The 2nd leg of Chelsea-Real Madrid will go down as an all-time classic, as Chelsea overcame a 3-1 first leg deficit to take a 4-3 aggregate lead, only to blow it and lose the tie in extra time to Real Madrid 5-4, even though they won the game 3-2. Chelsea were far and away the better team, with Thomas Tuchel’s fluctuating formation that bounced between a 4-3-3 without the ball and a 3-4-1-2 with it completely flummoxing Madrid. Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s “position” — not quite a wingback but not quite a midfielder but not quite a winger and yet all three at once — gave Chelsea a third man to overrun Madrid’s AARP-applicant midfield three.
They harassed Madrid into giveaways and turnovers. They ran past them at will, They pinned them around and in their own box in the Bernabeu, which few do. They thoroughly deserved their 3-0 lead on the night, and really could have been up by more. The match even had the necessary dollop of controversy that any classic needs, with Marcus Alonso’s goal ruled out, thanks to the ball grazing his fingernail before he thunderbolt it into the net. Timo Werner did score a third that counted for Chelsea, though. And it looked like Chelsea had stormed and ransacked the palace and would walk off with all the treasure and freed servants.
Then Luka Modrić rendered it all meaningless with one piece of genius:
That’s with the outside of his right foot, carrying it over 30-40 yards, only to float delicately, perfectly in stride to Rodrygo to finish and rescue Madrid. NFL watchers would go weak watching Patrick Mahomes do this on the move, and he throws the ball. Try just knocking a beer can off your coffee table with the outside of your foot and see if you don’t whiff.
The only way this pass could have been better is if it actually paused in midair and gleamed like a disco ball. Which it basically did anyway. The accuracy on a pass delivered with the most inaccurate part of the foot, the sheer audacity would cause most to suffer from lock-in syndrome. It practically had a “HIT ME!” sign flashing in neon for Rodrygo. But Modrić has been doing this sort of fucked up shit for 15 years now or thereabouts. It’s the kind of moment that fully convinces you the world has stopped.
There are a few factors to Madrid being able to stop their geyser-like bleeding to save themselves. The introduction of Eduardo Camavinga gave them some actual zest in midfield. Chelsea couldn’t keep playing at that pace for a full 90, and certainly not 120. Thibaut Courtois came up with yet another genius save.
But in reality, Chelsea knew that there’s no fighting against something like this. Modrić’s pass is a sign of an actual god reaching down and fiddling with each’s destiny. There’s no other explanation. You don’t argue against masterpiece’s that channel actual muses. You don’t pick a fight with Zeus, after all. This isn’t just the feeling of someone or something being out to get you. This is knowing they’ve got you surrounded and beat. It just came in the form of a pass that simultaneously was a comet and a teardrop and an alley-oop. It’s this song in sport-form.
Speaking of strange movements on the field of play, look at this fucking thing:
That’s the Cubs’ Ethan Roberts, a rookie this year, delivering a slider that takes a right turn like something out of Bullet. Twenty-two inches of break would be three inches(!) more than any slider thrown last year, according to StatCast. You can practically hear that thing crack the air like a whip before showing its ass to Roberto Perez in the most insulting way possible. Perez’s own ass nearly dislocated trying to reach for this affront to the lord.
Roberts is the same story as a lot of relievers you see now. He didn’t do much in his first two seasons in pro ball, and then didn’t get to do anything in 2020. Suddenly he shows up with this slider from the seventh level of hell, struck out 72 hitters in 55 innings across two levels last year, and now here he is in the Majors causing hitters tailbones to vibrate. We talk a lot about sticky stuff or moving the mound back or what the baseball weighs. But the biggest impediment for hitters is that they see two or three oddities like this per game, if not more. And whenever Roberts’s arm turns into taffy, there’ll be another guy right behind him.
In the meantime, we can enjoy stuff like this that renders all that time we spent in Physics useless, or so it feels.