Mauricio Pochettino remains Manchester United's top target, according to reports.

It may be some time before the Paris Saint-Germain boss ends up at Old Trafford, though. 

United appear set to finish this season with an interim manager before making a permanent move for the sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's long-term successor.
 

TOP STORY – UNITED FOCUSED ON INTERIM MANAGER OPTIONS

All indications are that Mauricio Pochettino will end up at Manchester United eventually, but it could take several months.

The Daily Star reports Pochettino will have to wait six months – through to the end of this season – before jumping from Paris Saint-Germain to Old Trafford.

The report says United have not made any official overtures to PSG and are focused on finding an interim boss instead, with hopes of appointing one by mid-December.

Julen Lopetegui and Ernesto Valverde are among the candidates for that role, claims the Daily Star, while the Mirror says Ralf Rangnick, Paulo Fonseca, Lucien Favre and Rudi Garcia also are in the mix, along with caretaker manager Michael Carrick.

ROUND-UP

- United and Newcastle are the top contenders to sign Kieran Trippier from Atletico Madrid, according to The Sun.

- Liverpool and Barcelona are eyeing a move for Christian Pulisic, reports El Nacional, but Chelsea's €50million price tag would be too much for Barca and the Blues prefer not to sell the USA international to another Premier League club.

- Chelsea are interested in adding defender Attila Szalai from Fenerbahce, says Football Insider.

- Adama Traore could be on the move in January as Wolves are prepared to listen to offers for the 25-year-old, Football Insider reports.

Chelsea are not content to stick with what they have. 

The Blues are top of the Premier League but poised for major moves in January.

Three young stars and a veteran are high on their radar. 

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA EYE REINFORCEMENTS

Chelsea have their sights set on moves for Jules Kounde, Matthijs de Ligt and Lorenzo Insigne, reports Marca, while another report has them as the favourites to land Aurelien Tchouameni

The Blues are poised to revisit their talks with Sevilla over Kounde in January with multiple centre-backs set to be out of contract at the end of the season. 

Thomas Tuchel's side could also dip into Serie A and try to lure De Ligt from Juventus and Insigne from Napoli.

Chelsea are prepared to offer €60million (£51m) to Monaco for Tchouameni, says TuttoJuve, with Manchester City, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Juventus also possibilities. 

 

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona are eyeing Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Hakim Ziyech as possible loan options from Chelsea, says Sport. 

- Manchester United are pushing to line up Zinedine Zidane to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, reports The Sunday Times.

- United are prepared to sell Jesse Lingard for as little as £10m in January, says The Sun. 

- Roma are in negotiations with United over a loan deal with an option to buy Diogo Dalot, claims Corriere dello Sport. 

- Inter will bring aboard Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana on a four-year deal, reports Fabrizio Romano. 

- Newcastle United will try to land Adrien Rabiot from Juventus for €10m to €15m (£8.5m-£13m), says Calciomercato. 

Christian Pulisic came off the bench to fuel the United States' 2-0 win over rivals Mexico in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying on Friday.

Pulisic, who is still regaining full fitness after an ankle injury, entered the blockbuster showdown in the 69th minute and the Chelsea star broke the deadlock five minutes later in Cincinnati.

After being dropped in September for breaching USA's COVID-19 protocol, Weston McKennie scored the decisive second with five minutes remaining before team-mate Miles Robinson was sent off in the final minute of regulation.

The result means USA – who missed the 2018 World Cup – draw level on points with Mexico but move ahead on goal difference at the top of the standings after seven games, having snapped El Tri's unbeaten start in qualifying.

Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel admitted he is concerned about Christian Pulisic being overused by the United States during the international break.

Pulisic has made just two substitute appearances for Chelsea since sustaining an ankle injury while away with USA in September.

The 23-year-old played 16 minutes in last week's Champions League win at Malmo and the final five minutes of Saturday's 1-1 draw with Burnley in the Premier League.

He came through those games unscathed and will now link up with his national team for their World Cup qualifiers against Mexico and Jamaica over the next eight days.

However, Tuchel has urged caution as Pulisic battles to overcome the persistent ankle problem that has restricted him to just four club appearances in 2021-22. 

"I think you can see from the minutes he's had, then the questions of whether he's at his peak level are answered," Tuchel said.

