Champions League

Tactical errors and a misfiring Neymar saw Ronaldo’s Real teach PSG another European lesson

The reigning European champions stunned PSG in the last 16, first-leg showdown with two goals in the final seven minutes at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Perhaps this was a glimpse of the future - of how a game with extreme star power, blessed with the overlords of the beautiful game, the corresponding supreme athletic prowess and the riches of two mega clubs was strangely disjointed as a consequence of the transfer market and the ever-changing individual quality within teams.

Paris Saint-Germain-Real Madrid game in the UEFA Champions League had little collective coherence, yet, as a game, it was hugely absorbing.

Indeed, all the pre-match hype and ballyhoo was just that. Real-PSG wasn’t puffery, but all the projected heroism and apocalyptic narratives of an end-all 90 minutes were hyperbole. There were moments of resplendent brilliance with Marcelo’s pass to Ronaldo, Neymar’s back-heel assist, and CR7’s goalscoring nous, but, albeit fascinating, this wasn’t a classic game in the vein of the delightfully mad two halves of football in Torino on Tuesday.

Yes, the pace was frenetic. Yes, there were pantomime villains - and there was plenty of drama. However, professional fouling, synchronised violence, diving and an overarching nervousness, in particular in the opening stages, overshadowed much of the game.

The multimillion dollar ballerinas showed touches of the dark side. Somehow, it all belied the glamour and glitter of this game, and the importance of the entire tie.

After all, a crackling, longing Bernabeu hosted a zero sum game: a negative result was to mean the end of Madrid’s season and the trigger for Zinedine Zidane’s exit; the same applied to PSG - an unkind scoreline would frustrate their all-consuming obsession with the Champions League and question the position of coach Unai Emery. They needed to topple Madrid’s dominion and sole ownership of the European Cup.

Madrid’s start was bright enough with a high press, but gradually PSG mastered the ball and the game. The Parisians didn’t excel, but they simply played at a different speed from their hosts. They always offered a sense of danger going forward. Adrien Rabiot broke the deadlock when he popped up in the opponent’s penalty box. The strike was a mundane goal from a mundane player.

Not that the big players had gone unnoticed. Neymar, presumably much to the dismay of Brazil coach Tite, was distinctly petulant again. For no apparent reason - or perhaps for his compulsion to be imposingly central even when not required - Neymar hacked down Nacho after fifteen minutes. It wasn’t a good dress rehearsal for the Brazilian if he were to move to the Spanish capital next season.

In the second half, he lifted the ball over and past a flabbergasted Nacho before taking a dive. The simulation should have earned him a second booking. The Brazilian’s cockiness is part of his appeal, but his sense of entitlement and petulance have a danger of spilling over. His passing was erratic and, with the last touch of the game, he skied a fine chance.

Ronaldo, on the other hand, had been in his own little world: immobile, ineffective and almost invisible, much a mirror of his game style in last season’s Champions League.

He burst into life after Rabiot’s goal, striking Alphonse Areola’s head with sincere power. In recent times, the Portuguese has often chosen power over placement, precision and finesse in his finishing. This attempt, in the 37th minute, was no different. In the current season about 75% of Ronaldo’s shots have come from inside the box, but with a tendency to strike the ball at full force.

Still, tremendous power sufficed to beat Areola from the penalty spot on the stroke of half-time. Giovanni Lo Celso, a surprise inclusion in PSG’s starting eleven, alongside Presnel Kimpembe, at the expense of Thiago Silva, and Yuri Berchiche, made Toni Kroos tumble inside the box. The German exploited Lo Celso’s immaturity and outright silliness, and from the spot Ronaldo didn’t hesitate.

After the interval, the game was back and forth, with spells for both the hosts and the visitors. Zidane fielded Isco from the start to reinforce the midfield. Still, the Frenchman, with that utterly strange sartorial combination of a puffed jacket under his blazer, seemed bereft of a game plan as Madrid had little direction or purpose for much of the second half.

