Pulisic, the U.S. star, flashed his poise and patience deep in the penalty area, paralyzing the goalkeeper between him and the near post. He waited for teammate Mason Mount to cut into position, then delivered the cross.
Mount stabbed it into the net, and after almost 90 nervy minutes at Stamford Bridge, with tensions rising after each squandered chance by the hosts and each foray by the visitors, the Blues were home free: a 2-0 victory for a 3-1 aggregate triumph and a berth in the May 29 championship game against Manchester City in Istanbul.
For the second time in three seasons, two English Premier League clubs will clash for European club soccer’s greatest prize. And for the first time, a U.S. men’s national team player (Pulisic) is likely to play in the final while another Pennsylvanian (Manchester City backup goalkeeper Zack Steffen, from the University of Maryland) will be in uniform.
One day after Manchester City eliminated Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea ousted the Spanish club that has won a record 13 continental titles.
Timo Werner provided the lead in the 28th minute before the substitute Pulisic and Mount combined for the 85th-minute goal.
“It’s been a long road to get to here,” Mount said. “We’ve been through tough, tough teams. And we’ve done it. … We’re very confident now going into the final. Hopefully we can win, and then it will be the cherry atop a very good season.”
It was a deserving victory. Although the outcome hung in the balance until almost the end, Chelsea was unfazed by the Spanish titans and superior in every facet.
Real Madrid “can turn from nothing into two goals, so you are always on the edge,” Chelsea Manager Thomas Tuchel said. “You hang in there, even if you have big chances. You miss, you miss, you miss again but never lose concentration, never lose the focus, never lose the positive energy.”
Pulisic, 22, played a late role after entering in the 67th minute.
“I know what I have to do when I get onto the field,” he said. “I’ve got to do my bit and try to finish the game off strong.”
Pulisic was conspicuously absent from Chelsea’s starting lineup, eight days after he scored in the first leg in Madrid. He had been in terrific form since he returned to regular duty six weeks ago, scoring four goals and influencing the attack with confident runs.
Tuchel did not drop him Wednesday because of injury or a slip in performance. Rather, he selected a player in supreme form, Kai Havertz, who scored twice Saturday in a Premier League victory over Fulham, and paired him with German teammate Werner.
Pulisic said he was “very frustrated. I wanted to play from the beginning as I always do. I have had to continue to prove myself over and over again.”
He proved himself in the first meeting. Although the Blues earned a draw, they believed they could have won and taken a commanding edge into the return leg.
The onus Wednesday was on Real Madrid because, if no one scored, Chelsea would advance on the away-goal tiebreaker. And that’s the way it played out at the start, with the visitors probing for opportunity and Chelsea taking a physical and disruptive approach.
Since his appointment in January, Tuchel has emphasized defense. Wednesday’s result gave the Blues 17 shutouts in 24 matches across all competitions since his arrival. Chelsea has conceded multiple goals only twice.
Edouard Mendy, a 6-foot-6 goalkeeper, blanked the visitors in the first half by extending fully to push aside Karim Benzema’s 20-yard bid and soaring to touch Benzema’s close-range header.
Chelsea did not sit back, though, and the opportunities began to surface. Tight, one-touch passing unlocked Real Madrid’s central resistance. N’Golo Kante set up Havertz for a chip over charging goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. The shot struck the crossbar and floated to Werner a step from the target for the easiest of headers.
After intermission, Chelsea smelled blood. Another goal would have left little doubt about its place in the final. Havertz almost got it less than two minutes into the half, heading off the crossbar. Mount missed the mark after drawing Courtois off his line.
“We could’ve had five,” Mount said.
Chelsea was as comfortable as a team with a one-goal lead against a formidable foe could be. Two more huge chances passed, allowing Real Madrid to cling to hope.
Pulisic brought pace and energy. Not seriously threatened, the Blues appeared on their way to victory. Pulisic and Mount left no doubt.
Pulisic took the ball to the end line, freezing Courtois, who tried to protect against both a shot and cross. The American waited for the right moment before he found Mount at the edge of the six-yard box.
The tension was broken. The Blues of Chelsea were on their way to a showdown with the Sky Blues of Manchester City.
“We never lost the hunger. We never lost the desire to defend in the first half,” said Tuchel, who guided Paris Saint-Germain to last year’s final. “The second half was even better structure to defend. It was a fantastic performance.”
— Steven Goff
Read highlights of Chelsea vs. Real Madrid below.
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