The only problem is that once you have the workers of the world united in ferocity and passion, once you have the rulers, the ruling class, on the run, once you have them divided, self-doubting and agitating over the old narrow regime, then you must irrevocably seize power – or generally regret it.
And Chelsea FC, frankly, should be a step and a half away from the final in Istanbul by now.
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– Pulisic becomes first American to score in semifinal.
Before the fans of Thomas Tuchel’s club get fired up and outraged that I’m relegating them to a team with their sleeves rolled up, a hard-working team in this Champions League semi-final, let them know that this is not an ounce of disrespect for them.
Not for the first time, the aggressive and often moody German, who can come across as a passive Niles Crane or Fraser, has figured out exactly what Real Madrid dislike, getting all excited, and his record against Los Blancos (especially Zinedine Zidane’s team) is remarkable.
This is the first time Tuchel has faced Zidane’s XI in a knockout match. But the previous four games – two against Borussia Dortmund and two against Paris Saint-Germain – looked like this one, his fifth without defeat against the European champions.
More importantly, Chelsea had a clear plan, were aware of the damage they could do to Real Madrid and were confident in their ability to thwart the excellent but aging Spanish champions.
For example, the way Mason Mount, N’Golo Kante, striker Christian Pulisic and several Chelsea wingers became increasingly annoyed, irritated and ultimately passive to world stars like Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro as the tournament progressed.
With Zidane opting for a 3-5-2 formation, the strategies were similar on paper. However, this does not necessarily mean that teams will play man-to-man. But that’s what Chelsea did. Having more players on the field than they are is always a litmus test for special teams performance, especially against a nominally bigger opponent.
I’m sure it’s an optical illusion, but there were long periods, especially in the first half, where Tuchel looked like he was standing with 14 or 15 men on a lousy Valdebebas in Madrid. And that perhaps explains Madrid’s initial shock when it became apparent that they were wasting time counting Chelsea’s players rather than marking them, and passing them rather than attacking them directly.
The beneficiary was American men’s team superstar Pulisic. He struggled, struggled and struggled enough to deserve the award, but the way he scored the first goal was just amazing.
If you’ve followed Real Madrid’s European successes this season, you’ve seen the bitter irony of the way they’ve conceded goals.
Already exhausted when Liverpool visited the champions and faced them in the quarter-finals, Jürgen Klopp’s men were slow to apply pressure, with Kroos providing the quarter-final victory over Madrid. Liverpool failed to put him under pressure and his passing was the deciding factor.
There was a mirror image in this game. Casemiro, who likes to rant and spit fire in the face of his opponents, contented himself with passively watching Antonio Rudiger look up and assess his ability to make a pass from 40 yards that was not a Hail Mary.
Christian Pulisic and Cesar Aspilicueta Angel Martinez/Getty Images
The German defender backed himself, and rightly so.
Pulisic made a nice running move with a slash, meaning he starts deeper than a traditional striker who risks the offside line by playing on his defender’s shoulder.
The Pennsylvania native followed the trajectory of his run in Hershey and came up with Rudiger’s perfect pass – and on the court.
At that point, a miraculous chain of events led directly to Chelsea taking a deserved lead and scoring a goal that could still secure them a place in the final.
Pulisic’s control, tightened at Dortmund’s training ground in Brackel, did not let him down. However, the defensive instincts of Nacho and Eder Militao were always present.
The 22-year-old American is up against two of them, plus Thibaut Courtois, who has already broken a heart or two for Chelsea (later), and the stupid decisions of the two Madrid defenders will live with them for a long time – especially if they fail in London.
Both the Spaniard and the Brazilian decided to get away from Pulisic and take over on the goal line. That left Courtois (1.93m) to try and juggle the young American – a tournament Pulisic would win all evening.
When the ten-year-old Chelsea player was pushed back into his soft shoes by Courtois, he was like a fish in a barrel, sending a shot between two majestic defenders off the line, and his goal was rewarded with technique, timing, intelligence and outstanding confidence.
The fact is, and this has to do with the idea of unions letting managers go, the Chelsea goal should have been 2-0.
Moments before, Mount had evaded Militao in midfield as if he wasn’t there, and as a result Pulisic, again free between Marcelo and Nacho, had made an excellent choice and deflected a literally perfect header on his way to Timo Werner.
This isn’t a memo to Tuchel, but I’m suggesting that after tonight it might be worth paying Pulisic, Olivier Giraud and Tammy Abraham a daily bonus to stay after training to show the German the rest of the way.
A chance from Werner was saved from close range by Courtois alone, but although Chelsea are still favourites to reach the final, it was the kind of miss you wait a week for and then burn forever when the second leg is called off. It’s just awful.
The hard-working Cesar Azpilicueta confirmed after the game: We could have scored more goals. We arrived with courage, we knew we had to be at our best, the semi-final of the Champions League demands it.
Ale Moreno believes that Real Madrid were second-rate in all areas against Chelsea and were lucky to come away with a draw.
We pressed well, got the ball back well, but we missed the final pass or the finishing. Otherwise, the result might have been different.
Madrid’s faded appearance, his panting and huffing, and his total rejection of not having a moment to breathe or think, as opposed to inside, made him sparkle and shine like a royal diamond.
Chelsea, when Real Madrid literally won the corner after half an hour, dozed off for 9-10 seconds. That alone is a big warning for next week. Don’t, repeat to me a thousand times, let a technically superior and highly experienced opponent that you think is on the canvas breathe the way you want it to.
Again. Although Chelsea were in the sixteen-yard area, they failed to notice that Cruz and Modric were working a short corner and that Marcelo had joined them.
Kante came on late in the game, but a change in attacking angle allowed Marcelo to set up his left foot and serve Casemiro near the back line. Militao helped head the ball across goal to offset Pulisic’s opening goal. Then it was shot after shot, the ball flying in all directions and it was Benzema’s turn.
Only the great ones achieve this goal. Controlling the ball so that the trajectory of the ball is such that he can put his foot on it, think faster, react faster, push the ball faster between the many bodies that are Andreas Christensen and Thiago Silva.
Edouard Mendy seemed more shocked than humiliated that his compatriot gave him such an outrageous rebuke in Chelsea’s first Champions League semi-final.
After that, Madrid slowly began to play with more energy and denied Chelsea so much playing time that Tuchel’s team began to settle for what they had. With the exception of a few moments, none of which replaced Benzema’s stunning distance shot into Mendy’s right hand, the teams began their mental and physical preparation for next Wednesday in south west London.
Tuchel admitted: We were a little tired in the second half, only two days between the two away games. We had a great chance to keep the intensity up and hurt Madrid in the second half.
The blue shirts, the blue collars and the rolled up sleeves brought important concessions from the old European giants, but they were only crumbs from the top table, not the whole banquet.
Chelsea go into the second round as slight favourites, but anyone who thinks it doesn’t matter that they let Madrid get away hasn’t been paying attention.