The UEFA Champions League semi-final between Chelsea and Real Madrid is finely poised after a 1-1 draw in the first-leg in Spain.
Christian Pulisic rewarded the visitors for a bright start in the game as he slotted home a cool finish after just a quarter of an hour. Despite underwhelming throughout the first period, Karim Benzema smashed home a brilliant equaliser to leave the two teams level heading into the second-leg but the Blues holding an away goal advantage.
Here are three things we learned from the game:
Benzema the difference again
With Real Madrid turning in an utterly underwhelming performance throughout a lot of the game, it was down to one man to get them out of trouble once again and that was striker Benzema.
The Frenchman showed brilliant instincts to latch onto Eder Militao’s knockdown to control and then smash beyond Edouard Mendy in the Chelsea goal just before the half-hour mark. His strike was a landmark one as well as he moved into 4th in the list of all-time top goalscorers in the history of the UEFA Champions League, joining former Los Blancos forward Raul on 71 strikes in the competition.
Allowing for any possible injury, Benzema is surely going to be key for Zinedine Zidane’s men if they harbour any aspirations of progressing to the final in Istanbul.
Rudiger stands up to be counted
At the start of this season, it appeared that German international Antonio Rudiger did not have a future at Chelsea. After all, the former AS Roma man only started three out of the opening 24 matches of the season in all competitions.
However, he has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround under compatriot Thomas Tuchel and turned in another impressive performance in Madrid by keeping the hosts at bay on numerous occasions. His defensive numbers were not particularly impressive with just one tackle and an assist throughout the game but it was his organisation of Chelsea’s five-at-the-back system that was the stand-out feature of the defender’s match.
Rudiger also contributed in an attacking sense as well by lifting the ball into the onrushing Pulisic who then went on to give the Blues the lead in Madrid.
Now one of Tuchel’s key players, Rudiger will surely be hoping to continue that rich vein of form as Chelsea set their sights on the final and indeed the top four in the Premier League.
Whilst Chelsea will be frustrated having not run out victors on the night, especially considering how dominant they were in the early stages of the match, it could be argued that it is still an excellent result for the Blues as they look ahead to the second-leg.
Pulisic’s goal gave the Londoners what could be a vital away goal, meaning Zinedine Zidane’s men simply have to score at Stamford Bridge if they want to progress. Considering Chelsea have only conceded two goals at home in the Champions League this season, that will certainly be no easy task for the Spanish giants.
So, whilst the Blues could have left Spain with an even better result, a draw is certainly more than enough for the Londoners to be perceived as favourites in the tie as it stands. Chelsea can be backed at a price of 1/1 with William Hill to qualify for the final following both legs.
Real Madrid: Courtois (7); Marcelo (6) (Odriozola (N/A), 77′), Nacho (6), Militao (7), Varane (7), Carvajal (6) (Asensio (N/A), 77′); Kroos (6), Casemiro (6), Modric (6); Vinicius Jr. (6) (Hazard (6), 66′), Benzema (7) (Rodrygo (N/A), (90+2′).
Chelsea: Mendy (7); Chilwell (7), Silva (7), Christensen (6), Rudiger (7), Azpilicueta (7) (James (6), 67′); Jorginho (6), Mount (6), Kante (7); Pulisic (7) (Ziyech (6), 66′), Werner (6) (Havertz (6), 66′).
Goals: Pulisic (14′), Benzema (29′)
Referee: Danny Makkelie
Yellow Cards: Vinicius Jr (27′), Pulisic (38′), Kroos (60′), Marcelo (65′), Varane (78′), Odriozola (89′)
Red Cards: N/A
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