Thursday, 21st September 2023

‘A big night in the Champions League’: three things we learned from Real Madrid-PSG

The old French striker outshone the young French striker as Real Madrid reasserted the old order, coming from two goals down to eliminate Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Paris Saint-Germain’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (C) vies with Real Madrid’s Uruguayan midfielder Federico Valverde (L) and Real Madrid’s Spanish midfielder Marco Asensio during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second league football match between Real Madrid CF and Paris Saint-Germain at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 9, 2022. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

The old French striker outshone the young French striker as Real Madrid reasserted the old order, coming from two goals down to eliminate Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday.

AFP Sport looks at three things we learned from the game:

Wait goes on for PSG
With less than half an hour to go at the Bernabeu, the great Paris Saint-Germain gamble seemed to be paying off.

Last summer the club opted not to sell Kylian Mbappe, who will be a free agent after this season, and had invested heavily in an ageing Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos and also in young Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Mbappe scored to give PSG a 1-0 victory in the first leg. He then dazzled as PSG dominated the first hour in Madrid, scoring in the 39th minute, putting his team two goals up.

Then Donnarumma, trying to play out of defence, passed to Vinicius Junior who found Karim Benzema for a tap-in.

PSG imploded.

It wasn’t quite a collapse on a par with the infamous Camp Nou remontada in 2017 when Barcelona scored three times after the 88th minute to eliminate PSG 6-5 on aggregate. It was total nonetheless.

Benzema hit three in 17 minutes and PSG ended a tie they had dominated, looking like kids in a playground.

In the end, the team that historically finds a way to win in the Champions League, even when they should lose, beat the team that so often manages to lose when they should have won.

Mbappe looks at home – in Madrid
The build-up was dominated by the relentless speculation on the future of Mbappe, presumed to be heading to Real Madrid as the golden keystone in a rebuild to an ageing squad.

For an hour, Mbappe looked at home at the Bernabeu. He had already had two shots saved and an effort that hit the net ruled out for offside when he ran onto Neymar’s first-time pass after 39 minutes. He froze the terrified David Alaba and then whipped a shot past Thibaut Courtois.

His best moment came with an outrageous step-over to beat Courtois and net in the second half only to be ruled offside again.

Then PSG’s defence unravelled and Mbappe was reduced to a mere spectator as one of the Madrid pensioners he is slated to replace stole the show.

Old guard defend their turf
Even as Real struggled for parity in the first hour, Benzema was clearly their goal threat, with a couple of dangerous first-half headers.

After an hour he changed the game. Even at 34, Benzema is sneakily fast and he still thinks quicker than most of his opponents. With Donnarumma dribbling round his goalmouth, Benzema pounced, allowing no easy escape. The ‘keeper panicked, passed to Real’s lurking Vinicius who popped the ball back to Benzema.

Mauricio Pochettino, the PSG coach, complained that Benzema had slyly kicked Donnarumma, neither the referee nor the VAR officials saw a foul.

“It was pressure,” said Benzema. “He waited and he waited and I pressed him.”

Benzema isn’t the only old timer shining for Real long past his seeming sell-by date.

Luke Modric, who is 36, set up Benzema’s second with a typical stabbed pass after 76 minutes.

PSG kicked off and rolled the ball back to their defenders. Vinicius gave chase, pressing Marquinhos who passed across his own box just as Benzema, the predator, arrived to side-foot his third. There were 11 seconds of play between the goals.

The last goal was the Frenchman’s 309th for Real, taking him past the legendary Alfredo Di Stefano.

Only Raul (323) and Cristiano Ronaldo (451) have more for Real.

Since Ronaldo left, Benzema has thrived as the focus of a team without Galacticos. On Wednesday he outshone Real’s likely next superstar.

“It was a big night in the Champions League, you mustn’t let them slip by,” he said.