On the night when Real Madrid produced their best football of the season so far, the feeling at the end was one of disappointment as two late goals allowed PSG to escape with a 2-2 draw and with first place in the group. What happened? And what did we learn? Here are three answers and three questions.
1. How will Isco fit in and how will he perform?
The big shock before the match was the fact that Isco was going to be starting, his first appearance in the starting XI since the Real Mallorca loss on October 19th. Nobody expected this, certainly not Thomas Tuchel. It was a gamble from Zinedine Zidane, but it paid off. Involved in both of Karim Benzema’s goals, Isco was excellent and turned in one of his best performances in recent memory. This was a brilliant move on Zidane’s part.
2. What will Keylor Navas’ return to the Bernabéu be like?
Just a few months after departing Real Madrid, Keylor Navas was back. As fate would have it, the goalkeeper’s new club drew his old club in the Champions League group stage draw. Real Madrid fans love Navas for his role in the three-peat of Champions League successes and he was treated to a special ovation before the game and afterwards, when he was the last player to leave the pitch. Real Madrid fans also know just how good Navas can be on these midweek European nights and he proved it again. There was nothing he could do at either of Benzema’s goals, but the 10 other saves he made proved that he’s still got it.
3. How will the fans react to Gareth Bale?
This was my third question for last weekend’s match against Real Sociedad and, given the controversy around the Welshman, it had to be my third tonight as well. But this time the reaction was different. While the whistles for Bale may have reached a reported 87 decibels on Saturday, this time there was a lot of applause for the No.11 as he came on to the pitch - and, also, some whistles. Perhaps it was because of his good performance against Real Sociedad, perhaps it was because of Zidane’s calls for everyone to move on or perhaps it was for some other reason. But, whatever the reason, it seems that the sour nature of the relationship between the forward and the fans is becoming a little sweeter.
1. How serious is Eden Hazard’s injury?
The worst part of the whole night for Real Madrid isn’t the two late goals conceded. It’s the injury to Eden Hazard. The Belgian had to go off after hurting his ankle and this could be a huge blow for Los Blancos if the injury is serious and if he has to miss some game time. Firstly, because Hazard has started to reach his level and he was absolutely brilliant against PSG, especially at the first goal where he dribbled past or through several defenders and even the referee during the build-up. Secondly, because Real Madrid’s upcoming schedule is tough. Alavés away isn’t easy, as they’re the fifth-best home team in LaLiga. Espanyol at home is probably trickier than Espanyol away right now, given how bad they are at the RCDE Stadium. Okay, the Club Brugge game doesn’t matter. But then there’s Valencia away and Barcelona away in the space of a few days. Zidane will be praying to the footballing gods that a bit of ice and some rest fixes Hazard’s ankle.
2. What to do in Brugge?
It is confirmed that Real Madrid will be finishing second in their Champions League group. Not first, not third, definitely second. As such, it has deemed their matchday six game away at Club Brugge redundant. The Belgian side will be trying to secure Europa League qualification, but there’s nothing at stake for Real Madrid. With that game coming just ahead of the difficult trips to Valencia and Barcelona, the question now has to be: how much will Zidane rotate? Do any of the regular starters play? Real Madrid don’t want another embarrassment like the 3-0 home loss against CSKA Moscow in a similar dead rubber from last season, but there’s also a need to look at the bigger picture.
3. Can we stop the Pogba discussion?
The winter transfer window is on the horizon and that means there will be the inevitable links with Paul Pogba. It’s a tradition, you know. But these rumours and links have to stop. In Fede Valverde, Real Madrid have discovered the future leader of their midfield that they were looking for. The Uruguayan does everything. He can track back, he can press, he can tackle, he can pass and, in the previous couple of games, he had proved he can score. It’s hard to pick a Real Madrid man of the match from this PSG performance, but Valverde was certainly up there. If Real Madrid were to sign Pogba right now, he’d simply be getting a front row seat to the Fede Valverde show. There’s no way the 21-year-old shouldn’t start every game.