"It will take time with Christian because he's been out for such a long time this season, but he is easing his way back in and is doing well.

"I hope that the US national team are responsible with him and they don't overuse him too much in the international fixture.

"Christian still feels a little bit of pain but of course, he absolutely wants to come back to full fitness and at his peak level of performance that he's shown before.

"It's a matter of managing the pain in his ankle, not a matter of a reinjury or anything like that. It's just that things are still a bit painful for him.

"He desperately wanted to come back and we need him back, because he's a big player for us. 

"He's tried so hard when he's come on in recent games and it was a good start for him in Malmo, and then the 10 minutes or so he got against Burnley.

"I have to say, we are always a little worried when our players go away with the national team. 

"It's out of our control but there is also a responsibility for Christian to not get carried away and try too much."

Pulisic has featured 81 times for Chelsea in all competitions since arriving from Borussia Dortmund ahead of the 2019-20 season, starting 53 of those games.

The 23-year-old has scored 18 goals and assisted 11 more across that period, a direct goal involvement tally of 29 that is bettered only by Mason Mount (35) and Tammy Abraham (38) among Chelsea players.

He is expected to add to his 40 caps for USA in their upcoming double-header and, while Tuchel remains apprehensive, he hopes Pulisic will return to Stamford Bridge fitter.

"I understand that playing for your country is emotional and he will want to give everything to help his country win a super important match," Tuchel said.

"Hopefully the minutes will elevate him for when he returns to us and he will be in a better place physically."

Could a Premier League return be on the cards for Leroy Sane?

Sane swapped Manchester City for Bayern Munich in 2020, however, it has not gone according to plan in his native Germany.

Chelsea are reportedly trying to lure Sane back to England.

 

TOP STORY – SANE TO MAKE ENGLAND RETURN?

Chelsea are keen to sign Leroy Sane from Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, according to the Express.

Sane left Manchester City for Bayern in 2020 but the Germany international has struggled for form in Munich.

Champions League holders Chelsea – led by German boss Thomas Tuchel – are reportedly targeting Sane and are willing to include Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech or Christian Pulisic in any deal.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester United could target Inter midfielder Marcelo Brozovic in January, per Manchester Evening News. Brozovic is nearing the end of his Inter contract, with Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona also among the Croatia international's admirers. The report has also linked United with Barca's Pedri and Borussia Monchengladbach forward Dennis Zakaria, who has been previously linked to City and Inter.

Liverpool are continuing contract talks with star Mohamed Salah, says the Liverpool Echo, which claims Salah is not asking for £500,000 per week, despite previous reports. Salah has been linked with Real Madrid and Barcelona previously.

Franck Ribery is set to join Serie A newcomers Salernitana on a free transfer, according to Fabrizio Romano. The former Bayern and France star has been without a club since leaving Fiorentina at the end of 2020-21.

- Corriere dello Sport claims Roma are hoping to sign Zenit star Sardar Azmoun on a free transfer at the end of the season.

- The front page of Monday's Tuttosport claims Inter are eyeing soon-to-be free agents Lorenzo Insigne of Napoli and Bayern midfielder Corentin Tolisso. Insigne has previously been linked with Milan and Liverpool, while the likes of United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Roma have been credited with interest in Tolisso.

- Calciomercato reports Inter are considering Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana as a long-term replacement for Samir Handanovic.

The United States' stuttering start to World Cup qualifying continued after they were held to a 1-1 draw by rivals Canada.

Brendan Aaronson's 56th-minute opener was cancelled out within six minutes by Canada forward Cyle Larin as the USA drew consecutive games on the road to Qatar 2022.

Chelsea star Christian Pulisic returned to the starting line-up on Sunday after missing the USA's Octagonal opener against El Salvador following a positive coronavirus test.

Weston McKennie, though, was axed from the squad following a "violation of team policy", while Giovanni Reyna sat out due to a hamstring injury.

Canada made a lively start on the road in Nashville, where Larin checked his run and got on the end of Alphonso Davies' pass, but Matthew Turner somehow pushed the shot onto the crossbar in the 14th minute.

USA went close to breaking the deadlock five minutes before the break when Pulisic's shot hit the post from close-range.

