Defenders had a satisfying night on both sides in Paris. The match ended 0-0 despite the presence of the world’s top two strikers, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, on the pitch.
PSG had not played Real Madrid for over 21 years in the Champions League and the lack of preparation on their part was evident.
PSG main source of attack was a simple play where:
- Di Maria would pick the ball up anywhere on the left wing,
- Then he would take a few strides forward,
- cut inside to his favoured left foot
- and launch a long ball towards Ibrahimovic or Cavani to get something on it. Either a header or maybe capitalize on a mistake made by Ramos or Varane
To be fair to PSG, this strategy would have definitely worked had Real Madrid been playing under Ancelotti. With Benitez, Real Madrid have become something of a fortress in every sense of the word.
Real Madrid now don’t create as many opportunities as they did under Ancelotti or Mourinho, but now have a water tight defense that few teams have been able to penetrate this season.
PSG had a lot of corners early on in the game because of Di Maria’s fantastic cross and long ball ability from the left wing but Real Madrid looked up to the task and defended each one with authority.
Di Maria’s delivery was fast and hard. That kept the pressure on Real Madrid for the opening twenty minutes since it was difficult for Ramos and Varane to get any sort of clearance on the ball once the cross was delivered in.
That was pretty much it as far as PSG’s line of attack was concerned but why wasn’t Real Madrid able to score against PSG?
Well, the fact is Real Madrid should have even with the few chances that did come Real Madrid’s way. The absence of:
did hamper Real Madrid’s ability to be comfortable on the ball and play it smoothly to Ronaldo or Jese at the right moment, but mostly it was down to these three reasons:
Cristiano Ronaldo was an Isolated figure for major portion of the game
From a free kick that hit the wall (it’s been like 90 free kicks since Ronaldo has scored?) to the quadruple step overs on the right wing which lead to nothing but a simple pass to Lucas on the wing, Ronaldo didn’t look to be in the mood for asserting himself on the field tonight.
He did look to be in some pain during the early stages of the game and may be that niggling injury on the right knee has been bothering him for the past season or so, since there has been a marked reduction in his speed and ability to take on defenders.
About midway through the first half, Ronaldo finally warmed up and released Jese on the left wing with a need backheel flick which duped his marker. Then he peeled off quickly from his marker inside the penalty area to get a header towards the PSG goal which made Trapp (PSG goalkeeper) uncomfortable and Real Madrid were awarded a corner.
From the ensuing corner, Ronaldo hit his trademark bullet header which was barely saved by the tip of Trapp’s fingers.
Ronaldo’s leaping headers seemed to have given some confidence to Real Madrid players who had trouble holding onto the ball in the first half against a PSG side that defended really high on the pitch.
Trapp’s cross reading ability also didn’t help Ronaldo to get his head on the end of some vicious Marcelo crosses from the left wing.
In the second half Ronaldo looked more relaxed and started to dribble with the ball with more purpose. Veratti went for a challenged with both feet right through Ronaldo which got him a yellow card.
You can guess what happened from the resulting free kick. Ronaldo again, hit the wall but this time it was only due to Ibrahimovic height that Trapp didn’t have to make another save from a Ronaldo shot.
The first, amongst two, chance which came Real Madrid’s way that Ronaldo of old would have buried without much thought was from a brilliant through pass from Isco on a counter attack.
Ronaldo received the ball pretty neatly into his stride but then instead of taking a shot from his rocket left foot inside the penalty area on the left, he decided to cut the ball back with a fake shot.
That was enough for PSG to organize themselves at the back and kill of any danger.
Now before we move any further let me just put Benitez on alert regarding potential transfer targets for next summer.
This PSG guy Aurier, Ivorian international, a 22 year old right back with immense pace and aerial ability, gave trouble to everyone who came between him and the ball. I am thinking, a swap between Danilo and him with some cash would be the ideal deal.
Ronaldo who is usually no compact on the left wing, got mugged by the youngster and that seemed to have rattled his focus because what happened next was, at least till few years ago, impossible.
Benitez took Isco off and put Modric in the midfield, who made an instant impact with a great long through ball to Lucas on a counter attack. Lucas pass led to shot from Jese which bounced off a PSG defender, inside the penalty area, to Marcelo who set a glorious chance on a plate for Ronaldo.
