Christian Pulisic and Chelsea will not have the chance to repeat as European champions, after losing out to Real Madrid in a thrilling five-goal conclusion to their Champions League quarterfinal encounter.
Real Madrid 2 – 3 Chelsea (agg. 5-4)
With Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel all but ruling out a comeback from their two-goal deficit in his various pregame interviews, the team took that as motivation – likely as the acerbic coach intended – and proceeded to overturn the aggregate lead in less than an hour.
After a lackluster first leg coupled with a strong performance by the trio of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Mason Mount over the weekend, Pulisic was reserved by Tuchel as a late sub, where he often thrives. Indeed, he came into the game in the 83rd minute with overtime all but inevitable, in the process managing 14 of 16 passing amidst 29 total touches, and getting off a pair of shots that almost gave Chelsea the late victory.
Mount cut Real Madrid’s aggregate lead to one goal just past the 14-minute mark, with Werner chipping a pass to spring him into the top of the area for a powerful strike to the upper right corner.
The visitors kept their foot on the throttle, and pulled even on aggregate in the 51st minute, after Antonio Rüdiger rose high near the penalty spot head in the critical goal.
Chelsea then looked to have made it 3-0 on the night, and more importantly have taken the 3-2 overall lead three minutes past the hour with Marco Alonso’s shot from the left side to the far upper corner, however the score called back after a VAR review showed a handball in the immediate buildup.
Karim Benzema nearly pulled Madrid back into the lead with a header off the crossbar moments after the goal was called off, but Chelsea were nevertheless celebrating their path to the semifinal in the 75th minute. Werner did all of the hard work to maintain possession on the left side of the area, create space in the middle, and then hit a low, deflected shot that rolled in at the far corner.
Their celebrations only lasted for five minutes, after substitute Rodrygo pulled down a long forward ball from Luca Modric and pinpointed his short volleyed shot just inside the right post to even the aggregate at four goals apiece.
With the game now headed into overtime, Tuchel exchanged Werner for Pulisic in the 83rd minute as his first sub, to aiming to give the American a good crack at the hosts over the final minutes of regulation and the likely 30-plus minutes of added time.
Still, Pulisic nearly made extra time unnecessary during injury time, first sending a volleyed attempt from a Rüdiger setup wide of the mark in the 92nd minute, then sending another short-range attempt just a hair over the crossbar two minutes later.
Six minutes into the first overtime period, the hosts took control of their fate thanks to lax defending by Chelsea.
Vinicius Junior was given far too much time and space by Thiaga Silva on the left, allowing him to fire a perfect cross to Benzema in the middle. Rüdiger had left the Frenchman all alone just outside of the six-yard box, and the German slipped to the turf while trying to recover, all the while watching Benzema’s free header fly into the net, giving Madrid the 5-4 aggregate advantage.
In the final minutes, Chelsea chased hard for the equalizer, practically camped out in deep in Real Madrid territory, with the hosts happy to absorb the pressure and trust the commanding presence of keeper Thibaut Courtios.
In the end, they were able to withstand the onslaught, sending Pulisic and his teammates out of the competition.
The Blues still have plenty to play for, and will try to put themselves in position for a lesser trophy when they host Crystal Palace in the FA Cup semifinal on Sunday.
Zack Steffen will be on Manchester City’s bench on Wednesday when they try to protect their narrow 1-0 first-leg lead when they visit Atletico Madrid