Despite Real Madrid’s two-goal cushion with ten minutes to play, PSG recovered the deficit to confirm their fate as Group A winners and salvage a well-earned point, courtesy of goals from Kylian Mbappe and substitute Pablo Sarabia during a memorable Group A clash.
Karim Benzema continued his excellent goalscoring form with a well-taken brace. He broke the deadlock with an expertly-finished rebound moments after Isco hit the post in the first-half – before beating Presnel Kimpembe to Marcelo’s cross and unleashing a downward header beyond former teammate Keylor Navas with eleven minutes to play.
Navas was comfortably the visitors’ best performer on his return to Madrid, having left in a £13.5m move this past summer after five successful years with Los Blancos. If not for his crucial saves and excellent reactions, PSG wouldn’t have had much chance for a second-half comeback in truth – especially doing well to deny Kroos, Marcelo and Isco’s goalbound efforts, he made a whopping ten saves over the 90 minutes.
It could’ve been a completely different game had VAR not intervened on the stroke of half-time, with referee Artur Soares Dias overruling his initial decisions to award PSG a penalty and Thibaut Courtois a straight red card after hauling down Mauro Icardi in the box.
Seconds earlier in the build-up during that same play, he waved play on as Idrissa Gueye pushed Marcelo off-the-ball but saw replays and instead ruled a Real Madrid free-kick was the correct verdict.
Neymar replaced Gueye at half-time to make his first Champions League appearance of the campaign, as Thomas Tuchel’s men somehow managed to battle back – Mbappe’s strike coming seconds after the restart when Benzema doubled their lead.
Sarabia, a former Real Madrid youngster, levelled the scoring with a fantastic finish which arrowed into the top corner to cap a whirlwind five minutes. Gareth Bale, replacing the injured Eden Hazard midway through the second-half, almost turned hero with the game’s last kick, but his free-kick effort cannoned off the far post.
Without further ado, here’s five talking points from a real Champions League classic:
#5 Eden Hazard’s exciting display cruelly ended
Club Brugge’s 1-1 draw with Galatasaray meant Real had mathematically qualified for the knockout stages before kick-off but more was at stake than just closing the gap on the Group A leaders. They wanted to avenge their 3-0 away defeat in September and on a wet night at the Bernabeú, Eden Hazard went on a mission to wow the supporters.
He has struggled with niggling injuries, fitness issues and consistency since his big-money move over the summer but this display was arguably his most impressive against top opposition for a while. You could almost sense the eagerness to impress from minute one, combining well with Benzema while expressing himself in the final third.
Fancy flicks, brilliant touches and the confident close-control dribbling to match, he was finally playing fearlessly and compatriot Thomas Meunier had a real task to try and nullify the 28-year-old’s impact.
Creating Benzema’s first goal, he effortlessly beat both Marquinhos and Meunier in transition before scanning for options and passing forward across to the right-hand side. Federico Valverde combined with Daniel Carvajal before feeding Isco, whose effort cannoned back off the upright and into the path of an alert Benzema to make no mistake.
He could’ve created another too, but for Navas’ last-ditch intervention at the near post to thwart an onrushing Benzema after being teed up inside the box by the Belgian. The pair continued to threaten alongside Marcelo down the left-hand side before Eden’s match was abruptly ended by none other than compatriot Meunier for a cynical hack of the ankles.
Despite receiving treatment on the sidelines, Eden looked in serious discomfort and there was no point risking further damage. Instead he limped off with medical assistance to a warm reception from the home supporters: hoping he recovers quickly to continue delivering confident displays like that in future.
Four successful dribbles and key passes, 90.9% pass completion rate, seven of 13 duels won, fouled twice with one completed tackle.
#4 Attacking contrast between di Maria, Icardi, Mbappe and Neymar
Plenty is said about PSG’s firepower and how they’re blessed with attacking riches, but how did they individually fare against tough opposition on this occasion?
On his 200th PSG appearance, Angel di Maria flattered to deceive. Isolated for large periods, Tuchel insisted he moved infield to receive possession in central areas but remained largely frustrating on the ball and unconvincing without it. It felt like it took him a whole half of football to play one perfectly-weighted pass for a teammate and unsurprisingly, PSG almost changed the game completely from that move.
If not for Gueye’s needless push on Marcelo in the build-up, this would definitely have been a different spectacle. Nonetheless, the Argentine’s touch was heavy and decision-making not much better as he seemed rattled against his former employers, not displaying the same free-flowing attitude he had during the first group fixture in Paris.
Icardi started eager to prove himself against the toughest opposition he’s faced this season, particularly after the quiet outing he endured against them on matchday one.
Despite almost breaking the deadlock twice in quick succession early on, he was essentially chasing shadows for large periods and cut a frustrated figure before ultimately being replaced by goalscorer Pablo Sarabia with 15 minutes to play.
This underwhelming showing wasn’t entirely his fault, but that won’t be remembered in the months to come unless he’s able to maintain scoring form when it matters most against Europe’s best.
Mbappe was making his 100th PSG appearance here and marked it with an important goal against a side it seems inevitable he’ll be joining at some stage in his career. There were good and more frustrating parts to dissect within Kylian’s display, giving Sergio Ramos and Real’s backline a real problem once he got going, though you could see a united effort from the hosts to nullify his threat at every turn, forcing him off-the-ball wherever possible.
