If this is how Real Madrid win big Champions League games, it's fast becoming how PSG lose them

Real Madrid 3 PSG 1: The Parisians crumbled on the big stage again, but they have 90 minutes to make up for it

Miguel Delaney
Santiago Bernabeu
Wednesday 14 February 2018 23:07
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Ronaldo struck twice to help fire Madrid to victory
Ronaldo struck twice to help fire Madrid to victory

'That’s how Real Madrid win' sang the Bernabeu crowd, and that was also the sound of inevitability.

This 3-1 victory from the defending champions over the great pretenders of Paris Saint-Germain was almost amazing in its after-the-fact predictability.

Nothing that had actually happened for most of the match seemed to matter, nor did Real’s relatively poor display, because it all came down to the same apparent laws of physics that have governed the Champions League over the last few seasons.

Cristiano Ronaldo won the match with two goals despite barely contributing to it in open play, before Unai Emery’s side closed out another big continental game by caving.

If that’s how Real Madrid win, well, this is how PSG lose.

Ronaldo converted from the spot to equalise for Madrid

There was even the way Neymar very luckily avoided a second booking for diving, meaning he will get to play in the second leg, but the French side will have to change so much. And that in a competition where nothing apparently changes. At least when it comes to these sides.

It ensured the vast majority of this match was mere detail, mostly irrelevant, and that will be all the more frustrating to PSG because they had been the better team. They had the better chances.

Neymar had probably been the better player of all of the stars, brilliantly fashioning the opening goal, and setting up another fine chance from Kylian Mbappe.

The more relevant truth as regards this season’s Champions League as a whole is that the Brazilian’s touch for that Adrien Rabiot goal was actually one of few moments when this match lived up to all the storylines in the build-up and the stratospheric wealth that had gone into building the teams.

It was some moment, mind, some touch. Mbappe tore down the right to cut it back to Neymar and, even though the Brazilian was in the kind of position and under the kind of defensive pressure where it didn’t look like he could do much more than get a shot off, he supremely innovated to flick the ball back to the oncoming Rabiot. The midfielder was left to curl the ball over the wrong-footed Keylor Navas.

Brilliant, but all too brief.

The match mostly displayed the flaws of the two sides, the reasons why they don’t look like they’ll be winning the Champions League.

PSG had taken the lead through Rabiot but relinquished it and capitulated late on

While Real looked so oddly leaden compared to such PSG pace - and even somewhat tired as a team - the French still looked so sloppy and panicked any time they were put under any kind of pressure themselves. Marcelo caused chaos any time he decided to take initiative and dribble the ball into Alphonse Areola’s box, but Toni Kroos didn’t even need to do that to bring a foul and penalty from the anxious Giovani Lo Celso. The makeshift PSG defender was similarly lucky to avoid a second booking.

There’s no luck with Ronaldo in these situations, though, because he’s been there so often. This spot-kick was after all his 100th for Real in the competition.

It’s all the more remarkable because he had generally been so rigid in his move, so limited, in what was a general problem for a tired looking attack.

Kylian Mbappe and Ronaldo both had quiet games

This was still a match when it looked like Real’s time might be up and it would only be a matter of time until PSG scored.

Except such situations are precisely why the Spanish champions are also defending European champions, why Ronaldo is such a repeat goalscorer and repeat Ballon D’Or and Champions League winner.

There is obviously something very tangible to the fact they have the experience and nous for these situations that PSG do not.

That was displayed for the second goal, and Ronaldo’s 101st in the competition. Having been outrun for the initial 83rd-minute attack, he then out-thought his marker with a bit of nous, and was predictably in precisely the right place to score.

He’d done nothing in the match, but yet had ended up doing everything. Well, almost everything.

Marcelo's late goal capped off an extraordinary turnaround

There was still that second certainty to come: PSG collapsing.

Even if they could be aggrieved at a foul in the build-up to Ronaldo’s second, it should have been no excuse for how they fell in on themselves.

The excellent Marcelo was left to fire the ball into the roof of the net, and emphasise that PSG have hit another ceiling.

They now need two goals to go through - but also so much more beyond that.

They need the assurance of Real and Ronaldo.

That is something that can't be bought. It comes through victory. Real had yet another.

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