Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo ease past poor PSG in Champions League
PARIS -- Three thoughts from Real Madrid's 2-1 (5-2 aggregate) win over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League round of 16 second leg.
1. Champions march on, end PSG's proud home run
Real Madrid remain on course for a third successive Champions League triumph after inflicting Paris Saint-Germain's first home defeat in nearly two years to book their place in the quarterfinals.
PSG, who were reduced to 10 men following the second-half dismissal of Marco Verratti, had been desperate to end their wait for European glory this season having never previously reached even the semifinals. But they crashed out at the round of 16 stage and suffered their first home defeat in all competitions in the process, with Real becoming the first visiting team to win at Parc des Princes (all competitions) since Monaco in March 2016.
The implications for coach Unai Emery are likely to be serious, with the former Sevilla boss expected to lose his job at the end of the season as PSG's Qatari owners are impatient for success beyond the club's French borders. But Real, despite their struggles in La Liga, rolled on with Tuesday night's victory and did it with Zinedine Zidane leaving Isco, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Gareth Bale on the bench at the start of the game to field a more defensive lineup.
Even with a more cautious XI, Real dominated against a PSG team that lacked self-belief and Cristiano Ronaldo promptly put them ahead early in the second half with a far-post header. Edinson Cavani gave PSG hope of a comeback by equalising on 70 minutes, but rather than chase the two further goals required to take the game into extra time, PSG were caught out on the counter-attack when Casemiro restored Real's lead
Going out of the Champions League so early is a huge blow for PSG, but Real are where they expect to be and they will be a dangerous opponent in the last eight.
2. Ronaldo closes on yet another record
Ronaldo may have turned 33 last month, but the Real Madrid forward is still chasing records. His second-half goal at the Parc des Princes, which as good as confirmed Real's place in the quarterfinals, equalled a record set by former Manchester United teammate Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2002-03 as he scored in a ninth consecutive Champions League game.
The Portugal forward has had a less productive season than usual for Real, netting a mere 31 goals in all competitions for the European champions. But although there have been times when his pace has looked a little less sharp than it has in the past and his trademark step-overs ever so slightly slower, Ronaldo continues to be the man for the big occasion for Real.
This was a game that lacked quality in the first half, but Ronaldo was the Real player who looked most likely to make a decisive contribution. It came not long after the break when he arrived at the far post to head Lucas Vazquez's cross past Alphonse Areola in the PSG goal.
At some point, Real will have to replace their talisman but how do you replace Ronaldo? Even when he is supposedly "subpar," he continues to deliver and only a fool would bet against him scoring in a 10 consecutive Champions League game when the quarterfinals begin.
3. Neymar a loss but PSG still need so much more
It's inevitable that Neymar's injury absence from the PSG team will be cited as the main factor in their Champions League exit, but to suggest it was the key reason would be ignoring reality.
Neymar had hit 26 goals in 29 games for PSG this season before sustaining the foot injury that ruled him out of this round of 16 second-leg tie and much of the rest of the season. But while his goal threat would obviously have given PSG a sharper cutting edge, there were too many players in the home team who were simply outdone by their Real opposite number.
Verratti, who was sent off in the second half, Angel di Maria, Thiago Motta and Edinson Cavani were all found wanting against Real. The list could go on, too, and although Kylian Mbappe was a constant threat, his immaturity with the ball was a problem for PSG because he repeatedly made the wrong decision when in dangerous positions.
Neymar was the statement signing by PSG last summer, when the £198 million deal with Barcelona made the world sit up and take notice, but one man cannot make a team. The Brazil international was largely anonymous during the first leg, which PSG lost 3-1, so there would have been no guarantees that he would have been the game-changer in the Parc des Princes on Tuesday night.
Real showed that while Cristiano Ronaldo was their match-winning star once again, it was the power of the team, rather than the individual, that got them the result they needed.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_