Heading into the knock-out stages of the Champions League last week, the Real Madrid versus Paris Saint-Germain match was the most anticipated. Soccer fans globally indeed felt that it was unfair for two of the most hyped teams to meet at such an early stage of the competition.
Going into this fixture, Unai Emery’s PSG were deemed the favorites. Having signed Neymar Jr. and Kylian Mbappe from Monaco and Barcelona respectively at record large fess at the beginning of the season, the French club has had a brilliant season so far. They have easily topped the French league and beat Bayern Munich in Paris earlier in the season, and have scored numerous goals in the process. Zidane’s men on the other hand are arguably having a bad season. Starting the season as Europe’s heavy weights after winning back-to-back Champions League titles, Real Madrid hasn’t lived to the expectations (at least not until the match on Feb 14th). They have been knocked out of the Copa Del Rey tournament and are trailing 17 points behind league leaders Barcelona with a game in hand. Even rumors have started emanating that Zidane, the Madrid legend as player and as coach, might have to lose his stewardship as head manager after a series of losses in La Liga including a 3-0 devastating home defeat by Barcelona.
The much awaited fixture however caught many by surprise, not by the fact that the game wasn’t interesting. The game was a thriller as anticipated, but the solid performance of Real Madrid especially in the second half was shocking. Zidane’s men went a goal down in the first half but managed to level things just before halftime. They then tactically dominated the second half and will now head to Paris with a an unexpected two-goal advantage over the hyped PSG, who were actually better possessively in the entire game. What made the difference for Madrid? Why didn’t Neymar Jr. and Co dazzle in the Bernabeu? Madrid’s veteran players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema seemed tired and easily outran by PSG’s defenders in the first half, and Zidane noted this. So in the second half he introduced the inexperienced yet pacey Marco Asensio and Gareth Bale (known for speed too). This mix of young energy mixed with experience easily overpowered PSG’s heavily young talents. Neymar and Mbappe didn’t connect as they should have, leaving Edinson Cavani isolated in the strong Madrid defense. I personally blame Unai Emery for the loss. Benching key experienced players like Angel Di Maria in the attacking mid and Thiago Silva in the defense wasn’t well thought. Zidane understood his team well and come up with a good combination of players for the match, just as he did against Juventus in the tournament’s final at Lisbon last year. Heading to Paris next month for the second leg, the battle is not over yet; but it won’t be inaccurate to expect Zidane and his Madrid to pull off another surprisingly good performance. Unai Emery on the other hand needs an even more concrete performance to overcome Zidane’s tactics, and to salvage the glory of the French club that has suffered in the hands of Spanish clubs in the recent past. Don’t miss the second led in Paris on March 6th. Maybe we’ll then find out if Zidane is really a tactical genius, like the playmaker he was at his youthful days, or PSG’s young talents can overcome Madrid’s steel and announce their entrance into Europe’s footballing elite.
- Sky Sport http://www.skysports.com/football/r-madrid-vs-psg/386486
- ESPN http://www.espn.com/soccer/report?gameId=499540