At least, Zidane wasn’t undone by foolishness. Emery was - and for that matter, it was foolishness of his own design. The Basque coach wanted to settle for the draw and substituted Uruguayan striker Edison Cavani for Belgian full-back Thomas Meunier. The introduction of Meunier prompted a tactical change with Daniel Alves moving higher up to assist in attack. With Angel Di Maria also on the bench, Emery’s choice was simply baffling.

In response, Zidane introduced speed to his team with Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vázquez. He went for the killer blow, deploying a daring 4-2-4 formation.

In a thrilling finale, the glistening white-shirted Madrid ensemble, momentarily eleven Galacticos again, were all over the ‘faux Galactiques’ from Paris. The kings of the European Cup demonstrated their continental pedigree against the rising, if wobbling, nouveau riche from the French capital.

The myth and might of Madrid was trumping the economic imperatives of Qatar in four minutes of galactic superiority.

There was Ronaldo! Boom, 2-1. His movement proving superb, a trait often underrated among modern strikers.

Up popped Marcelo! Boom, 3-1! The mercurial left-back fooled PSG with his ever-lasting energy.

The Bernabeu was ecstatic, borderline euphoria: Madrid’s season isn’t over yet, PSG’s one is teetering on the edge. Still, who knows what madness the return leg to Paris will bring.

“We can afford to have a bit of euphoria tonight. We have to be satisfied, and enjoy this,” said Zidane after the game. “But there is a second leg to come where we will need to play with a lot of intensity. We know we are going to suffer.”

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

When did we start parenting our parents?

As our parents grow older, our ‘adulting’ skills are tested like never before.

From answering every homework question to killing every monster under the bed, from soothing every wound with care to crushing anxiety by just the sound of their voice - parents understandably seemed like invincible, know-it-all superheroes all our childhood. It’s no wonder then that reality hits all of a sudden, the first time a parent falls and suffers a slip disc, or wears a thick pair of spectacles to read a restaurant menu - our parents are growing old, and older. It’s a slow process as our parents turn from superheroes to...human.

And just as slow to evolve are the dynamics of our relationship with them. Once upon a time, a peck on the cheek was a frequent ritual. As were handmade birthday cards every year from the artistically inclined, or declaring parents as ‘My Hero’ in school essays. Every parent-child duo could boast of an affectionate ritual - movie nights, cooking Sundays, reading favourite books together etc. The changed dynamic is indeed the most visible in the way we express our affection.

The affection is now expressed in more mature, more subtle ways - ways that mimics that of our own parents’ a lot. When did we start parenting our parents? Was it the first time we offered to foot the electricity bill, or drove them to the doctor, or dragged them along on a much-needed morning walk? Little did we know those innocent acts were but a start of a gradual role reversal.

In adulthood, children’s affection for their parents takes on a sense of responsibility. It includes everything from teaching them how to use smartphones effectively and contributing to family finances to tracking doctor’s appointments and ensuring medicine compliance. Worry and concern, though evidence of love, tend to largely replace old-fashioned patterns of affection between parents and children as the latter grow up.

It’s something that can be easily rectified, though. Start at the simplest - the old-fashioned peck on the cheek. When was the last time you gave your mom or dad a peck on the cheek like a spontaneous five-year-old - for no reason at all? Young parents can take their own children’s behaviour available as inspiration.

As young parents come to understand the responsibilities associated with caring for their parents, they also come to realise that they wouldn’t want their children to go through the same challenges. Creating a safe and secure environment for your family can help you strike a balance between the loving child in you and the caring, responsible adult that you are. A good life insurance plan can help families deal with unforeseen health crises by providing protection against financial loss. Having assurance of a measure of financial security for family can help ease financial tensions considerably, leaving you to focus on being a caring, affectionate child. Moreover,you can eliminate some of the worry for your children when they grow up – as the video below shows.


To learn more about life insurance plans available for your family, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of SBI Life and not by the Scroll editorial team.