CONCACAF Gold Cup champions the USA, though, did open the scoring via Aaronson, who slid onto the end of Antonee Robinson's cross 11 minutes into the second half.

The lead was short-lived however as Davies showed off his incredible pace, driving towards the penalty area before teeing up Larin for a simple tap-in just past the hour-mark.

Despite the draw, the USA extended their unbeaten streak to 11 matches across all competitions.

The United States and Canada both have two points from their opening two fixtures.

Chelsea star Christian Pulisic has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss Sunday's London derby against Arsenal.

The setback for the 22-year-old attacking midfielder comes less than a week after he scored in the Blues' 3-0 win against Crystal Palace on the Premier League's opening weekend.

Pulisic also helped Chelsea last week lift the UEFA Super Cup, netting in the penalty shoot-out as Thomas Tuchel's Champions League winners edged out Villarreal for more silverware.

On Friday, Pulisic posted in an Instagram story: "Hi all, unfortunately I tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week.

"Thankfully I'm fully vaccinated and I have no symptoms so far. Can't wait to get back in action! Than you for your support."

Chelsea boss Tuchel confirmed United States international Pulisic would miss the short trip to Emirates Stadium, saying: "With Christian, it's unfortunately very easy to explain. 

"He had a positive test and needs to follow the protocols so he won't be available for the game."

The news follows Arsenal confirming Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette were absent against Brentford last Friday after testing positive for coronavirus.

It remains to be seen whether the Gunners forwards are fit and available to face Chelsea this weekend, with Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta saying it was a "very uncertain" situation.

"They had some tough days. Laca still hasn't trained so he's not been very good," Arteta told a news conference.

Manchester City saw their main rivals for the Premier League title get off to a flying start on Saturday before the champions stumbled at Tottenham on Sunday.

Son Heung-min continued his phenomenal recent record against City with the only goal, while Pep Guardiola's men drew a blank for a third consecutive game in all competitions. Perhaps there's someone in north London who could help them out with that?

Manchester United and European champions Chelsea revelled back in front of full houses and Liverpool gave newly-promoted Norwich City a reality check.

But those are the bare facts. Let's delve a little deeper to examine some of the quirkier happenings on the Premier League's opening weekend.

Stumbling start for City

Guardiola suggested his stars returning from Euro 2020 and Copa America duty might be undercooked and so it proved. The 1-0 loss at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium puts City in territory they are not used to.

You have to go back to 2008-09 and a 4-2 defeat at Aston Villa for the previous time City lost their opening Premier League fixture.

In that same campaign, Guardiola's fledgling Barcelona tenure got off to an inauspicious start with a reverse against Numancia that indicated little of the treble win that was about to unfold. The Catalan had overseen 11 subsequent opening day wins since then.

Perhaps it was always going to be Spurs who halted his run, Guardiola has now lost more away games against Tottenham (five) in all competitions than any other opponent in his career.

It is also worth considering whether he is chasing the wrong Spurs forward. Only Jamie Vardy (nine) has more than Son's seven goals against City since Guardiola took charge in 2016.

European champions Chelsea kicked off their Premier League campaign with a routine 3-0 win over London rivals Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Three days after winning the UEFA Super Cup on penalties against Villarreal, adding to May's Champions League triumph, the Blues dominated against Palace from start to finish.

Christian Pulisic was brought into the side as one of five changes from that midweek cup win and scored before half-time to add to Marcos Alonso's 27th-minute opener.

Palace's first game under Patrick Vieira went from bad to worse as Trevoh Chalobah marked his league debut for Chelsea with a superb goal, giving the returning home fans plenty of reason to celebrate.

Goalscorers Alonso and Pulisic combined early on as the latter glanced a header on target for Vicente Guaita to keep out.

Mason Mount tested Guaita from a free-kick, but the Palace shot-stopper could not get anywhere near Alonso's attempt, the wing-back curling the ball over the wall and into the net from 25 yards.

That was Chelsea's 50th direct free-kick goal in the Premier League – only Manchester United (64) have more – and they deservedly doubled their lead in the 40th minute.

Guaita spilled Mount's low cross from the right and Pulisic took full advantage by firing home the loose ball from close range.

Chelsea did not take their foot off the gas and had a third goal before the hour mark thanks to academy graduate Chalobah's long-ranger that went in off the left-hand post.

