Real Madrid are moving on to the Champions League quarterfinals after beating Paris Saint-Germain 5-2 on aggregate in the round of 16, doing most of the work in the first leg before a goal from Cristiano Ronaldo capped it off in Tuesday’s 2-1 win in Paris.
PSG came out surprisingly slow in this match, giving Real Madrid time to organize and limit the hosts’ chances to make a comeback. The first half was largely uneventful because of that, with Paris Saint-Germain not doing enough to push the pace of things to really create much danger, aside from one counter-attack late in the half that saw Kylian Mbappe take a poor shot instead of setting up a sure goal for Edinson Cavani.
The second half did see PSG come out swinging and creating scoring chances — but that sudden openness from the French side opened them up for a lethal counter attack, with Marco Asensio going on a mazy run before scooting the ball up to Lucas Vazquez, who then put in a picture-perfect cross for Cristiano Ronaldo to put the tie away in the 51st minute.
PSG were understandably frustrated after going down in the match and seeing the tie go almost out of reach, but instead of buckling down and bringing the fight to their Spanish foes, they got sloppy and mistake-prone instead, with Marco Verratti being sent off after earning a second yellow card for dissent in the 66th minute. PSG would score in the 71st minute when Edinson Cavani got a fortunate deflection of a loose ball with his knee to poke it home, but it was far too late, and by the time Casemiro scored in the 80th minute the match was long done.
So in the end, what was supposed to be a prestige tie in the Champions League round of 16, an exciting pair of matches between European heavyweights, turned out to be a boring, one-sided slog of a tie. It’s a shame that PSG just weren’t up for this, because this could have been a spectacular pair of matches. Even the second leg had the potential to be great and dramatic under the circumstances, but Real Madrid were too composed and PSG were too unprepared for that to happen. What a shame.
Paris Saint-Germain: Alphonse Areola; Dani Alves, Marquinhos, Toni Silva, Yuri Berchiche; Marco Verratti (red 66’), Thiago Motta (Javier Pastore 59’), Adrien Rabiot; Angel Di Maria (Julian Draxler 76’), Edinson Cavani, Kylian Mbappe (Lassana Diarra 85’)
Goals: Cavani (71’)
Real Madrid: Keylor Navas; Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo; Lucas Vazquez, Casemiro, Mateo Kovacic (Toni Kroos 71’), Marco Asensio (Isco 82’); Karim Benzema (Gareth Bale 76’), Cristiano Ronaldo
Goals: Ronaldo (51’), Casemiro (80’)
Three things we saw
PSG failed to pressure Real Madrid in the first half, then utterly lost the plot
Paris Saint-Germain needed to come out fast to try and score an early goal to change the complexion of the tie, using the threat of their away goal to try and open up Real Madrid a bit as they tried to restore the two-goal lead they came into the match with. But that didn’t happen — PSG came out slow-footed, more interested in passing the ball around in circles than in trying to use pace and pressure to unsettle Madrid’s defense, giving the Spaniards plenty of time to settle in and organize, easily blunting the majority of PSG’s attacks.
PSG did show a bit more fight and hunger in the second half, but by then it was left too late with not enough time against Madrid’s talented and organized defense — especially when Cristiano Ronaldo did Cristiano Ronaldo things and scored just six minutes into the half. After that, PSG almost stopped playing — they lost what edge they had shown early in the half, they started making stupid mistakes by the bucketload, and to cap it all off, Marco Verratti earned a second yellow card for dissent of all things. Sure PSG did find a goal, but all in all, this was simply not a team ready to compete at this level. Not even close.
PSG really, really missed Neymar
A lot of that lack of pressure was down to the absence of Neymar. His cutting, incisive, always-forward-thinking presence has helped drive PSG this season, and without his spark they seemed a bit adrift at times. The lack of chemistry between Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe without Neymar to bridge the gap really hurt PSG, especially on PSG’s lone truly dangerous attack in the first half, when Mbappe elected to take a low-percentage shot from a tight angle instead of taking the simple pass to a sprinting Cavani so his teammate could finish behind the keeper. Neymar would have made a huge difference in their approach, pulling his team forward by their bootlaces if he had to. Without him, they were awfully stagnant, and that was their doom.
Real Madrid really didn’t have to do that much in the end
Madrid came out looking to shield themselves, hoping to slow the game down and frustrate PSG. As we already discussed, PSG slowed things down plenty themselves, so Madrid were left just kind of standing around waiting for things to happen. When they had openings to get forward they did so with great effect, with Lucas Vazquez and particularly Marco Asensio impressing on the wings in sparking lethal counters, with the two youngsters combining in excellent fashion to create Ronaldo’s opening goal. But PSG really made this easy for Madrid on the day, and the Spaniards were more than happy to take a lower effort match than they had expected.