Christian Pulisic Powers Chelsea to Draw with Real Madrid in UCL Semis Leg 1

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistApril 27, 2021

Chelsea's head coach Thomas Tuchel, 2nd right, reacts as Chelsea's Christian Pulisic, left, celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Champions League semifinal first leg soccer match between Real Madrid and Chelsea at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

Real Madrid and Chelsea played to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal on Tuesday at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano in the Spanish capital.

Christian Pulisic opened the scoring for Chelsea, but Karim Benzema canceled out his goal in the 29th minute. While the two teams are level, the Blues' away goal could prove important in the second leg.

Pulisic's season hasn't gone totally according to plan as injuries and the arrivals of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech have made it difficult to carve out a place in Chelsea's starting XI. But the 22-year-old displayed how he continues to be a potent attacker by becoming the first American to score in a Champions League semifinal tie.

Collecting a pass from Antonio Rudiger on the edge of the 18-yard box, Pulisic's momentum took him to the left of the goal. The Pennsylvanian cut back to his right and eluded former Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois before giving the Blues a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute.

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It was understandably a big moment for American supporters watching from home.

B/R Football @brfootball


Nico Cantor @Nicocantor1

Dear Chelsea, Let’s make sure that epic Christian Pulisic goal does not go down in vain. Sincerely, The United States of America 🇺🇸

Jason Davis @davisjsn

Christian Pulisic turning Courtois inside-out is going on my Christmas cards.

Despite being the stronger side in the first half, Chelsea was unable to maintain its advantage before halftime.

Benzema is enjoying perhaps the best year of his career, and the French forward used a combination of quick thinking and lethal finishing to bring the match level.

Eder Militao headed a Marcelo free kick across goal, and Benzema flicked the ball up before depositing it in the back of the net with a thunderous right-footed effort.

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13 GOALS IN HIS LAST 13 STARTS. KARIM BENZEMA. 😱 https://t.co/Dl2kTmCi0Y

With the goal, the 33-year-old tied Madrid legend Raul for fourth in the Champions League's all-time scoring ranks.

David Cartlidge @davidjaca

Benzema finish exceptional. Would've been laughed out of Madrid several years ago had you said he would equal Raul's goalscoring total in the Champions League.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel is probably satisfied with the result because Real Madrid looked to be ascendant after Benzema's equalizer. Instead, the Blues remained solid defensively to prevent the 13-time European champions from adding a second goal.

Having said that, this feels like an opportunity lost for Chelsea.

Whether fair or not, Timo Werner's profligacy has been a storyline around the club all season. The Germany forward averaged 0.90 goals per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga with RB Leipzig in 2019-20, per FBref.com. That number has fallen to 0.24 in the Premier League during his maiden campaign with the Blues.

A familiar story played out in the 10th minute Tuesday. Pulisic set Werner up with a great chance from close range, and Werner could only place it within reach of Courtois.

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TIMO...DENIED BY COURTOIS ❌ https://t.co/wi7oBYjGIQ

To the extent any one player was to blame for Chelsea's failure to fully capitalize on its advantage for the majority of the first half, Werner was an easy target. His inability to put away what appear to be straightforward goals has happened too often to be chalked up to bad luck.

Fernando Duarte @Fernando_Duarte

Timo Werner, cows and banjos.

Squawka Football @Squawka

Timo Werner's first half by numbers vs. Real Madrid: 3 shots 2 shots on target 0.89 Expected Goals 0 goals He just can't find the back of the net. 😫 https://t.co/3IDYo7CRcm

Adam Hurrey @FootballCliches

Timo Werner now surely consigned to the striker's purgatory: namely, having the words "IS THIS THE MOMENT" shouted by a commentator every time he's about to shoot from 8 yards, forever

Of course, one critical Champions League goal would be enough to begin turning this narrative around.

On the other side, manager Zinedine Zidane will be happy Real Madrid came away with something from the first leg after having not played all that well. But more will be required from Los Blancos in order to see themselves through to the final.


What's Next?

The second leg is scheduled for Wednesday at Stamford Bridge in London. Before that, Chelsea and Real Madrid have home fixtures in their domestic leagues Saturday. The former hosts Fulham at 12:30 p.m. ET, and the latter is in action against Osasuna at 3 p.m. ET.