This was a hugely-positive night for Thomas Tuchel’s side that proved once again that they are a force to be reckoned with.
But they will know this could have been so much better after catching Real cold for the first 25 minutes when they should have had more than just Christian Pulisic’s excellent solo goal to show for their superiority.
Karim Benzema’s 29th-minute equaliser came against the run of play – but served to remind Chelsea of the job they have in front of them if they are to reach next month’s final.
Real are not the force they were. Defensively they were shambolic as Chelsea repeatedly found space behind an uncomfortable-looking back three.
Yet they were able to weather the storm – both figuratively and literally as the heavens opened in Madrid – and deliver a sucker punch. They are wily operators at this level. While they are a squad of ageing players, they are also a group of serial Champions League winners, who know how to hang in there and wait for their chance.
So, even if Chelsea are the narrow favourites with an away goal to defend in next week’s second leg, Real can never be discounted.
That said, Tuchel may be happy the lesson came now. There should be no surprises back at the Bridge – and it will be of huge encouragement to the German that Real were limited to scraps in the way of chances even as they improved after the break.
Chelsea contained them in the second half – even if they struggled themselves to create openings at the other end. Real tightened up once Zinedine Zidane got a hold of them at the interval. That was to be expected. They could hardly have been more open in the first 45 minutes.
Mason Mount, Timo Werner and Pulisic repeatedly turned and ran at a back three of Nacho, Raphael Varane and Eder Militao.
Pulisic’s 14th-minute strike, when running on to Toni Rudiger’s lofted pass and rounding Thibaut Courtois, was the least Chelsea deserved.
By that point Werner should already have put them ahead when firing straight at the Real goalkeeper from six yards. Other promising attacks saw Pulisic and N’Golo Kante fail to take advantage with sloppy final passes to Werner.
Real’s threat was always going to come from Karim Benzema and after soaking up punishment, they equalised out of the blue when the Frenchman demonstrated perfect technique to chest the ball and volley past Edouard Mendy from a corner.
It leaves the second leg very much in the balance. Chelsea will know they can hurt Real – particularly with their pace – but will need to be more clinical if they are to make Zidane’s side pay.
At the same time, here was a reminder of the threat posed by the 13-time champions of Europe – even when they appear to be at their most vulnerable.
Keep Benzema quiet
Benzema was always going to be Real’s biggest threat, with Eden Hazard only ever likely to make a cameo against his former club.
The Frenchman proved his enduring quality with a wonderful volleyed equaliser – and he will be the man Chelsea have to stop back at Stamford Bridge. Here was evidence that it only takes half a chance for the veteran to strike.
As dominant as Chelsea were in the first 45 minutes, Benzema was the difference for Real. Keeping him quiet back at the Bridge could be key to reaching the final.
Werner’s woes continue
After breaking his barren run against West Ham, it was the same old story for Werner.
Faced with only the goalkeeper to beat, he tamely nudged straight at Courtois when he could have fired Chelsea ahead early on. It was a fine save, but a top-class striker would not have given the keeper a chance.
His confidence just looks shot right now. Admittedly he was not helped by some of the service he received – but you just do not fancy him with even the simplest of chances at the moment.