Mbappe's Madrid showcase upstaged by Zidane's Real veterans
MADRID -- Zinedine Zidane may be in love with Kylian Mbappe, but on a crazy, rollercoaster Champions League night at the Bernabeu, he loved what he saw from his Real Madrid team even more.
For much of the 2-2 draw with Paris Saint-Germain, this was Madrid's best performance of the season. PSG striker Mbappe, rated No. 3 forward in ESPN FC 100, had dominated the pre-match headlines -- with coach Zidane admitting that "I've been in love with him for a long time" -- but it was Real Madrid who dominated the game behind Karim Benzema's two-goal performance.
"It was a great game from the team. We keep growing," Zidane said speaking in the post-match news conference. "We have to be happy with the game, but not the final result. We have to be happy with what we did for 85 minutes."
He added: "We changed the plan today with an extra midfielder. Isco played really well linking with Eden [Hazard] and Karim. That's what we looked for and they did it well."
Madrid's forwards enjoyed themselves, and it was a veteran who eclipsed the young pretender Mbappe until PSG's late comeback. Benzema opened the scoring on 17 minutes after Isco's shot hit the post, before making it 2-0 late on with a header, doubling his Champions League goal tally for the season. Gareth Bale -- drawing notably less jeers from the crowd than over the weekend -- had the chance to make himself a hero with the Madrid fans but hit the post with a free-kick in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
"It was a special night against a strong opponent," Benzema said. "The team gave everything. We conceded two late goals, but it was a great game for us and we're on the right track."
His compatriot Mbappe had started brightly in his 100th PSG appearance in all competitions. In the first half he frequently found space behind Marcelo, running at Sergio Ramos, before later switching wings with Angel Di Maria. Before half time he forced a good save from Thibaut Courtois and with just over an hour gone was just beaten to a Neymar through ball by the Belgian keeper.
Mbappe's first clear sight of goal came when he scored, pouncing on a Courtois mistake to make it 2-1 in the 82nd minute with a close-range finish. Soon after that, PSG went level through Real Madrid youth product Pablo Sarabia. Mbappe even had the chance to win it at the death but could only find the side netting.
Zidane was comparatively more subdued on his admiration for Mbappe after the match, only saying that: "He did his job, he needed to score and he did. Nothing more to add."
PSG sporting director Leonardo expressed his own cautious optimism in Mbappe's future in the French capital, telling reporters that the youngster is "100% staying" before adding: "We are progressing [on contract talks], gently, but we are moving forward."
Real Madrid's performance was in stark contrast to their visit to Paris in September when they were beaten 3-0 in the low point of Zidane's second spell in charge. The form of the team has improved drastically since then, and key to that has been the growth of Eden Hazard, looking much more like the player Madrid thought they were signing. However the Belgian winger hobbled away from the Bernabeu on Tuesday with an ankle injury.
"Hazard's game was spectacular. He got a knock," Zidane confirmed. "He twisted his ankle. I hope it's not much. He's gone to do the tests now and we'll see."
The 2-2 draw means PSG top Group A on 13 points, with Real Madrid guaranteed of a second-placed finish as both progress to the Champions League last 16.