99 times out of a 100, Ronaldo would have smacked the life out of that ball with his left foot but this time he missed. Barely, but missed he did.
Something definitely has taken a huge toll on his fitness levels it seems. May be it’s just age. But Ronaldo’s defensive work is about as close to absolute zero as you can get.
It is hard to imagine that Ronaldo used to be a guy who could run all day long in his Manchester United days but now, he doesn’t seem to take one extra step to cover some ground in order to help out the defense.
His last dribble against aurier showed a glimpse of what Ronaldo used to do on the wings at his peak.
Jese is a speed demon. But that is about it.
If Ronaldo’s career points to anything, then that is, no matter how fast you are, there is always someone faster than you somewhere in the world.
Ronaldo (and Messi too) realized it before anybody else could and accordingly adjusted their play style. Jese, needs to develop other areas in his game apart from speed and acceleration.
Because, if he doesn’t, sides with fast defenders would neutralize him very quickly. PSG is a side with very pacy defenders.
Aurier was one of those defenders and he mopped the floor with Jese when it came to chasing him down or racing down the left flank with him shoulder to shoulder.
The night started well for Jese as he found himself one of one with the keeper form a tight angle on the right side of the penalty area when a smart Kroos ball tore through PSG defense.
Some might have liked to see him chip the on rushing Trapp, but Jese’s limited finishing ability made sure that he could only hit the goalkeeper on his knee before the chance was snuffed up by PSG defenders.
His pace constantly allowed him to get past players on the left wing all night, except for when he came up against Aurier. Aurier, always caught him even when Jese was able to get past him with a dribble.
That was his story of the first half. In the second half, Jese was able to make one diagonal penetrating run into the center of PSG penalty area from the left wing but again, lacking polish in his game, made a bad pass which killed of his determined work earlier.
Jese seemed to be less interested in the match and more focused on getting even with Aurier. He tried to take him on several occasions and by the time he did outrun Aurier(along with a gasping for air Verratti) it was pointless since he couldn’t stop the ball from going out.
Benitez, noticing Jese’s curbed effectiveness on the pitch decided to take him off in the 72nth minute and replaced with another speed merchant Cheryshev.
Cheryshev once was a promising Russian talent but unfortunately his self-admiration has developed about three times faster than his ability with the ball on the field.
With 18 minutes to go till the final whistle, his work rate seemed to suggest that he had been there for the past several hours or something.
Cheryshev Did very little defensive work. In fact lost the ball from a cleared corner from PSG and had he not had the brains to bring down Pastore to get a yellow card for the infringement, Real Madrid would not have come out of Paris with a valuable away point.
If it was anyone apart from him in the final Real Madrid attack, Ronaldo would have had his goal and Real Madrid would be walking out of Paris with a win instead of a draw.
Cheryshev found himself with space and time on the left wing to either dribble himself or look up and pass to Ronaldo who was totally unmarked on the far side. PSG defenders were struggling to get back to defensive positions after Real Madrid launched a late counter attack.
But Instead of passing to Ronaldo, Cheryshev decided to go for a Roberto Carlos range long shot.
Needless to say, his shot was an embarrassment to the entire team.
Lucas Vasquez is a classic out and out winger and that isn’t enough at Real Madrid.
He is fast and has a reasonable cross on him. He can run with the ball and his work rate would make Di Maria proud. But like Jese, he can’t shoot and neither can dribble past players with regularity. Traits that are a must for any winger these days.
Early on in the game, his pace and energy did win Real Madrid some much needed stoppages to the game just to settle down the nerves but as Real Madrid eased into the game, his influence on the game faded away.
If and when Carvajal comes back, I would be tempted to mistake Lucas for a right back because he certainly plays like one. He has little creativity when it comes to dribbling with the ball and sticks to simple ‘run on the wing and cross’ strategy for most of the time.
His work rate on the pitch and enthusiasm does merit a benchwarmer status at Real Madrid but nothing more unless he significantly improves his strength on the ball, his dribbling and shooting technique.
People don’t’ realize this but Real Madrid has been playing with it’s secondary team since the beginning of the season except for the very first two games.
With seven first team players missing from the starting line up, I think Real Madrid did well against a PSG side that has developed leaps and bounds since the Qatari takeover.