Chelsea take a slender advantage back to Stamford Bridge – but will be left wondering how Real Madrid are still in this Champions League semi-final.
This was a hugely-positive night for Thomas Tuchel’s side that proved once again that they are a force to be reckoned with.
But they will know this could have been so much better after catching Real cold for the first 25 minutes when they should have had more than just Christian Pulisic’s excellent solo goal to show for their superiority.
Karim Benzema’s 29th-minute equaliser came against the run of play – but served to remind Chelsea of the job they have in front of them if they are to reach next month’s final.
Real are not the force they were. Defensively they were shambolic as Chelsea repeatedly found space behind an uncomfortable-looking back three.
Yet they were able to weather the storm – both figuratively and literally as the heavens opened in Madrid – and deliver a sucker punch. They are wily operators at this level. While they are a squad of ageing players, they are also a group of serial Champions League winners, who know how to hang in there and wait for their chance.
So, even if Chelsea are the narrow favourites with an away goal to defend in next week’s second leg, Real can never be discounted.
That said, Tuchel may be happy the lesson came now. There should be no surprises back at the Bridge – and it will be of huge encouragement to the German that Real were limited to scraps in the way of chances even as they improved after the break.
Chelsea contained them in the second half – even if they struggled themselves to create openings at the other end. Real tightened up once Zinedine Zidane got a hold of them at the interval. That was to be expected. They could hardly have been more open in the first 45 minutes.
Mason Mount, Timo Werner and Pulisic repeatedly turned and ran at a back three of Nacho, Raphael Varane and Eder Militao.
Pulisic’s 14th-minute strike, when running on to Toni Rudiger’s lofted pass and rounding Thibaut Courtois, was the least Chelsea deserved.
By that point Werner should already have put them ahead when firing straight at the Real goalkeeper from six yards. Other promising attacks saw Pulisic and N’Golo Kante fail to take advantage with sloppy final passes to Werner.
Real’s threat was always going to come from Karim Benzema and after soaking up punishment, they equalised out of the blue when the Frenchman demonstrated perfect technique to chest the ball and volley past Edouard Mendy from a corner.
It leaves the second leg very much in the balance. Chelsea will know they can hurt Real – particularly with their pace – but will need to be more clinical if they are to make Zidane’s side pay.