(By Rahul Pandey)
Real Madrid vs PSG
“Asi, asi, asi gana el Madrid!” [Like that, like that, that is how Madrid wins]. The atmosphere of Santiago Bernabeu was back to it’s magical best with the UEFA Champions League. Just when Madrid Era seemed to have come to a close, 90 minutes against the most expensive side in Europe was all that they needed as they marked the occasion with a 3-1 win over the Parisians in what was quite a heated contest, atleast for the first 75 minutes.
So far the biggest game of the season started off with Real having a point to prove. Zinadine Zidane came up with a star studded line up, a 4-3-1-2 formation up against the 4-3-3 PSG lineup that consisted MCN up front. Both the teams were also missing few big names in the starting 11, the likes of Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio, Layvin Kurzawa, Thiago Silva were in the substitute list.
The game was staged just like the famous three act show. The first one belonged to the Los Blancos, who were clear of their intentions from the first whistle, as they earned a corner in the first 40 seconds, pushing the PSG defence deep. Marquinhos and Kimpembe who started in the middle of defence were never really given a chance to take control as Real came up and running, making ammends on the fumbles made by the centre-halves. But it was the second act that made things more interesting. Neymar came into centre stage with thrilling display of his skills and forward play. Things were really getting interested as Marcelo made daunting runs from one side and Dani Alves from the other. It was in the 33 minute, that Mbappe made a surging run on the right to which Neymar set up Adrian Rabiot with a beautiful backheel and within 9 seconds of counter, PSG had scored the all important away goal. As the first half was verging on the end, 21-year old Lo Celso who looked all sweaty from the start, shoved off Toni Kross just inside the box to give away the spot-kick. And in came the all time Madrid saviour, Cristiano Ronaldo who placed it into the right of Goalkeeper Areola to make it 1-1. Although their were two goals in the first half but the highlight was surely Marcelo’s insane curling pass to Ronaldo from 70 yards out on the left.
Second half started off a bit slow, as PSG looked the more promising of the two with Dani Alves and Adrian Rabiot having more influence. They were knocking the door more than often now, not capitalising much with Mbappe hardly making a difference as Neymar tried hard to steer up front. Cavani who had a hard day at office was taken off for Thomas Meunier. But the game changed with substitutes on the other side as Marco Asensio came in for Isco.
It was the Spaniard who supplied the cross from the left for Cristiano Ronaldo to make it 2-1, sheerly with knee power in the 83 minute. Three minutes later, the most deserved man on the ground finally got his goal as Asensio meshed perfectly with Kroos to set up Marcelo who drove it past Areola and left the net bulging. Kylian Mbappe’s final attempt on goal, that was hardly a challenge for Navas, summed up the night for the Parisians, but for Madrid it was Guy Mowbrey’s words that did the same,
“When the whole world thought they were done, when everyone ruled them out, in came the Paridise of Madrid to win the biggest game of the season, that’s what it means to them, that’s what the UEFA Champions League does to them.
The Tie Verdict:
Yesterday’s result makes the tie all the more interesting. PSG did make a lot of mistakes, one of them being the playing 11 and that brings us on the point that will decide the tie. If PSG leave out Kurzawa and Thiago Silva in the second leg, they are sure to be punished by Madrid who will play a more defensive game, looking for counter-attacks in the second leg. I’ll also double on what i said yesterday; either of Neymar or Ronaldo will seal the fate of the tie.
FC Porto vs Liverpool
After a hiatus of nine years Football Club Liverpool returned to the knockout stages of Europe’s elite club competition. Just before the game in an interview, the Reds’ no. 9 Roberto Firmino had said, “We will make Porto suffer.” And boy didn’t they proved that statement. In a comparitively warmer night at Estadio do Dragao, Liverpool started the domination game right from the beginning, as they began the game with the best possible 11, with Mane, Firmino and Salah up front. Jurgen Klopp knew that they were up against an opposition that had taken down the likes of Bayern Munich at home in this competition, so nothing less than a 100% effort would have meant slipping out of the league. But that really wasn’t happening was it, not on the watch of one fine Senegalese, Sadio Mane.
The 25-year old who had an underwhelming season so far, was back onto his best, as he opened the scoring in the 25 minute when the opposition Goalkeeper Jose Sa failed to hold his placed strike. Liverpool then knew straight away that with the Porto defence not linking together, it was their night. The Egyptian delight, Mohammed Salah then showed wonderful composure to steer the ball home for Liverpool’s second five minutes later, taking his tally to an incredible 30 goals this season.
One would have thought with the first half done that Porto would muster some sort of counter in the second half but Liverpool looked in no mood to spare as a swift counter attack ended with Firmino’s shot that was generously spilled by the goalkeeper, only into the path of Mane who got his second of the night, 8 minutes into the second half.
In the 69th minute, Liverpool embraced their fourth, this time the Brazilian coming into act. Roberto Firimino made the most of James Milner’s cross. Porto who had lost only lost two games this season in all competitions showed no signs of a team that did so. The defence and the midfield was poorly organised. Although the possession wasn’t quite contrasting but they didn’t make the most of that as they missed the chances that they had, including Otavio Monteiro’s shot that was inches wide of the far left post.
It was a picture perfect ending with the Mane finally grabbing his hattrick in the 85 minute with a driven strike to become the first Liverpool player to score 3 goals away from home since Micheal Owen in 2002.
The Tie Verdict:
It is all over for Porto, a five away goal lead is something that doesn’t need to be placed for a debate. It is true that Liverpool’s defence has had some issues giving up promising leads but i think they surely can contain the Portuguese side at Anfield just like they did last night, and who knows score more.