Late goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcelo earned Real Madrid a 3-1 victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their Round of 16 Champions League tie on Wednesday night at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid.
Adrien Rabiot gave the Parisians a first-half lead, but Ronaldo would equalise right before half-time. PSG would mostly control the second-half, but manager Zinedine Zidane’s second half substitutions, especially Marco Asensio, would provide decisive and pave the way for a Real triumph.
In a span of four minutes Asensio set up Ronaldo for his second before setting the table for Marcelo’s goal, giving Real a healthy advantage going into next month’s return leg in Paris. For PSG, it will be a bitterly disappointing result, while for Real, it was just another example of the class they can summon at the biggest of moments when playing on Europe’s grandest stage.
The big news out of Real Madrid camp before the match was Zidane’s decision to start Isco ahead of Gareth Bale in an effort to wield more control in midfield. Also of note was Nacho getting the start at right-back in place of the suspended Dani Carvajal.
PSG boss Unai Emery wasn’t without his surprises either, dropping team captain and centre-back Thiago Silva for Presnel Kimpembe, while a pair of familiar faces, former Barcelona men Dani Alves and Neymar, started for the French.
A breathless start came to a crashing halt when a collision between fellow Brazilians Marcelo and Alves ended with the former writhing in agony on the turf with an apparent arm injury. Marcelo would soldier on though, but PSG were starting to find a hole in the Real defence, as the focused their attack on the left where Neymar could exploit Nacho.
In attack Real were not getting the penetration that they wanted, especially in the middle of the pitch, and so they looked to open up space by playing wide. Marcelo crafted a golden opportunity for Real to open the scoring just shy of the half-hour mark with a sensational ball across for Ronaldo at the far post, but PSG goalkeeper Alphonse Areola blocked the shot, albeit painfully with his face.
But PSG’s class would rise up and their attacking trio of Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Neymar would all have a hand in Rabiot’s goal that gave the visitors a 1-0 lead. Mbappe launched a ball in from the right that was dummied by Cavani for Neymar, who forced a weak clearance from Nacho that set up Rabiot perfectly and it was an easy stroke into net for the goal.
The goal gave PSG a massive confidence boost and Cavani had a chance to double the lead minutes later but saw his effort deflected wide.
Real would respond though and moments after Areola made a diving stop of a Karim Benzema curler, Toni Kroos would draw a penalty after being taken down by Giovani Lo Celso in the area. Ronaldo, like he has so often in this tournament, dutifully converted the spot kick to even the tie 1-1.
PSG were content to sit back and play the counter at the start of the second half, and one such break almost resulted in an Mbappe goal. Later on Rabiot had a go at goal but his shot struck the arm of Sergio Ramos in the area, but there was no call from referee Gianluca Rocchi.
Real continued poking and probing the PSG defence, trying to unlock the French sides’ compact back line. Zidane had to go to his bench for inspiration, bringing on Bale for the relatively quiet Benzema. However, the next big chance again came for PSG when a scramble in the box gave Kimpembe a look from just yards out, but Nacho stretched out his leg to block the effort.
The PSG pressure did not wane and a surgical ball played from Yuri from the left nearly connected with Mbappe and then Dani Alves, only to roll wide. That prompted Zidane to make his remaining two changes, swapping off Isco and Casemiro for Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez, respectively.
The fresh legs off the bench gave Real a lift, and a poor clearance from PSG led the way to Ronaldo’s winner, as Luka Modric intercepted, fed Asensio on the left and the cross deflected to the Portuguese who gleefully poked home to make it 2-1.
Real were keen for more, and went back to Asensio on the left wing for a spark, as his cutting pass back for Marcelo was one-timed in by the Brazilian to completely turn the tie on its head and send Real home with a 3-1 victory.
– Match Facts:
3.- Real Madrid: Keylor; Nacho, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Casemiro (Lucas Vazquez, min. 79), Kroos, Modric, Isco (Asensio, min. 79); Cristiano, Benzema (Bale, min. 68).
1.- Paris Saint-Germain: Areola; Dani Alves, Marquinhos, Kimpembe, Yuri; Lo Celso (Draxler, min. 89), Verratti, Rabiot; Neymar, Mbappe, Cavani (Meunier, min. 66).
Goals: 0-1, min. 33: Rabiot; 1-1, min. 45: Ronaldo (p); 2-1, min. 83: Ronaldo; 3-1, min. 87: Marcelo
Referee: Gianluca Rocchi (Italy).
Yellow Cards: Neymar (Min. 14) for PSG, Lo Celso (Min. 25) for PSG, Isco (Min. 32) for Real Madrid, Rabiot (Min. 64) for PSG, Nacho (Min. 78) for Real Madrid
Stadium: Santiago Bernabeu