Real Madrid is seeking a fifth Champions League title in eight seasons, while Chelsea is looking to return to the final for the first time since winning it all in 2012.
In a clash between two giants dealing with Super League fallout, Real Madrid will host Chelsea at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano in the first leg of the UEFA Champions semifinals.
Six months ago it might have seemed unrealistic to see either side in Europe’s final four, but Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel and Real legend Zinedine Zidane have led stunning turnarounds at their respective clubs in the new year.
Despite missing a chance to top the La Liga table this weekend in a scoreless draw with Real Betis, Real Madrid sits in second place just two points behind cross-city rival Atlético. In a rematch of the 2018 Champions League final, Los Blancos dispatched Liverpool on a 3-1 aggregate in the quarterfinals despite missing starting defenders Sergio Ramos and Raphaël Varane.
Chelsea kicked off the Tuchel era at Stamford Bridge with a 15-match unbeaten run and recently ended Manchester City’s hopes at an unprecedented quadruple with a 1-0 win in the FA Cup semifinals. The Blues edged past Portuguese champions Porto in the quarterfinals on a 2-1 aggregate and enter the semis having recorded 16 clean sheets in its last 21 matches in all competitions.
With the start, Chelsea winger Christian Pulisic became only the third American player to feature in the Champions League semifinals after Tyler Adams and DaMarcus Beasley.
Pulisic led the line alongside Timo Werner, who scored his first goal in the last 15 games against West Ham on Saturday, but their runs into the box in the first five minutes didn’t seem to bother Real.
The duo nearly combined for the opening goal in the 10th minute. Mason Mount led a counter-attack down the left wing and his deflected pass found Pulisic at the far post. The American deftly passed to an open Werner in front of goal but former Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois made the save to keep things scoreless.
But Pulisic took matters into his own hands in the 14th minute when he latched onto a lofted pass from Antonio Rudiger. The former Dortmund star danced around Courtois with a beautiful dribbling display and finished coolly for what could be a critical away goal.
Karim Benzema came within inches of equalizing in the 23rd minute when he sent a rocket from just outside the box that easily beat Chelsea keeper Edouard Mendy before hitting the post and ricocheting out of play.
Pulisic continued to lead the charge, drawing four defenders around the penalty area in the 25th minute, before laying off a pass for Ben Chilwell as the left-back fired wide.
But Benzema eventually got his equalizer with a touch of magic for his 28th goal of the season. In the chaos of a set-piece play, the Frenchman headed down a pass right in front of goal and smashed in into the net on a volley before any Chelsea defender could even step to him.
Werner had another chance in the 43rd minute when Pulisic sprung his run with a pass down the wing, but the summer signing from RB Leipzig blasted his shot into the side-netting.
The German international kicked off the second half with a chance in the 48th minute after N’Golo Kante won another ball in Real’s defensive third, but Werner’s hesitation allowed a Real defender to step in for the block.
Already on a yellow, Pulisic’s night ended in the 66th minute when the goalscorer was subbed off for Hakim Ziyech. Eden Hazard came on a minute later in the hopes of striking a crucial blow against his former side.
Stay tuned here for live updates and highlights of goals and key plays from throughout the match (refresh for most recent updates).
Here are the lineups for both clubs:
The winner of this semifinal tie will play either PSG or Manchester City for the 2021 Champions League title. The final is set for May 29 in Istanbul.