It was a magical European night at the Santiago Bernabeu which saw Real Madrid accentuate their status as the “Kings of Europe”. Coming into the game trailing a goal and then conceding another in the first half meant Real Madrid had a mountain to climb ahead of them. They needed 3 goals to win the game in normal time while not letting up any and that’s exactly what Madrid managed to do in the 2nd half in what was a performance for the record books.
The atmosphere was electric — from the buildup to the game right until the final whistle and beyond. 90 minutes indeed proved to be a very long time at the Santiago Bernabeu, and, on Wednesday night, it was PSG’s turn to realize that.
Here is a look at how the game panned out on the spreadsheet
Let’s start by looking at the flow of the game by using the xT or Expected threat framework which values on-ball actions (such as pass and ball carry) in terms of how they increase the team’s chances of scoring the goal based on the start and end locations of the action. This will help us understand which teams dominated proceedings at different points in the game.
The most notable peaks occur around the 30th minute mark, when PSG were finding success in the space left behind Carvajal. The goal eventually came from that move as well. Despite PSG having 56% of the ball possession they only had 39% of the field tilt (a measure of territorial dominance). The 2nd half is where PSG failed to impose any sort of control on the game despite being 2-0 up, they imploded.
In the case of Madrid, things just went from 0-100 between minute 61 and 89. During this period Madrid had 11 shots to PSG’s 0 and scored all 3 of their goals. This period of momentum swing began after the substitutions. Rodrygo’s introduction was key for the 3rd goal while Modrić and Benzema just turned it up a notch to steal a win from the jaws of defeat. This phase of Madrid’s dominance also coincided with PSG replacing Paredes. They lost any semblance of control in possession following his substitution.
Next we will look at the team’s shape and how that changed before and after the substitutions. Madrid’s initial lineup included Asensio (#11) on the right flank with Kroos (#8) starting the game as the pivot. With Asensio constantly drifting inwards this resulted in Madrid not having any width on the right. This was partly the reason for Carvajal to push high up this leaving acres of space in behind for Militão (#3) to cover, which PSG constantly threatened with Mbappe. Besides not offering width, Asensio was also sloppy in possession.
The left hand side with Vinícius (#20) was where Madrid funneled a lot of their attacks from. With PSG facing a similar structural issue with Messi drifting inwards leaving Hakimi to provide width, Madrid constantly looked to attack the space left in behind, Danilo offered some cover there for the Parisians.
The substitutions of Camavinga (#25) and Rodrygo (#21), the latter in particular, changed the dynamics a lot. Rodrygo stretched the field horizontally while taking on players. His defensive workrate was a massive improvement over Asensio’s, most notably winning the ball back after kick-off for the third goal, and he provided the 2nd highest number of crosses (4) in the game for Madrid. Camavinga (#25) offered stability while sitting at the base of the midfield while also helping improve Madrid’s pressing.
Ancellotti’s men made their intentions to press the opposition very clear from minute 1; it resulted in a shot inside the first 5 minutes of the game. Madrid couldn’t maintain the same intensity throughout the game and the press came with problems in itself like Carvajal’s positioning to compensate for Asensio’s non-effort pressing.
The press resulted in a total of 15 high turnover situations with 3 of them leading to shots. 8 of these high turnovers situations occurred after the 60th minute with 2 of them resulting in shots. Benzema’s first goal is essentially a byproduct of pressing as well. The shift of momentum and change in intensity after the substitutions was clear. In the end, while Madrid’s pressing structure wasn’t the best and came with its own structural problems, it did help Madrid in causing problems to the opposition.
While Karim Benzema covered himself in glory with a sensational match winning hat-trick, becoming not only the oldest player to score a hat-trick in Champions League history but also becoming Real Madrid’s all time 3rd highest top scorer, only behind Raul and Ronaldo, with 309 goals. There were some other standout performers who helped Madrid script this magical night.
Luka Modrić is simply timeless. He is an extra terrestrial with the way he still performs and continues to step up in clutch situations. It was his excellent work that created the second goal when he recovered possession deep in Madrid’s own half by reading and intercepting a pass for Messi and carried the ball through a swarm of PSG players before playing a great ball for Vinícius’s run. He continued his run to provide an option at the edge of the box and then played a sensational ball into the feet of Benzema. In Modrić we are witnessing a footballing icon and an era defining midfielder in world football.
Militão has cemented his status in the squad this season. His partnership with Alaba has been outstanding despite Madrid’s structural deficiencies in defence. He was immense again last night being asked to cover the space left behind Carvajal (as we can note from his territory map). His box defending was almost flawless. Militão has blossomed into a spectacular player for Madrid and is fulfilling the promise on which he was signed.