The hosts continued to threaten without finding a way through, but Tuchel would have been equally pleased with a first clean sheet in five league games stretching back into last season.

 

What does it mean? Chelsea off to strong start

This Premier League campaign may be the most competitive yet in terms of the title race, with Chelsea very much among the favourites following the return of Romelu Lukaku for a club-record fee.

While the prolific striker did not feature in this opening game, the hosts still looked impressive pretty much from the first whistle against a Palace side very much under construction.

Chelsea have now won eight league games in a row against Palace and, while tougher tests lie in wait, this was a very promising start for Tuchel's men.

Pulisic punishes Palace

United States international Pulisic, who perhaps still has a point to prove in what is his third campaign at Chelsea, simply loves playing against Palace.

He has now scored five goals in five Premier League games against the Eagles, accounting for 36 per cent of his 14 goals in the competition.

Werner to make way?

Lukaku will likely be ready to start Chelsea's next match and Tuchel has a big decision to make in terms of his attacking line-up.

Werner provides qualities that go beyond scoring goals, but he was on the periphery here as he registered just one shot and managed only 28 touches of the ball – the fewest of any outfield Chelsea starter – despite playing 90 minutes.

What's next?

Chelsea face rivals Arsenal on their return to Premier League action in eight days' time, while Palace host newly promoted Brentford next Saturday.

Christian Pulisic scored a 114th-minute penalty and substitute goalkeeper Ethan Horvath saved a spot-kick six minutes later as the United States overcame Mexico 3-2 after extra time in a stunning inaugural CONCACAF Nations League final.

Poster boy Pulisic, who ended the 2020-21 campaign as a Champions League winner with Chelsea, converted deep into the second period of extra time after Carlos Salcedo was penalised for a foul following a VAR review on Sunday.

Mexico had the chance to force a penalty shoot-out six minutes later after receiving a spot-kick of their own via VAR, but Horvath – a replacement for injured star Zack Steffen in the 69th minute – denied Andres Guardado.

Extra time was needed after the Nations League decider finished 2-2 at the end of 90 absorbing minutes in Denver, where Jesus Corona's first-minute opener was cancelled out by Giovanni Reyna approaching the half-hour mark.

Mexico thought they had won the trophy thanks to substitute Diego Lainez in the 79th minute but Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie equalised three minutes later to send the match to extra time.

CONACAF Gold Cup holders Mexico were gifted a dream start inside a minute when Mark McKenzie's pass across the penalty area was played into the path of Corona, who fired powerfully past Steffen.

USA looked vulnerable defensively after the self-inflicted wound, though Josh Sargent managed to test Ochoa three minutes later.

Mexico thought they doubled the lead in the 24th minute after Hector Moreno found himself unmarked as he headed home Hector Herrera's delivery, but it was ruled offside following a VAR review.

That was a massive sigh of relief for USA, who went up the other end and equalised two minutes later via Reyna after McKennie's header had rattled the post.

Hirving Lozano wasted a golden chance to restore Mexico's lead two minutes before half-time – the Napoli forward beat the offside trap to find himself in a one-on-one situation with Steffen, but the City goalkeeper was quick off his line.

Mexico continued to be a threat in the second half, however Tata Martino's men had nothing to show for their efforts.

Sargent wasted a great opportunity to put the USA ahead just past the hour mark, but his rebound after Ochoa spilled McKenzie's long-range effort went over the bar.

Ochoa produced a magnificent save to keep the match on level terms, the Mexico goalkeeper diving to keep out McKennie's header with 19 minutes remaining.

Mexico introduced Lainez in the 78th minute and it proved an inspired substitution after drifting onto his left foot and firing into the back of the net a minute later, but the lead lasted just three minutes as McKennie restored parity with a header from a corner.

Extra time was needed, and VAR played a huge role in the second half of the additional period – USA firstly awarded a penalty in the 114th minute following Salcedo foul at the conclusion of a review.

VAR then ruled that McKenzie handled the ball inside the box the 120th minute, but Guardado saw his penalty saved by Horvath in wild scenes.

Christian Pulisic said it felt "just crazy" as the Chelsea forward became the first American player to be a Champions League winner.

The 22-year-old former Borussia Dortmund star came off the bench in the second half and went close to doubling Chelsea's lead, but they settled for a 1-0 victory over Manchester City.

