In his weekly fan’s view of Chelsea life, columnist Giles Smith looks back at his team’s strikers taking the game to Real in rain-soaked Spain, and looks at the news that one of the opposition stars may be ruled out for the second leg due to an unusual call-up…
What a performance that was, and what a moment to produce it. People will say that staging a match of this magnitude behind closed doors in Real Madrid’s spare stadium sapped a lot of the glamour from it. And, yes, it’s certainly true that the prospect of going head-to-head with the 13-times champions of Europe in a packed and fizzing Bernabeu is kind of what interests one about the Champions League, where meeting them in an empty training ground has tended to feature less frequently in one’s dreams down the years. Especially an empty training ground that’s only accessible via television.Even so, the sight of N’Golo Kante, Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic romping practically at will through Real’s panicked defensive lines in that first half on Tuesday night will surely go down among the great and nationally uplifting images of lockdown, along with Captain Tom in his garden. What did YOU do during lockdown? While some of us eagerly gave ourselves credit for learning to bake bread during these difficult times, others among us were obviously learning to dismantle Real Madrid’s central defence, and that’s properly impressive.
We should note, also, that significant portions of Tuesday’s game took place in a rain storm so severe that at certain points it stopped resembling rain entirely and started looking like lashing waves. Even the manager was required to don a sou-wester. And Real Madrid’s kit turned translucent, which doesn’t frequently happen.The fact that the pitch wasn’t entirely awash with standing water within minutes could only leave you marvelling at the exceptional standard of today’s training facilities. One wouldn’t have wanted to see a game like that, in weather like that, staged on our old practice strips at Harlington, and that’s for sure. We would still be pulling people out of the slurry with tractors. But, of course, the game has come on a long way since then, and so have we.
And so, with respectful optimism, on to next week’s second leg, which can at least take place in a full-sized Stamford Bridge, offering what I like to think of as a proper lack of atmosphere. Is it too late to get this game shunted onto the government’s list of test events for stadium reopening, and thereby get a few people through the door to witness it? I guess so. Pity, because it could make all the difference.Still, there’s one piece of good news already. Yesterday, in the kind of story you don’t read often enough in the sport media-sphere, the BBC website reported that Marcelo might miss next week’s return leg – not through injury or exhaustion but because he has been summoned for electoral duties and formally asked to remain at home in order to monitor a polling station in elections for the Madrid assembly, taking place next Tuesday.I don’t know about you, but I’ve no problem with that. Civic duty is a very fine thing and obviously the obligation to step up and play a part should extend to everybody, because that’s the whole point, including valued Real Madrid players on the eve of a Champions League second leg against Chelsea. In fact, especially them.At the same time, I can see how Real Madrid fans might take exception to this development, because if it turned out that Ben Chilwell, say, had to miss a Champions League semi-final because he’d agreed to help out with the vote-count for the local elections on 6 May, I think I’d be a little bit disappointed.
I mean, how often do elections come round, and how often do Champions League semi-finals come round? Well, actually, in our case, given that this is our eighth semi in under a quarter of a century, with about the same frequency, now that I think about it. But you take my point.Anyway, the thing is, by my reckoning, Marcelo on Tuesday night was Real’s busiest and most potentially destructive player – certainly busier and more destructive than either Toni Kroos, who was kept practically silent by our players’ application of the manager’s system, and Luka Modric, whom I hadn’t really realised was on the pitch until he appeared on my television screen in a slightly distressed-looking close-up in about minute 55.So if Marcelo does find himself excluded, then I don’t think any of us will be holding it against the Spanish electoral system for intervening. And you never know, perhaps Karim Benzema could get called up for jury duty in the meantime.But I’m not getting my hopes up. On the occasions that this electoral monitoring thing has cropped up in the past in Spain, clubs have entered a plea and players have tended to find themselves excused. Still, an interesting story while it lasts, and one to keep an eye on as we ready ourselves for round two and, beyond that, dare we even think about it, a possible date with destiny.On the plus side, if Marcelo does miss out, it seems he’ll get €65 for his monitoring work, which is the standard rate for that duty, so it’s not all bad news for him. And I bet there’s coffee and biscuits.