Real Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw by Chelsea in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final tie at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium in Madrid. Christian Pulisic scored the opening goal of the match in the 14th minute and Karim Benzema equalized for Madrid in the 29th minute.
Chelsea were the better side for most of the game and will be disappointed not to take a first-leg advantage home. The two sides will meet again in London next week and the Blues will fancy their chances against one of the most successful clubs in Europe.
Let's take a look at the three things which stood out in last night’s match.
1. Chelsea dominated the midfield battle
Chelsea started the match in a 3-4-3 formation, with N’Golo Kante and Jorginho in the central midfield. Meanwhile, Real adopted a 3-5-2 formation with a midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric. Real looked to have the stronger midfield on paper. However, Chelsea managed to dominate the battle in the middle of the park from the beginning, with Kante in sublime form.
Kante repeatedly surged forward into the Madrid half and decisively won his battles with Kroos. Real needed one of their midfielders to play the box-to-box role in order to link their defence and attack, but that did not happen.
Modric, who played in an advanced role in the first half, dropped down deeper after the break. This helped Real control the proceedings in central midfield a little better.
2. Chelsea continuously troubled the Real defenders with their counter-attacking runs
From the start of the game, the Chelsea defenders kept playing long balls to their advancing forwards in the Real Madrid half to exploit empty spaces. Pulisic got hold of one such long ball played by Antonio Rudiger, dribbled past goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and fired the ball past two Real centre-backs. It was his 17th goal for the Blues.
Pulisic and the talented Mason Mount ran at the Real defence at regular intervals. As a result, Real were unable to play the high line and increase numbers in the opposition half.
Chelsea should have doubled their lead in the first half, but Timo Werner could not beat Courtois from a close distance after yet another counter-attacking move. Had it not been for the profligacy of their forwards, Chelsea could have been able to seal the fate of the tie in the first half.
3. Benzema worked hard but Real Madrid lacked width on the right flank
Real Madrid started with Benzema and Vinicius Jr. in attack, but the latter was largely ineffective before being substituted in the second half. Vinicius Jr. tried to make some darting runs through the left flank, but was kept at bay by Andreas Christensen and Cezar Azpilicueta, who provided adequate defensive cover as a right wing-back on the night.
Benzema, however, worked his socks off and repeatedly fell back to the middle to collect balls and take the attack to Chelsea. He also switched to the flanks occasionally. The Frenchman scored the equalizer after Marcelo played a cross into the Chelsea penalty box and Militao headed it down for him to volley home. This was his 28th goal of the season.
Chelsea's wing-back Ben Chilwell was a constant attacking threat on the left flank. His cause was helped by the fact that Real right wing-back Dani Carvajal mostly stayed in his own half and hardly made any overlapping runs.
As a result, Real lacked width through the right for the first 75 minutes. The situation did not improve even after the introduction of Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio in the second half, as both are primarily left-footed players.
Real Madrid started to attack more through the right flank only after Alvaro Odriozola replaced Carvajal in the second half. Odriozola made more overlapping runs than Dani Carvajal during his brief time on the pitch.