Reece James stands out as Chelsea was ending up in honorable defeat | Champions League

Hhow do you kill that which cannot be killed? Sanctioned, escrowed, hawked about the place like a sack of meat in a country pub: but still that self-fed, indissoluble substance that is Chelsea Football Club continued to go on an extraordinary night at the Bernabeu.

There was an honorable defeat for Chelsea here, a 3-2 win over 120 exciting, stunning, non-stop minutes, which resulted in a 5-4 loss overall. But the numbers are close to history, on an evening that also felt like a kind of farewell, a Viking funeral for an undeniably glorious part of the history of this club.

It seemed fitting that the three players from Chelsea’s starting academy were among the stars. Mason Mount was a tough teak, a smart whip and a relentless plague for Madrid’s midfield. Ruben Loftus-Cheek ran to the ground.

But the real heart of Chelsea’s act of resistance to fate was Reece James, whose defensive performance at the Bernabeu was beautiful, so good that Chelsea’s main concern now must be a fairly convincing business plan. to keep him on staff.

After 80 minutes, James’s Vinícius Jr fell awkwardly, but was determined to stay in the match. Deep in the second half, he retained Chelsea’s lead with a precision micro-surgery piece defending, defending on the nanobot scale, picking up the ball from Karim Benzema’s toe from just behind him with the tip of his scalpel. u so toe.

On the ball we continue to move forward. When he didn’t have it, he would just stand, sock socks, and peel, or move forward or stalking. John Terry had a more theatrical conducting pheromone. James takes him alone with him.

Madrid had been in imperial mood since late afternoon, the city lit up by an electrical storm, streets around the Bernabéu swimming with pictorial puddles, and smoky with a pre-celebratory vanguard spinning the scarf. Don’t play with the king reading the long banner at the end of the ultras before the kick-off, accompanied by a vast and slightly strange Viking-based cartoon. Sounds ridiculous. It looked great from the upper levels of this vast bowl of cantilevered concrete, the bright hard lights, the tone a dazzling deep lime.

Thomas Tuchel had used many exciting words in his pre-match chat, words such as “duels”, “offensive transition” and “an extraordinary percentage of challenges won”. He seemed to dare his own team to return to that space where nothing matters but that, where every sprint, every challenge is the last sprint, the last challenge, to exist only in that moment of time.

And Chelsea is gone. They were pressed high by the kick-off in rejigged 4-3-1-2. James took on a couple of challenges. Timo Werner made his way through the middle of the penalty spot, dropping the ball just wide of the goal. Kai Havertz knocked Toni Kroos to the ground. That was all good.

Mason Mount scores Chelsea’s first goal. Photography: Angel Martinez / Getty Images

Then it happened. Chelsea held the ball for two minutes. The tribunes began to whistle. Tuchel suddenly came to the edge of his rectangle in his tight blue quilted cloak, combined with invisible orcish fists, indicating spaces, angles, possibilities. Mateo Kovacic’s clean pass from Loftus-Cheek and Werner . Mount has many brain qualities, a product of the top academy. But he’s also a nerve-wracking footballer.

Yet Chelsea continued to press wildly, recklessly, cooling Madrid when they could.

And so it went after the break. James almost scored, his shot deflected wide. From there, the corner of Mount was pummed back through the goal by a flying Antonio Rüdiger, a wonderful alpha dog head jumping, barging.

And after 16 minutes, it was: Werner seemed to be trapped in the box by Casemiro, who then did something strange, choosing only to lie on his shoulder, like a man jumping on a water slide. . Werner passed, then saw David Alaba and Dani Carvajal slipping, sliding, banging around him as his shot pushed Courtois and into the corner.

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It couldn’t last. Madrid returned to extra time thanks to a piece of playful magic by Luka Modric, whose step to put Rodrygo into the goal came to a head, diving and screaming out of the sky, traveling on an invisible line. The decisive goal came from the fatigue of Chelsea, brutally punished by Benzema.

Chelsea still have the FA Cup to play. But the league is gone, Europe is gone, the limits of what can even be removed from the Roman age have been tightened. We never see Abramovich again clutching a blanket, dumb, tolerantly amused, but with the appearance of a man signaling already in silence for the teleportation machine. Other rain producers, other billionaires other entrepreneurs come and go.

What cannot be denied, whatever the submissive, the profound text, is the spectacle, the circus, the impossible plots, the notes of glory, the tribal union. Football has become something else in the course of Abramovich’s chronology. But one question was undoubtedly answered. Aren’t you entertained?

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