Real Madrid booked their spot in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League for an eighth consecutive season on Tuesday night in Paris. Over two legs, the Spanish giants showed class and professionalism to overcome the Parisian club, which was favored by many to knock Los Blancos out of the tournament.
Paris Saint-Germain spent over $500 million over the summer to sign Neymar and Kylian Mbappe with the intention of winning Europe’s most coveted trophy. They had been on fire this season and came into the fixture heavy favorites as a result. Real Madrid, in contrast, have had a disastrous campaign domestically. Zinedine Zidane’s side currently sit a whopping 15 points behind Barcelona. With the La Liga title race over for Real, the Champions League was all they had left. And the players fought and gave everything they had for 180 minutes to make sure their fans still have something to look forward to this season.
PSG took the lead in the first leg at the Bernabéu and looked to dominate until Ronaldo equalized with a penalty just before halftime. In the second half, the French club continued to create opportunities and seemed to have the momentum in their favor. Late in the match, however, Zidane made a key change and brought on Marco Asensio, who contributed to two late goals that gave his team a 3-1 lead coming into the second leg. This was after Unai Emery, PSG’s manager, made a decision to bring in a defender for Edinson Cavani.
Over the course of the two matches, Real Madrid showed exactly why they have won three of the last four European cups. The team managed the game exceptionally well, and this game management comes from their experience. Despite not being on their best form this season, these players know what it takes to win big games. They understand how to keep their cool and handle adversity, to adapt their approach to a match based on fluctuations in momentum. PSG have not had success in big matches in European over recent years and, coming into this game, their experience was always going to be in question. With a manager like Zidane, who knows the mentality you need to have to win major titles, Real Madrid should’ve been given more of a chance than they were by pundits before the match. The manager not only was able to get his players into the right mindset for the fixture, but also showed his own tactical know-how by adjusting his players and tactics based on what changes PSG made. Real Madrid won both the tactical battle and the mental battle in both matches.
They pressed high up the pitch in the first half, they defended well when PSG was attacking them in the second, and they took advantage of tired legs late in the game to score two goals that ultimately ended the tie in the first game. In the second leg, in Paris, Real Madrid scored first. Shortly after, Marco Veratti was sent off for PSG after protesting to the referee while on a yellow card. It’s rash moments of indiscipline like that that separate champions from the rest. To overcome adversity, players need to work together collectively and keep their composure even when things aren’t going their way. Real Madrid started this tie as underdogs and even conceded the first goal, yet were able to come out on top. Many still have Real Madrid as favorites to win the competition despite their poor domestic season, and it is because of this experience that they are held in high regard.
To go along with the experience, Cristiano Ronaldo is showing everyone why he’s still the king of Europe. Having scored in every single match of the competition this season, his goals are a big reason why the capital club are through to the quarterfinals. He might not have the pace he used to have, but his intelligence allows him to put himself into positions where he knows he is going to get opportunities to score. And, being the deadly finisher that he is, he can put away most chances that come his way.
Paris Saint-Germain spent a lot of money over the summer to win games like this, but Real Madrid showed them that money can’t buy you class.
By Amir Pirbazari, Amir’s Corner