Christian Pulisic scored for Chelsea as they earned a creditable 1-1 draw against Real Madrid in their Champions League semifinal first-leg on Tuesday, but the Premier League side might feel they could have come away with more.
Thomas Tuchel, who named an unchanged team for the first time since he was appointed in January, saw his side make a lively start to the game with Timo Werner and Ben Chilwell going close either side of Pulisic’s 14th-minute goal.
Pulisic headed back across goal to leave Werner with a chance from close range, but the Germany international saw his effort saved well by Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Chelsea took a deserved lead soon after, a measured ball over the top from Antonio Rudiger found Pulisic, who had made an excellent run in behind the Madrid defence. The United States men’s international controlled the ball and rounded Courtois before slotting home.
They continued to pile forward, with N’Golo Kante breaking down the right and having his pick of teammates to pass to on the left side of the penalty area before Chilwell shot wide on 24 minutes.
Thirteen times European Cup winners Real looked ragged and short on ideas but pulled level in the 29th with a moment of true class from the talismanic Karim Benzema, who controlled a knockdown on his chest before volleying into the roof of the net.
“We started the game very very well, with a lot of courage and quality,” Tuchel said postmatch. “We deserved to win the first half, we had chances. Unfortunately they scored from a set-piece and they had nothing else, we didn’t allow any chances.
“It was a disappointing score at half time. We had to stay calm and not lose confidence. The second half was very tactical, you could feel that we are a bit tired. We only had a few days to recover from another tough away game. We have to live with 1-1.
“The goal was well deserved and we should have scored at least one more. We conceded more or less out of nothing and that can always happen against individual quality.”
Chelsea looked the better side in the second half as well but could not break down Madrid again, despite a triple substitution that saw Pulisic withdrawn and Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz and Reece James introduced. Madrid countered by bringing on Eden Hazard.
The visitors then had to withstand some late pressure from the hosts, as Toni Kroos drew a save from Edouard Mendy in the Chelsea goal before Raphael Varane put a header wide from the subsequent corner.
“The first half was a bit difficult but we were much better in the second, we controlled it better, and had more order,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “In the first half they started strongly, they’re good and quick, but in the end it’s a fair result.
“We wanted to press them high, man-to-man. But when you don’t start well it’s really difficult, and that’s what happened in the first 20-25 minutes until the goal, then we were much better. We had more control. In the end we’re alive, we’ll play the second leg. We’re happy with what we did in general.
“They’re really good team, very competitive, in 20 games, I think it’s 16 without conceding a goal, and it shows. They’re a team that’s in the semi-finals for a reason. It was a competitive game.”
That leaves things finely balanced ahead of the return leg in London next Wednesday, when Madrid will look to reach the final for a fifth time in eight years.