Speaking after the final in Porto, Pulisic told CBS Sports: "I can't explain it, it's still such a shock. I'm so proud."

He was watched by his parents and a number of friends from the stands at the Estadio do Dragao, making the occasion all the more special.

"I'm so thankful for all the support. To have people here today was amazing," Pulisic said.

"I knew I was going to have to put in the hard work defensively. I wish I put away the chance I had. I didn't quite get under it like I wanted, but in the end this team was always going to win this game and I'm so proud of them."

Plagued by injuries this season, Pulisic was able to bring father Mark and mother Kelley into the celebrations on the pitch to mark a happy ending to a tough campaign.

Pulisic added: "I have my parents here so I've just been speaking to them. I'm so proud to be here.

"It's been a difficult road for me and I couldn't imagine winning the Champions League ever in my life and now I'm here so it's just crazy."

While Chelsea's players head off to summer breaks or away on international duty, Pulisic said the aim next season would be to "come back and try to do the same thing".

Olivier Giroud, who played a significant part in Chelsea reaching the final, was an unused substitute against City.

But the veteran striker, who could have a big role to play for France at Euro 2020, was determined to enjoy the evening.

"It's extraordinary, we had a remarkable route, we knocked out some big teams like Real [Madrid], Atletico wasn't easy, Porto either, and tonight we played against a great team in City," Giroud told RMC Sports.

"It wasn't played out on a big thing, these kinds of matches are played out in details."

Giroud hailed the performance of player of the match and fellow Frenchman N'Golo Kante, whose action-packed display in midfield kept Chelsea moving forward.

"It's right that he was man of the match, he's huge, he won 50 balls, he hurt them," Giroud said.

"He's unbelievable, this guy. It feels like there are 12 players on the pitch with him. I'm happy for him.

"We're a bunch of friends and it shows on the pitch, I'm happy that our efforts have been rewarded. You could see our determination tonight and our desire to go out and get it."

Christian Pulisic admitted to being "very frustrated" at being left out of Chelsea's starting line-up for Wednesday's Champions League semi-final second leg with Real Madrid.

The United States international scored a crucial away goal for the Blues in last week's first leg but was named among the substitutes for the return fixture at Stamford Bridge.

He again made his impact known, however, by setting up a goal for Mason Mount 18 minutes after being introduced from the bench in the 2-0 win, which saw Chelsea through 3-1 on aggregate.

"I'm very frustrated," Pulisic, who has struggled with injuries this term, told CBS Sports. "There's not much else to say. I wanted to play from the beginning, as I always do.

"I've had to continue to prove myself over and over again. But, as always I reach out to God and he gives me strength. With that behind me, nothing can stop me really."

A look at the Opta stats shows Pulisic has a right to be frustrated, having now scored and assisted a combined four goals in the Champions League in nine appearances this term.

Only Olivier Giroud and Timo Werner have been directly involved in more (both six) - in eight and 11 games respectively.

For comparison, Mount - who has been superb for Chelsea this season - has three direct goal involvements in 10 Champions League games, while Kai Havertz has two from 11 respectively.

Focusing on the Premier League, meanwhile, Pulisic has four goals and one assist in 23 appearances this term, just 14 of those being starts.

Pulisic's average of a 0.26 goals per 90 minutes is slightly better than Havertz's return of 0.25 and behind only Giroud (0.5) and Tammy Abraham (0.52) among Chelsea's attackers. Werner, for context, averages 0.23.

The 22-year-old also performs better when it comes to chances created per 90 minutes in the English top flight when compared to Havertz - 1.37 to the German's 1.07.

But Pulisic still ranks some way below Hakim Ziyech, who has created 2.54 chances per 90 minutes this season and will also perhaps feel that he should be starting more often.

Mount (2.68) and Callum Hudson-Odoi (2.71) lead that particular metric, incidentally, which only highlights just how many options Thomas Tuchel has available in that zone.

One area Pulisic struggles in comparison to his attacking rivals is passing accuracy in the opposition half - 80.95, which is lower than Havertz's 84.3, Mount's 85.45 and Hudson-Odoi's 85.65. ​

The American's win rate when starting games also does not make for good reading.

