Playing with tenacious confidence and all-around intensity their opponents never matched, Chelsea defeated visiting Real Madrid 2-0 in a match that could have had many more goals on the scoreboard.
Senegalese goalkeeper, Edouard Mendy, made a couple of brilliant saves on Real Madrid’s few offensive chances (5 shots on target all game long) and Timo Werner (28’) and Mason Mount (85’) provided the goals for the home side.
Thibaut Courtois saved several sure-goal opportunities on Chelsea counters when Real were forced to attack, or attempt to attack, and it was on two such counters that Werner headed uncontested off a crossbar ricochet. The second was prettier as substitute Christian Pulisic went down the right wing and stopped inside the box awaiting an open teammate and juking Madrid defenders as he took his time until Mount came barreling in to put the final nail in the coffin.
Pulisic ended the tie with a goal and an assist on Chelsea’s 3-goal crop despite not having played a full match in either leg. But the issues in this tie were not centered on Chelsea’s play, they have been playing one way—with tenacity and confidence—all season long, since Thomas Tuchel’s arrival. It was how poorly Real Madrid played that was the attention grabber. Or put another way, it was how poorly they played in the one competition that really matters to their owner.
Once again Madrid coach, Zinedine Zidane, put out a new formation with a new set of characters and asked them to take on roles at which they were not best suited to succeed. He started Eden Hazard and Sergio Ramos, who were both obviously not match-ready, and asked the likes of Vinicius Jr. to play at wingback. Zidane, as usual, waited until the 60+ minute to make any changes to his ineffectual lineup and as usual the players he would always sub in La Liga matches came out and the ones he would usually bring in, came in.
There must be some Florentino Perez algorithm most of us are simply unfamiliar with which states that if you pile up enough talent on the pitch a victorious team will emerge. Unfortunately for Real Madrid, Zidane split the best midfield in football ensuring they would not control the middle of the pitch. Then he started players who had not played in weeks. Then he positioned players in locations they had never played in before and asked them to produce a comeback.
He also chose not to play Isco in a match that screamed for a dribbler, given Chelsea’s tight marking. Hazard ended up being the only one capable of dribbling, so Chelsea triple-teamed him erasing the threat. Vinicius was trapped pretending to play defense and never provided any offensive punch on the left while Mendy never did on the right.
For a team that began the match needing to score just one goal to be outshot 15-7 by an opponent who did not need to score at all tells you what you need to know about the match. Real Madrid had 68% of the possession and mustered seven shots, five on target. Chelsea, with 32% of possession had 15 shots, five on target, and two goals.
So, we will be treated to an all-English UEFA Champions League final, with the two teams who competed earlier for the FA Cup meeting again.
Meanwhile, over in Spain
Lionel Messi decided to invite the entire Barcelona squad to his home for some bonding time over a cookout, ahead of their make-or-break Saturday match against Atletico Madrid. The only problem was that La Liga had banned all player gatherings above six people. It will be interesting to see if the league officials get around to implementing any rule that would result in any punishment for Barca 72-hours prior to that crucial match. Any takers?