a gilt-edged chance for a hat-trick wide late in the opening period but, soon after the restart, he had his treble, courtesy of a huge inadvertent assist.

Edouard Mendy came way out of his goal to collect an innocuous punt forward and sent his attempted pass to Antonio Rudiger short. A grateful Benzema intervened and rolled a simple finish into an empty net.

It marked a second successive Champions League hat-trick from Benzema, following on from his remarkable second-half barrage against Paris Saint-Germain that knocked out Mbappe, Neymar and Lionel Messi at the last-16 stage.

He became the fourth player to score a hat-trick in back-to-back Champions Leagues appearances after Cristiano Ronaldo (2017), Messi (2016) and Luiz Adriano (2014).

This latest prolific display, which took Benzema to 37 goals and 50 goal involvements for the season, was in part a product of his enduring brilliance and partly a mess of Chelsea’s own making.

But it means he is now on a run of scoring at least two goals in each of his last four goals for Madrid. The only other player to score a brace in four consecutive appearances in the ‘big five’ European leagues this season? Yes, Kylian Mbappe.

There is no striker at this level in a richer vein of form than Benzema and, should he continue his incredible run, the mission for Mbappe if he does make the anticipated move to Madrid may not be to re-establish their European superiority, but to maintain it.