The Blues have won 13 and lost just two of the 20 league games Pulisic has not featured from the beginning this term, compared to four wins and five losses in the 14 games he has been included in the XI.

Chelsea average 1.8 league goals with Pulisic in their starting line-up, as opposed to 1.3 without, while their average goals against rises from 0.6 to 1.4 when he starts.

Tuchel ultimately knows best when it comes to his team selection - and he is backed up by the possibility of a Champions League and FA Cup double - so Pulisic will simply have to keep proving himself if he is to hold down a regular starting spot.

Thomas Tuchel was left frustrated by Chelsea's finishing in Tuesday's 1-1 Champions League semi-final first-leg draw with Real Madrid, adamant they would have been deserved winners had they shown more "composure and precision".

Chelsea took the lead in Madrid thanks to Christian Pulisic's fine individual work in the 14th minute, though they should have already been in front.

Just a few moments earlier, Timo Werner latched on to a Pulisic header across goal but shot at Thibaut Courtois from close range when he seemed destined to score.

The German also missed a decent chance late in the first half, with Karim Benzema having equalised in the interim period.

But that Benzema strike was Madrid's only shot on target, the first time since at least 2003-04 that Los Blancos have had so few in a home Champions League match.

Madrid have progressed from their two previous Champions League knockout ties with English opposition when drawing the first leg at home, though, and Tuchel rued his side's inability to finish them off at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.

"We started very well, very aggressive with courage and quality. We deserved to win the first half," he told BT Sport. "We had lots of chances and half-chances where we missed precision with the last ball.

"Unfortunately they scored from a set piece – nothing else normally for us to defend, we didn't allow any chances – so it was a disappointing result at half-time.

"It was important that we stayed calm, didn't lose confidence and we fought back into the game.

"I felt the second half was a tactical game and the speed and intensity dropped. You could feel that we were a bit tired with only two days between two away games. We suffered today from that.

"If we had one more day to recover we would have had a big chance to keep the intensity up and maybe hurt Madrid also in the second half. This was not possible and we have to live with 1-1."

Tuchel felt their initial one-goal lead was more than justified and reiterated his opinion Madrid were fortunate to be level at the interval.

The German, who is the only Champions League coach to face Madrid five times without losing, then allowed a little frustration at his team's finishing to come to light.

"It was well deserved [Pulisic's goal] and, like I said, we should have won the first half," he continued.

"We should have scored a minimum one more goal. The chances were there, the half-chances were there, we had many ball wins, good control, good attacks. We were very confident, looked very strong.

"The goal came more or less out of nothing but that can always happen when you are faced with individual quality from Real Madrid.

"A bit more composure and precision in front of goal and we could have won the first half and been a deserved winner. It's not like this, so we live with 1-1 and try to win the next game."

The two teams meet again at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday, with Tuchel aiming to reach a second successive Champions League final having lost in last season's showpiece with Paris Saint-Germain.

Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta rued missed chances in the first leg of their 1-1 Champions League semi-final draw against Real Madrid.

Thomas Tuchel's men dominated the opening exchanges at Valdebebas, with Christian Pulisic's splendidly taken goal giving them a 14th-minute lead.

But the Premier League side arguably let the 13-time European champions off the hook, with Timo Werner once again the chief culprit when it came to being wasteful in front of goal.

Karim Benzema gave the Germany international and his Chelsea team-mates a lesson in clinical finishing when he swivelled to volley a stunning equaliser against the run of play before the half hour. That remained Madrid's only attempt on target over the course of the 90 minutes.

"I think we started really well in the first 20 or 25 minutes. We got the goal and could have got more goals," Azpilicueta told BT Sport.

"They came back from a set play. After that, some moments we controlled and others we suffered.

"It is just the first half, we knew against Real Madrid it would be tough.

"We started with courage, we had to perform at our best level. The semi-final of a Champions League asks you to play your best. We missed that little last pass where we could choose the best option.

"I think in the overall analysis we performed well."

Pulisic was electrifying during the opening exchanges and Azpilicueta marvelled at the 22-year-old's coolness under pressure after he rounded Thibaut Courtois and lined up an unerring finish as Madrid defenders scampered back towards their own goal line.

"It was a great finish, great composure. When he was in front of the goal he took the best decision," he added.

"With and without the ball he makes difficult runs to defend.

