It’s not often that a match can be so decisive for the two teams that face each other. As Sergio Ramos said, an elimination in Champions League would be fatal to the Real Madrid season, too far to hope for the title in La Liga.
For PSG it is a little less serious because they have almost won the championship but their main goal is the Champions League and elimination in the eighth of final would be highly detrimental after the arrival of Neymar.
However, this game was not closed, thanks to two offensive lineups. After a goal at the 33’ minute for the PSG, both teams returned to the break after a draw by Ronaldo on a penalty.At the break the two teams were about equal in terms of opportunity and domination.
It was not until the last fifteen minutes that the decision was made, with two Real Madrid goals following smart changes for Real Madrid and coaching errors on the part of PSG.
Real Madrid started the game with a classic squad formation. It’s PSG lineup that was more surprising. With a midfield composed by Marco Verratti, Adrien Rabiot and Giovani Lo Celso, the average age of the team is 22 years old, very young for that kind of game.
It’s the last name that is more surprising: usually PSG play with Thiago Motta as defensive midfielder with Rabiot and Verratti in front of him. When Thiago Motta is injured (something often happening nowadays) it’s Rabiot that take the position (but he already says he doesn’t like it). However, during winter transfer window, PSG “bought” Lassana Diarra to cope with this situation.
Nevertheless, it’s Lo Celso who was on the field that night. It’s a very strange choice form Unai Emery: though he played some Ligue 1 games in this position, this young Argentinian is more an attacking midfield than a defensive one.
Moreover, with Verratti and Rabiot next to him, the PSG midfield was very brittle.
Though Thiago Silva (usual captain) was on the bench, substituted by Kimpembe, the rest of the team was quite classical.
Real Madrid with less worries
Troubles that we feel in La Liga probably come from the Ronaldo repositioning. Now playing as a striker beside Benzema, there is no more winger on left and by the way on the right. Isco is not a winger and the midfield behind don’t have qualities to bring movement on the wings. Moreover, it’s difficult to find a place for Gareth Bale in this lineup (4-3-1-2 or diamond 4-4-2) and so there is no space to clear the game.
Fortunately, Zidane’s team didn’t has the same troubles as they have this season during this game. Even if Karim Benzema was transparent on the field, Real Madrid attack was very efficient with two huge performances from Luka Modric and Marcelo.
The first one was as usual in his role of playmaker. With the strange shape of PSG midfield, he was not embarrassed at all and so able to dictate his game : something very dangerous for the opposing team.
Marcelo was also very dangerous, every time he went ahead he brought his winger qualities, something missing in that Real Madrid lineup.
Looking at shot map and pass network show us how Ronaldo was determinant for this game, thanks to a discreet but efficient and professional midfield. With two goals and being the first one to press the opposing team to gather the ball, the last Ballon d’Or was another time the recipe for this success. Although he is not so visible as that during the game, he brings a lot of details that make the difference at the end.
This game reflect what’s going on when you spend more than €300 million for only two offensive players, especially when you need more defensive roles.
With Neymar and Mbappe, PSG has now a terrific attack (moreover with players on the bench like Draxler, Di Maria or Pastore) but the rest of the team is quite under what is needed to compete in Champions League.
While it’s not a problem in Ligue 1, where these players are widely above others, it’s quite embarrassing during big games.
The PSG shot map of this match reflects how Mbappe can be overrated and shows the “Neymar addiction” that some experts talk about in France (even in Ligue 1).
Moreover, on the pass map, we can see how PSG had difficulties to find vertical movements and how the midfield was in fact not in charge of the game.
Experience and coaching
Another thing that probably count a lot in PSG defeat is coaching. When at the 66th minute Edinson Cavani was substituted for Thomas Meunier everyone thinks about an injury. But in fact it was a choice from Emery. Letting Dani Alves take the right wing in attack, he replaced Mbappe in the front of the attack.
So there were no more true striker and so when Draxler came at the 84’ minute it was already too late to change something.
At the opposite, Zidane brought in Asensio and Vazquez at the 79’ (in place of Isco and Casemiro), the choice was to attack.
Asensio is a key on the two goals that followed (83’ and 86’) and even in the last minutes, PSG didn’t try to change their gameplan.
The same, Real Madrid players have an average age of 27 years old while it’s only 22 years old for PSG. It’s difficult to understand PSG policy when you know that their main goal is to win the Champions League. In fact the only experimented player on the field was Neymar (not so experimented), players like Thiago Silva, Thiago Motta or even Lassana Diarra sat on the bench.
In fact the game could have ended with a draw but it’s the experience and a good coaching that make the difference.
The second game in Paris will probably be different with a PSG that almost win its championship (more than 10 points from the second) and whose goal is to go as far as possible in Champions League.
Although the step is probably too high this time.
Apart: football evolution?
On this image we can see how both Marcelo and Nacho played very high when Real Madrid had the ball.
Moreover we can see what is starting to be a trend right now : defensive midfielder playing very deep (almost center back) without being a playmaker, it’s a little bit different from Milan AC with Pirlo or with Busquet in Barcelona because this deep lying playmaker is a defensive midfielder now (and a strong one).
It’s Fernandinho in Manchester City, Eric Dier sometimes in Tottenham or Casemiro in Real Madrid. So far, they are not playmaker and the midfield ahead is not composed by classical midfielder but with more offensive ones.
Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva in Manchester City, Modric and Kroos for Real Madrid, they have all the playmaker profile.
Maybe the Casemiro/Fernandinho profile is rare and so only very developed club and special coach can experiment this kind of lineup but this dynamic probably fits into something bigger that is the disappearance of specific roles in football, bring by Guardiola among others.