The pulse had been faint beforehand and, as expected, it was extinguished for Chelsea well before full time, this Champions League quarter-final exit sounding the death knell for their season.
Frank Lampard’s team had a go, bringing the hustle in the first half and they almost fashioned a lifeline to counter the grave damage from the Bernabéu, N’Golo Kanté and Marc Cucurella missing clear chances.
It was a night when Chelsea were heavy on perspiration, low on inspiration, Lampard’s lineup lacking the X factor, which is quite the oddity given the £550m lavished on new players by the ownership since their installation last May.
The cameras cut repeatedly to Todd Boehly, who did a lot of staring into space. At least there was no big talk from him here, no prediction of a 3-0 Chelsea win, which was what he had foreseen before the first leg. It was what they needed here but it never looked on, despite Chelsea being able to remember some stirring comebacks in this competition. Their past is exactly that.
The fact that the chances fell to Kanté – who played as one of the No 10s in Lampard’s surprise 3-4-2-1 formation, alongside Conor Gallagher – and Cucurella told its own story. Lampard left a couple of more natural occupants for the attacking roles on the bench at the outset but the bottom line is that despite the transfer market outlay, the club have – to put it bluntly – nobody to stick the ball in the net.
It all became extremely predictable, lacking refinement, Chelsea slinging in too many hopeful crosses, their final actions imprecise. They were reeled in by Real Madrid, the holders, the old masters, who will now face Manchester City or Bayern Munich in the semi-finals; surely City in what would be a repeat of last season’s meeting at the same stage. City are still not quite sure how they lost that one.
This was a repeat of the quarter-final from last season – just without the drama, Chelsea’s toothlessness summed up when Mykhaylo Mudryk, on as a substitute, ran through at the end only to drag unconvincingly wide.
Rodrygo did the damage for Madrid, finishing off a slick break that he initiated before the hour, and turning the screw with 10 minutes to play, swooping after Federico Valverde had sliced through Chelsea’s backline and pulled across the empty net. Rodrygo took his time, almost teasing the home team, before lifting the ball home.
Lampard’s selection was always going to invite scrutiny. In the corresponding tie last season, after Chelsea had lost the first leg 3-1 at home to Madrid, the club’s manager at the time, Thomas Tuchel, went all out with a surprise and attack-minded 4-3-1-2 lineup. He so nearly pulled off one of the great comebacks, his team succumbing in extra time.
Lampard’s team had the shock factor – you would have got long odds on Kanté and Gallagher being the No 10s – and it felt as though Madrid did not know what to make of it at the outset.
Lampard wanted an aggressive press from the midfield four, especially the wing-backs, Reece James and Cucurella, and the extra pair in front of them. Kai Havertz, too, at the tip of the formation. At first, he got it. The home fans found their voices and not only when directing abuse towards their former goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois. They were particularly unimpressed when he kissed the badge on his shirt after the half-time whistle.
Madrid played within themselves before the interval – apart from a few flickers on the counter. Rodrygo and Luka Modric went close and their big chance came on 41 minutes, Modric crossing and Vinícius Júnior, in front of Wesley Fofana, somehow failing to connect.
It was feisty, Éder Militão running a risk with a foul on Trevoh Chalobah when he had already been booked. Kanté almost nipped on to a Gallagher header while Havertz shot at Courtois but then Madrid made their move, a clinically executed break, ignited when Rodrygo reached a Militão diagonal ahead of Chalobah’s all-or-nothing lunge.
Rodrygo hared away to cross low from the byline, Karim Benzema missing the touch in the middle but Vinícius returning the ball at the far post for Rodrygo, who had bent his run back into the six-yard box. Touch. Finish. All over. And was that Courtois goading the Chelsea fans at the other end?