"He is a young player, growing and improving. I'm very pleased with his goal. He is a very important player for the team."

Although Benzema's athleticism and clever movement caught the eye, Azpilicueta was frustrated to see Casemiro and Eder Militao win headers in the Chelsea box to make the equaliser possible.

"It was a set play, they win two headers in the box," he lamented.

"He scored a great goal, he is a very good striker.

"He dropped, he got the ball for the goal. We have to be aware. Wednesday is a decisive game and we have to be ready for it."

Worried about football's global appeal to the younger generation? Fearful the Champions League has lost its lustre beyond the core of 'legacy' (urgh!) fans in its traditional markets?

Perhaps what you need is a dazzlingly skilful 22-year-old becoming the first player from the United States to score in the semi-finals of Europe's top competition, while generally wreaking havoc every time he has the ball.

Florentino Perez must have loved Christian Pulisic taking his Real Madrid apart. The Chelsea forward made the 13-time winners of the competition Perez sought to torpedo last week look more non-league than Super League.

Pulisic was at the heart of an utterly dominant opening for Chelsea – themselves foolhardy signatories to the not-so-brave new world last week – nodding down for his beleaguered attacking colleague Timo Werner to volley too close to Thibaut Courtois between the Madrid posts.

Shortly afterwards, Pulisic took matters into his own hands, darting across a static Los Blancos backline to collect Antonio Rudiger's raking pass. His first touch was poor, but everything else from that point was perfection.

Madrid's defenders scattered and then cowered towards their goalmouth. Werner found himself demoted from strike partner to spectator at The Christian Pulisic Show. The American rounded Courtois and took aim high into the net.

Just after that, Nacho should have been booked for bringing down the goalscorer, with Eder Militao having also escaped censure for clobbering through the same player. Pulisic was everywhere.

If Perez was worried about addled young minds missing all this, no problem. It all happened inside the first 15 minutes. Plenty of time to watch, absorb, enjoy and then stick Fortnite on.

Amid his compilation of violent brain vomits last week, Perez suggested football matches should be shorter to appeal to fans more than 50 years his junior – a demographic with whom he appears to feel he is completely in tune.

Of course, it's an awful idea. And it is hard to think of many teams who would suffer more in a world of fast food football than the aging Real Madrid team he no longer has the bank balance to reupholster.

Zinedine Zidane opted to match Chelsea's shape, only to find a reinforced five-man backline somehow riddled with holes as Pulisic and Werner made merry early on.

Much is made of the esteemed midfield trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric having a combined age of 95. As N'Golo Kante jackhammered around them, each one of them looked about 95.

Collectively, they needed 20 minutes or so to click into gear. Even then, they negotiated the rain-lashed terrain of Valdebebas tentatively.

The one exception was Karim Benzema, Madrid's talismanic centre-forward who nodded and licked his lips with menace during the pre-game anthem, before basically playing Chelsea on his own for a good while.

At a time when Madrid's superstars have moved on from either the club or their peak playing days, Benzema stands tall week after week.

Against the run of play, he had his 71st Champions League goal, drawing level with Madrid great Raul in fourth on the all-time list. Inside a crowded penalty area, he controlled the ball with his forehead before swivelling to detonate an unstoppable volley.

Benzema's goal was one that beautifully combined the cerebral and the visceral and would have been at home in any of Madrid's previous great eras in this competition, eras that are connected to the present by such moments of brilliance.

Goals like Benzema's shimmer brighter through their link to past context. A great Real Madrid goal in a European Cup semi-final really means something.

From that moment, Chelsea's more nimble operators became engaged in an arm wrestle that was more to Madrid's liking. Even when Thomas Tuchel introduced Kai Havertz, Reece James and Hakim Ziyech in a triple change after the hour, the hosts remained upright on weary limbs.

Having seen his team be so inept in the initial exchanges, Zidane was able to play with Chelsea's tensions and emotions by sending on Eden Hazard.

It remained 1-1, a result most teams would be delighted to take into a home second leg. But Madrid do funny things in this tournament. They defy logic to find reserves that should have long run dry. They are propelled by purpose and history.

Above all the others, simply wanting to take his team away from the Champions League might have been Florentino Perez's most stupid idea of all.

Page 1 of 2
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.