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Real Madrid’s 2-1 victory at the Parc des Princes was the mark of a team that knows exactly how to negotiate Champions League ties, even if Neymar was missing for the hosts.
Zinedine Zidane had been facing absolute crisis point prior to the first leg of the tie, with many expecting the Frenchman to lose his job at the end of the season, such had been the club’s woeful defence of their domestic crown.
Yet, after eliminating the pre-tournament favourites, Zidane’s charges are on a high and are once again seen as a likely winner of the competition.
If teams left in the tournament had seen Real Madrid’s domestic form and thought they could take advantage, now they are realising that in the Champions League, Los Blancos always seem to turn up.
PSG needed to win 2-0 on Tuesday and Real Madrid set themselves up well, even though they were missing two incredibly important members of their midfield in Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.
All the accusations placed at Tottenham Hotspur’s door of lacking Champions League nous on Wednesday can’t be placed near Real Madrid. After winning three out of the last four editions of the competition, they’ve proven without a shadow of a doubt that they know how to come through knockout ties.
They repelled PSG attacks when necessary and kept a fantastically well organised shape with Casemiro covering the area just in front of the back four expertly. They limited the chances created by the French club and when the opportunity came to strike on the counter attack, Cristiano Ronaldo took it. It was a vintage away performance.
La Liga is too far out of reach for the defending champions now and the repercussions of that will likely follow at the end of the campaign, however it could be argued that in eliminating PSG, Real Madrid have overcome as difficult a test as they could expect to face.
Manchester City remain an incredibly strong candidate to win the Champions League, however Zidane has shown himself to be tactically capable of stifling an attacking team in a knockout tie.
There is a confidence within the team now that simply wasn’t there for much of the season, it’s worth remembering that the European champions didn’t even win their group this season.
Success in Europe is synonymous with Real Madrid, becoming the first team to successfully defend the trophy in its current guise was a phenomenal achievement, yet Zidane and co now have their sights set on a hat-trick of triumphs.
Obviously, there are still issues which need to be ironed out. The French coach doesn’t yet feel sure of his best team this term, Gareth Bale was left out of both starting line-ups against Unai Emery’s team.
Karim Benzema’s form has been poor this season, at least in front of goal, however he remains an almost automatic selection on the team-sheet.
Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio were utilised as wide midfielders on Tuesday and they played perfectly.
They added enough attacking dynamism to create chances on the counter, but plugged an area of midfield with diligent defensive runs that ably supported the full-backs. In his favoured 4-3-3 system, it’s unlikely that Zidane would have got the same amount of work out of either Bale or Ronaldo.
Clearly there is a need for the squad to be replenished in the summer, disagreements over recruitment between the former Juventus midfielder and Florentino Perez hardly helped Los Blancos this season. That will change in the summer, however for the moment the players are living off momentum and the victory in Paris has certainly created a lot.
Champions League football is about a fine balance of quality and know-how, with the away goals rule in place there is always the potential for a tie to change on one mistake or one moment of brilliance. England’s teams are taking a period of time to adjust to this, whilst for the current iteration of Real Madrid, they are so experienced, playing in the competition comes as second nature to the squad.
The comparisons between the two teams at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday have made for damning reading in France in the subsequent days, PSG have been shown to not be near the level of Los Blancos with regards to the Champions League and it’s unclear quite where that leaves their project.
For the Spanish champions, they have the luxury of domestic matches meaning very little at this point and can totally focus on European matters, they know what it takes to beat any team, and after a difficult campaign, Tuesday was validation of that.
They now emerge as a favourite to lift the famous trophy yet again.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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