Real Madrid defeat PSG 3-1 at the Bernabeu (Ronaldo x2, Marcelo; Rabiot). It was chaotic, it was nerve-wracking, and it was beautiful. Here’s our quick reaction to the match. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game podcast, and tactical review.
A raucous, loud, and absolutely electric Bernabeu played host to a match that was circled on the calendar for a while now. Both teams have a lot at stake, and both absolutely have to progress to the next round. The pressure was on.
Zidane rolled out his go-to lineup in the Champions League knock out rounds -- a diamond with Isco roaming as an outlet, hovering in front of Kroos, Modric, and Casemiro. Gareth Bale, perhaps surprisingly, came off the bench. Zidane must’ve felt Bale’s pace would be useful in the second half if the game opens up a bit, and, fully knowing PSG would sit in a medium-low block and look to counter, having Isco to help crack a tight line is what Zidane opted for.
Much to our dismay, neither Bale nor Kurzawa started this match. But, for what it’s worth, Isco put in a phenomenal shift before running out of the gas around the hour mark. He pressed like a maniac, retained possession for Real Madrid, and was distributing the ball really well — especially when the team found themselves in tight spaces.
Real Madrid’s problems didn’t come in holding possession though. It was, as always, defending counters. Neymar flew up the pitch with the ball, and stopping him was laborious. It took two-to-three defenders to put him to a halt, and with Neymar’s ability to suck in defenders like that, he was able to find open outlets and spread Real Madrid’s defense uncomfortably thin.
One issue that manifested itself recurrently — Casemiro’s lack of technical ability with the ball. Yes, he made some key interventions in this game, but three times he was dispossessed in Real Madrid’s third, allowing PSG to to attack in a dangerous position with numerical advantage. His passing in transition also stifled a couple counter-attacks. To be sure, Marcelo also had a lot of positional kinks on his flank, where he failed to recognize the space and the runs behind him, but his pace was also important in keeping up with Mbappe on certain sequences.
Zidane rolling the dice by bringing Bale off the bench is hard to argue with, given the result. His presence completely changed the dynamic of the team in the second half. He started making dangerous off-ball runs, and his pace allowed him to get to most outlet passes; while his quick direct play was huge in picking apart PSG’s high line in the second half. When Asensio and Lucas came on for Casemiro and Isco shortly after, Real Madrid had all kinds of pace to use to take advantage of PSG’s increasingly chaotic defense in transition.
This was a good, nay, great result. It could have easily ended in a loss if Real Madrid didn’t get some luck with PSG’s poor finishing, or if Keylor Navas didn’t step up in huge fashion. What a rollercoaster.
We’ll break this down more in the coming hours.