MADRID: Karim Benzema (pix) came to Real Madrid’s rescue again on Tuesday, his acrobatic volley saw them draw 1-1 against an impressive Chelsea side in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final.
Christian Pulisic caught Chelsea a deserved away goal in a drenched game at Valdebebas, but they might regret not moving away, with struggling Timo Werner missing a golden chance again.
This means Madrid will be happy too, having recovered from a half-hour’s opening before Benzema’s outburst left the tie in the balance.
Eden Hazard had 24 minutes off against his former club, but despite some scintillating touches he couldn’t add a late touch. “It’s always good to play against friends,” said Hazard BT Sport after.
By the time the Belgian entered the contest he was drifting, early adrenaline lost, both teams seemingly content to postpone to the second leg at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday.
Benzema’s goal was his 71st in the Champions League, making him the fourth highest scorer in the history of the competition with Raul, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski.
When Real Madrid were in pain, and in the absence of the injured Sergio Ramos, it was Benzema who brought his team back to this match, sometimes out of sheer will.
With Werner clearly lacking in confidence, the Frenchman’s precision on the other end could still prove the difference.
“We should have won the first half,” said Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel. “We should have scored at least one more.”
“The result is fair,” said Zinedine Zidane. “Our first half was not the best, their pressure gave us difficulties but we adapted and in the second half we were better.”
These two teams were both part of the Super League’s ‘Dirty Dozen’, with Madrid president Florentino Perez the face and voice of the breakaway project, at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium.
Despite moving scenes of protests outside Premier League stadiums last weekend, Real Madrid’s – admittedly remote – training ground has not been touched by any sign of dissatisfaction with the club.
And there was no Real Madrid revolt against UEFA either, with the Champions League anthem resounding as usual and the stadium announcer faithfully declaring: “The UEFA Champions League brings together the best teams in Europe. “
Chelsea were electric in the first half hour, their passes smoother and moves faster than Madrid, who were unable to keep up.
Werner should have scored when Mason Mount’s deflected and looped shot was directed by Pulisic, but he missed six yards, his volley blocked by Thibaut Courtois’ right leg.
But Chelsea’s dominance was such that another chance never felt far away, in the 14th minute Pulisic taking advantage.
Antonio Rudiger had time to float a delicious ball over the American, whose first touch took him to the left but he regained his balance, passing Courtois and shooting between Marcelo and Raphael Varane on the line .
Chelsea were rampant, but as the rain started to fall, Madrid found a way back. Benzema led the resistance, a long range shot grazing the post before another from close reached Madrid’s level.
A small turn made its way towards Marcelo on the edge of the box and his cross had returned via Casemiro and Eder Militao. Benzema, back to goal and surrounded by blue shirts, tamed the ball with his forehead before tossing his body in the air and making a volley before his scorers could react.
Marcelo and Jorginho were both guilty of sloppy passing early in the second half, but neither Werner nor Benzema were able to capitalize.
And for 20 minutes, the match drifted, the two teams nervous about opening up. Four substitutes intervened just after the hour, Hazard and Kai Havertz among them. Hazard was making his third appearance in three months.
But Benzema’s shot was blocked, Hakim Ziyech’s free kick ended up in Courtois’ hands and a late Madrid cross came past the far post. – AFP