Master stroke by Ronaldo, Zidane

Two late goals validate Zizou's bold tactics, even as Emery's safety-first strategy backfires

Cristiano Ronaldo scoring Real's second goal during their 3-1 come-from-behind win against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League first leg on Wednesday.
Cristiano Ronaldo scoring Real's second goal during their 3-1 come-from-behind win against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League first leg on Wednesday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MADRID • When the final whistle blew at the Bernabeu on Wednesday, the pressure on the manager grew. Not Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane but Paris Saint-Germain's (PSG) Unai Emery.

Tasked to deliver the Champions League title, the Spaniard's French side are now massive underdogs to reach the quarter-finals after their 3-1 first-leg defeat in Madrid.

The holders stunned PSG with two goals in the final seven minutes from Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcelo. Ronaldo had earlier drawn Madrid level with his 100th Champions League goal for the club from the penalty spot on the stroke of half-time, cancelling out Adrien Rabiot's opener for the French side.

If PSG's elimination is confirmed after the return leg at the Parc des Princes on March 6, Emery will surely follow. His criticism of Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi did little to deflect attention away from some of his decisions.

"His tendency was to whistle more in favour of Real Madrid... You can give it," Emery said of the penalty the hosts got for a Giovani Lo Celso challenge on Toni Kroos.

"It wasn't for me. The handball for (Real Madrid defender Sergio) Ramos I did not see but they say it was a handball and a penalty. It's not the same criteria."

  • 100%

  • Real Madrid's win rate in Champions League knockout games at the Santiago Bernabeu under Zinedine Zidane (seven games).

  • 0

    Former Almeria, Valencia and Sevilla manager Unai Emery has yet to mastermind a win at the Bernabeu, drawing once and losing 10 times as a coach.

The PSG manager, who has never gone further than the round of 16 in his five previous times managing in the Champions League, opted to leave captain Thiago Silva out of the starting XI for 22-year-old Presnel Kimpembe in the centre of the PSG defence. Angel di Maria, despite playing a part in 16 goals over the past nine matches, also started on the bench, with Lo Celso named in midfield alongside Marco Verratti and Rabiot.

With almost half an hour left, Emery replaced top scorer Edinson Cavani with full-back Thomas Meunier, while Germany forward Julian Draxler was sent on only in the 84th minute as the visitors chased an equaliser. Two minutes later, they conceded again.

In contrast, Zidane - himself under pressure because of Real's indifferent domestic form - was rewarded for taking risks.

The Frenchman started Isco at Gareth Bale's expense. With the inclusion of the Spain international, Zidane sought to reinforce the midfield, prioritising control over the counter-attack that, later, would decide the outcome.

It meant outnumbering PSG in the middle of the park, and applying pressure on Lo Celso, playing in the deep role which is not really his.

His late substitutions were even more decisive. Marco Asensio came off the bench in the 79th minute to set up each of the two late goals.

"We changed because we knew PSG couldn't keep it up for 90 minutes, so we put on width and directness, with Lucas (Vazquez), Asensio and Gareth," Zidane said.

"We can afford to have a bit of euphoria tonight. We have to be satisfied, and enjoy this."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2018, with the headline 'Master stroke by Ronaldo, Zidane'. Subscribe