it was so close to a Champions League return for the ages, with Chelsea poised to produce a miracle in Madrid to muster the most remarkable defense of their crown.
They scored four goals, so long unanswered by Real Madrid, three of which stood, and yet they still come out of the tournament.
They don’t deserve to be, but Real are the all-time kings of Europe for a reason. They find a way to get through those moments and it was two of the legends of that competition who got them back from the brink.
Luka Modric’s incredible through ball allowed substitute Rodrygo to extend the game with Real trailing 3-0.
And then, in extra time, Karim Benzema scored his fourth goal of the game to end Chelsea’s reign as European champions, making it 3-2 on the night and 5-4 on aggregate.
It was cruel – but should be a night of huge pride for Thomas Tuchel and his team. They were outstanding, beating Real in every department and just failing.
On a night for heroes, it’s cruel to work through the mistakes that ultimately cost them both legs.
The confusion between Edouard Mendy and Toni Rudiger to hand Benzema his first-leg hat-trick, and Romelu Lukaku’s failure to hit the target from six yards out, left Chelsea with a mountainous task in Spain.
And in that match, as the game headed into extra time, substitute Christian Pulisic’s inability to seize either of the two chances from close range, came back to haunt them when Benzema headed in the winning goal.
Even late in extra time, Kai Havertz and Jorginho failed to hit the target with clear chances.
Chelsea were superb. They mocked Tuchel’s claim after the 3-1 first leg defeat that the draw was dead.
The German was emotional that night at Stamford Bridge and, no doubt, chastened by his side’s erratic performance which Benzema exploited so ruthlessly.
But a first goal in Madrid and it was always going to be the game.
It duly arrived by Mason Mount, who burst into the box in the 15th minute and swept a shot past Thibaut Courtois to trick the traveling fans into thinking the miracle comeback was in the works.
Chelsea were brilliant in this first half, with N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek getting past Real’s midfield.
Timo Werner was a constant nuisance taking up positions between full-backs and centre-backs, playing off the shoulder. Real was dragged out of form and unsure whether to step up or down to try and handle it.
Mount and Havertz used this uncertainty to their advantage, gouging holes in Real’s rear guard and getting into dangerous areas themselves.
Most notable was Benzema’s lack of influence from the first leg. He was denied space to attack, with Real having few opportunities to provide the kind of serve he thrived on at Bridge.
Chelsea deserved their advantage at the break and they deserved to lead 2-0 when Rudiger’s header beat Courtois’ diving six minutes into the second half.
The visitors continued to overtake their opponents and it was from a Mount corner that Rudiger leveled the tie on aggregate.
Chelsea thought they were ahead just after the hour mark when Marcos Alonso fired a right-footed shot into the top corner.
Frantic celebrations ensued and it looked like Real were in a crisis until VAR came to their rescue, ruling out Alonso’s handball goal.
It was a potential turning point and the danger for Chelsea was that the reprieve could breathe new life into Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
That was certainly the case when Benzema – chained all the way – headed for goal, only to see his effort go off the bar.
To Chelsea’s credit, they didn’t feel sorry for themselves and took the lead for the first time in the game thanks to a brilliant Werner goal after 75 minutes.
The German looked like he wasted his chance after being fed by Kovacic but skipped challenges from Casemiro and David Alaba before finding the far corner.
It should have been four shortly after when Havertz’s powerful header was parried by Courtois.
This time, Real benefited from another letting go, substitute Rodrygo sending home Modric’s most spectacular pass.
Still, it was Chelsea who had the chances to win it on 90 minutes, with Pulisic coming off the bench to volley twice from close range.
Those misses ultimately cost Chelsea, with Benzema heading for Vinicius Junior’s cross after Rudiger slipped trying to reach the French striker.
It was cruel – but, even in defeat, Chelsea legends were created that night.