In the end, the clubs’ colour schemes told the tale. Chelsea blue shirts, blue-collar work ethic. Real Madrid, by a distance the most famous white strip in the history of football, white-collar “bosses,” who like things to happen the way they want to happen — not necessarily the way that the actual workers see it.
The only trouble, as whenever blue-collar workers of the world have united in ferocity and passion, is once you’ve got the executives, the ruling class, on the run, once you’ve got them divided, doubting themselves and flustered at the ancien regime being disturbed you must irrevocably seize power — or usually regret it.
And blue-collar Chelsea should, frankly, already be one and half strides into the Istanbul final.
The Germany defender backed himself, and quite rightly.
Pulisic was making a lovely “bent” run, which means he starts deeper than a traditional striker who risks the offside line by playing on the shoulder of his defender.
Via the shaped trajectory of his run the Hershey, Pennsylvania born boy arrived right into the path of Rudiger’s perfect pass — and onside.
This is when a lovely series of events directly affected the fact that Chelsea took a deserved lead and scored an away goal which may yet win them a place in the final.
Pulisic’s control, honed on the Dortmund Brackel Training Ground, didn’t fail him. The defensive instincts of Nacho and Eder Militao did, however.
The 22-year-old American faced up to the two of them plus Thibaut Courtois, who’d already broken a Chelsea heart or two (more later) and the daft decisions Madrid’s two defenders made will live with them a long time — particularly if they fail in London.
Both the Spaniard and the Brazilian decided to run away from Pulisic and occupy space on the goal line. This left Courtois, all 6-foot-4 of him, trying to jockey with the young American, a joust that Pulisic was going to win all night.
When Chelsea’s No. 10 did his soft-shoe shuffle away from Courtois he was left shooting fish in a barrel, smashed his effort between the two statuesque defenders on the line and his goal was reward for technique, timing, brains and lovely self confidence.
The harsh fact was, and this relates back to the idea of the workers letting the executives off the hook, that this should have been Chelsea’s 2-0 goal.
Just a little earlier, Mount had skipped and frolicked past Militao in midfield as if he wasn’t actually there and the result was that Pulisic, again free between Marcelo and Nacho, made a superb choice and cushioned a literally perfect header back into the path of Timo Werner.
This isn’t a memo to Tuchel, but I’d put forward the idea that, judging by tonight, it may be worth paying Pulisic and Oliver Giroud and Tammy Abraham some extra daily bonus money to stay behind after training to teach the German to finish.
The opportunity from Werner was saved exceptionally by Courtois at point-blank range, but while Chelsea still defiantly look favourites to reach the final this was the kind of miss that you rue for a week and then leaves you self flagellating forever if the second leg eliminates your team. Just horrible.
The ultra hard-working Cesar Azpilicueta admitted post match: “We could have scored more goals. We started with courage, we knew we had to perform at our best level, the semifinal of the Champions League demands that.
“We pressed well, recovered the ball well, but that last pass or finish we lacked. Otherwise, this could have been a different result.”
The tarnished nature of Madrid’s performance, huffing and puffing and utterly detesting the fact that, unlike domestically, they didn’t have a moment to breath or think, made their equaliser shimmer and shine like a regal diamond.
Chelsea, when Real Madrid won their corner just before the half hour, dozed off for nine or 10 seconds. That, in itself, is a huge warning for next week. Do not, repeat after me a thousand times, give a technically superior and vastly experienced rival you think is on the canvas, any respite whatsoever.
They did though. Despite ensuring that they were touch-tight in the six-yard area, Chelsea failed to notice that Kroos and Modric were working on a short corner routine or that Marcelo had joined them.
Kante sprinted across too late but, by then, the change of angle of attack was nice for Marcelo’s sweet left foot to pinpoint Casemiro at the back post. His nod across goal was helped on by Militao, making part amends for his part in Pulisic’s opener, and then crash, bang, wallop it was Benzema-time.
Only the true greats score this goal. Chest control, so that the ball’s trajectory was where he could hook a boot at it, quicker to think, quicker to react, quicker to slash it home amid a cluster of bodies that included Andreas Christensen and Thiago Silva.
Edouard Mendy looked more shocked than dejected that his countryman had inflicted something quite so outrageous on him during the Chelsea keeper’s inaugural Champions League semifinal.
Then, slowly, Madrid began to play with more energy, denying Chelsea so much time on the ball, Tuchel’s team began to look like they were happy with what they’d got and, bar the odd moment, none of which superseded Benzema’s stunning long-range shot off Mendy’s right hand post, the teams started mental and physical preparation for next Wednesday in south west London.
Tuchel conceded: “We were a bit tired second half with only two days in between two away games. We had a big chance to keep the intensity up and hurt Madrid in the second half as well.”
The blue-shirted, blue-collar, sleeves rolled up attitude won some significant concessions from the long-established European giants, but they were only scraps off the top table, not the whole banquet.
Chelsea start the second leg as slight favourites, but anyone who thinks it simply doesn’t matter that they let Madrid off the hook hasn’t been paying attention properly.