Karim Benzema keeps the Madridistas alive in the battle for the Champions League finals with a volley in the 29th minute of the match played at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stéfano against Chelsea.
By Daphne Seberich
It was an exciting and even match of Champions League semi-finals between Real Madrid and Chelsea at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stéfano, which ended in a 1-1 tie. Christian Pulišić and Real’s Pichichi Karim Benzema both made it onto the scoresheet, but their goals were not enough to secure the win for their clubs.
Los Blancos managed to keep their unbeaten streak going and added one tally to their 17 matches undefeated in all competitions. The Madridistas fought their way back from 0-1 to a draw to secure an advantage ahead of the tie in West London on Wednesday next week. Zinedine Zidane’s team has to win the match at Stamford Bridge with one goal difference to keep their dream of the 14th Champions League title alive.
Zinedine Zidane surprised everyone when he announced the lineup ahead of the match. The Frenchman opted for three center-backs in defense, with Marcelo and Dani Carvajal playing as wing-backs respectively on the left and right. Vinícius Jr. was preferred to Marco Asensio at the front alongside Benzema for the starting eleven.
In the first minutes of the match, Chelsea was the team capable of pressing their opponents in their half and creating scoring chances. Ex-Red Bull Leipzig superstar Timo Werner, who transferred to Chelsea in last summer’s transfer session, had some good opportunities to score the advantage.
It was American Christian Pulišić who brought the Blues ahead. He was the first to make it onto the scoresheet at the 14th minute. The Pennsylvania native, served by a perfectly calibrated cross by Antonio Rüdiger, rifled a shot, which deflected off Raphaël Varane’s back into the goal. Courtois, who was well outside of his posts, couldn’t prevent the ball from hitting the back of the net. Pulišić made it into the Champions League books as the first American to score a goal in the competition’s semi-final stage.
Real Madrid, who until then were suffering multiple attacks from the Blues, fought back with Benzema hitting the woodwork of Mendy’s goal at the 23rd minute. The Frenchman’s shot glanced off the right post. This action revived the Madridistas’ spirits, who went ahead to put great pressure on the Blues.
The breakthrough came on the 29th minute for the Merengues. A short-played corner kick led Marcelo to cross into the box. Casemiro and Éder Militão kept the ball alive with their headers until finally serving Benzema, who drew the score level with a brilliant volley. The Frenchman oozes talent and is one of the players Zidane can trust over and over again.
In the second half, the pace dropped considerably compared to the exciting and eventful first 45 minutes. The Madridistas regained control over matters, pressing high and preventing Chelsea from breaking deep into their half of the pitch.
The hosts, although, couldn’t break away and score the advantage. Coach Zidane decided to bring on ex-Chelsea forward Eden Hazard, who played for the first time against his former team, for Vinícius Júnior. Álvaro Odriozola and Marco Asensio followed shortly after, respectively replacing Carvajal and Marcelo.
Zidane’s changes in the second half didn’t deliver and brought little to no spark to the team. The Madridistas had to settle for a draw ahead of the return leg in West London at Stamford Bridge, leaving the outcome of this semi-finals still wide open.
Real Madrid will have to attack and not concede on Wednesday next week to make it through to Istanbul’s final. The trip to Ataturk Stadium is only one game away for the Madridistas. Can they raise the Champions League trophy for the 14th time in their history?