The fact Benzema was regularly coming back to press highlighted the fact Zinedine Zidane clearly had a plan to stop the youngster whom this week he admitted he loves so much.
Although his movement was good, the 20-year-old’s blistering speed seems too quick for even his teammates to account for at times, which was an overriding feeling here too. di Maria wasn’t on the same wavelength, he could have had two assists for Icardi and will be ruing his missed opportunity in stoppage-time – narrowly missing from a tough angle with both Neymar and Sarabia in space with the goal gaping to his left.
As for Neymar, there were brief moments where the forward sprinkled his magic through midfield and threatened – a promising outside-of-the-boot pass which Courtois pounced upon with Mbappe lurking among the highlights.
That being said, annoying tendencies and poor decision-making again reared its ugly head as he was dispossessed far too easily (a game-high 18 times!) and essentially a passenger out of possession.
His involvement in the equaliser cannot go unnoticed, darting past Kroos before a one-two with fellow substitute Julian Draxler helped set Juan Bernat forward in space, but it wasn’t exactly a memorable Champions League return for PSG’s world-record signing.
#3 VAR ultimately wins during an unpredictable affair
VAR receives more than its fair share of criticism and sparks debate on a weekly basis when a dubious decision goes unchallenged or questionable calls aren’t overturned.
So it’s only right that credit is given where its due, as the technology helped avoid a match-defining situation just on the stroke of half-time. Referee Artur Soares Dias initially gave a free-kick, then a penalty, after Thibaut Courtois hauled down Mauro Icardi in the box.
But after viewing replays at the pitchside monitor, he overturned his initial decision and awarded a Real Madrid free-kick the other way – as Gueye pushed Marcelo to the turf seconds beforehand in a tussle for possession, indirectly leading to that move.
He saw the challenge in real-time and waved play on, thinking the Brazilian had gone to ground too easily and was looking for a foul. Having seen it in retrospect though, he saw there was clear contact and no attempt by the Senegalese midfielder to play the ball, so had no choice but to overrule his previous decisions.
Had they stood, Real would have been down to ten men and conceded a penalty too. The game would’ve taken a dramatic turn and instead of lauding this encounter as a Champions League group stage classic, headlines would have been made for all the wrong reasons.
#2 Toni Kroos leads Real’s encouraging midfield showing
In UCL GW4, I stressed the importance of Kroos’ role for Real Madrid and how his presence would have a significant baring on their level of success this season. On this occasion, the silky German again not only proved his worth as their best and most dependable midfielder, but again proved he’s capable of doing it on both sides of the pitch – creatively while not shying away from his defensive duties either.
Despite continued praise for 21-year-old teammate Federico Valverde, who continues to keep Luka Modric on the substitutes’ bench, 30-year-old Kroos is unfazed and the metronome that controls the tempo for Real while allowing other players to express themselves freely with his calming presence alongside them.
He was unafraid to test Keylor Navas on a number of occasions and unfortunate not to score a goal or two over the 90 minutes, such was the Costa Rica international’s string of excellent saves to keep PSG in the match at 1-0. He combined with teammates well, as eyecatching touches and impressive ball movement was the key as Real looked comfortably the better side for large periods.
Effortlessly dispossessing Neymar and co in midfield, his match stats speak for themselves: 124 touches, 101 successful passes (98.1% accuracy), seven key passes, four duels won, three tackles.
Casemiro started as he meant to go on with a forceful but fair tackle on Mbappe in the early exchanges, evoking raucous cheers from the home supporters. He made four tackles but also committed just as many fouls, so wasn’t exactly at his best.
Valverde meanwhile, worked hard defensively (three tackles, three interceptions, two key passes) but will do well to focus on asserting his starting berth in this Real side without the commentators’ curse, overhyping him too soon given his age and relative inexperience among Europe’s elite competition – similar to compatriot Rodrigo Bentancur at Juventus.
#1 PSG finally prove their mettle as competition’s true dark horses
This was always going to be an intriguing watch for a multitude of reasons: billed as the billion pound contest, PSG are group leaders against an unpredictable Real side away from home, so how will they cope against a side intent on exacting revenge?
Will their defensive frailties get exposed again? Is their attack really that good? What about the midfield with Marquinhos in the middle? All these questions, most of them were answered in what Thomas Tuchel should regard as a dress rehearsal for February 2020 and onwards, where they’ll hope to be playing this type of relentless opposition more regularly.
If they are to win the Champions League this term, they must dig deep and grind out results when they’re not at their best – surviving waves of pressure, defending well and attacking with deadly precision when it matters most. This was far from pretty and they didn’t win either, but importantly PSG have proven their mettle against a Real side who should have ran out comfortable winners here.
Benzema’s brace signals the first time they’ve conceded in the Champions League this term, they were getting overwhelmed and overrun at times – especially in the first-half after the opener. However, they managed to survive. Keylor Navas’ goalkeeping brilliance and last-ditch interventions courtesy of captain Thiago Silva proved pivotal.
Their streak of consecutive UCL games where they’ve scored has now progressed to 29, Tuchel’s men are rightly a team to fear even when not on top form as evidenced by this display. Real could have scored five but PSG could have done so too, while again proving why they are the competition’s true dark horses in 2019-20.
Stats’ source: SofaScore and BT Sport