Champions League: Real Madrid, PSG seize control in similar fashion
The home sides seized the advantage during the second batch of the Champions League quarterfinal first legs, as Paris Saint-Germain beat Chelsea 3-1 and Real Madrid topped Borussia Dortmund 3-0. Here is what caught our eye:
Player of the Day: Ezequiel Lavezzi, Paris. St-Germain
It took Lavezzi three minutes to make his mark on this game, as he seized on John Terry's weak defensive header and half-volleyed a left-footed shot in off the crossbar. It was a dynamic start for PSG, and while it lifted the crowd, it seemed to have the opposite effect on the host, who sat back too deep too soon, and was quickly punished for it.
But while the Chelsea defense was pre-occupied with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani, it was Lavezzi, starting on the left of the front three, who caused the most problems; he soon burst onto Ibra's through-ball down the left, keeping Gary Cahill at bay, then fired a shot into the side-netting. Lavezzi also created PSG's second goal, with his wicked free-kick causing havoc in the Chelsea area and David Luiz ultimately deflecting the ball into his own net.
Lavezzi was part of the Napoli side that beat Chelsea in the round of 16 in 2012 - he actually scored in the first leg 3-1 win - so he will know the perils of facing the Blues at Stamford Bridge with that scoreline to defend, but the Argentine's best form this season has coincided with a personal tragedy: last month his uncle Jorge was shot and killed, a tragic victim of a mugging in Rosario.
"I hope that things can change in Argentina, on behalf of all the families who suffer such tragedies every day," he tweeted.
Lavezzi has scored four goals in six games since the news broke - and he will be hoping for a different ending to the Napoli one in six days time.
Moment of the Day: Javier Pastore's difference-making goal
It looked like nothing was on when substitute Javier Pastore picked up the ball almost level with the goal line in the last minute of the game. But he jinked inside past Cesar Azpilicueta, cut back on another marker and fired in a shot past Petr Cech's near post that turned a 2-1 lead into a 3-1 victory. And while 2-1 is a dangerous lead to defend in Europe - it's arguable that 0-0 is better, as at least there is no away goal to manage - 3-1 makes a huge difference.
It was the moment more than any other - more than Lavezzi's opener, more than the worrying sight of Zlatan Ibrahimovic limping off with a hamstring strain that might rule him out of the second leg - that will define this tie. And it showed the clear difference in quality between the two squads: while Chelsea brought on Frank Lampard and Fernando Torres, PSG brought on Pastore, Yohan Cabaye and Lucas Moura.
Perfect for Jose Mourinho to point out the struggles of his 'little-horse' competing against a state-owned behemoth. But this was a night for the Argentines - and PSG's coming of age on the big stage.
Major Takeaway of the Day: Mirroring fixtures
What is with this Champions League round and goals in pairs? We saw it 24 hours earlier when Manchester United and Atletico Madrid scored in the same minute (and the equalizers came in quick succession) and Wednesday, PSG and Real Madrid went one better: scoring their opening goals in the same second, 176, in both matches.
At the same time Lavezzi scored, Gareth Bale skipped past Sokratis and toe-poked Dani Carvajal's early cross from the right. When the game's second goal went in, Hazard's equalizer and Isco for Madrid, it was also in the same minute, 27; and the third goals came within moments of each other as well. Bizarre.
How both hosts responded to their first goals is where the two games went different ways: Real Madrid took confidence from its early strike, and, playing in an offensive formation, pushed forward for more (which duly came). PSG, on the other hand, retreated deep into its own half and for a period, struggled to keep the ball. Was this an issue of confidence, experience or because it's used to regularly dominating after scoring early goals in Ligue 1?
Either way, PSG settled after the break and, prompted by the excellent Thiago Motta in midfield, was on top in the second period. Over in Madrid, it was all about one man - again. Every match these days is an opportunity for Cristiano Ronaldo to break more records, and he did just that again. His quick feet made a third goal for Real Madrid - were it not for goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller, it could have been more - and that was strike No. 14 for the season in this competition, matching the record of Lionel Messi (2012-13) and Jose Altafini.
It was also the eighth straight Champions League game in which he has scored - one away from Ruud van Nistelrooy's record; and European goal No. 49 for Real Madrid, level with Alfredo di Stefano.
If the games were imitating each other, then there was a dark twist late on, as Ibrahimovic hobbled off with a worrying hamstring injury in the second half, so Ronaldo, with his troublesome knee, soon followed. The big stars are playing lots of games, and picking up injuries at the worst possible times - perhaps it's lucky for them that their teams might not need them in the second legs.
How the Second Legs Shape Up
PSG might have settled for the 2-1 win, but the Pastore strike changes everything. And the fact that Ibrahimovic could miss out on the trip to London makes it even more decisive; with no Ibra, Chelsea would have fancied coming back from a one-goal deficit. The task is a whole lot harder now, not just because of the extra goal, but the huge confidence boost that PSG will now have going into the game. It pushed Barcelona mighty close last season at this stage of the competition; this year, PSG is stronger, and a place in the semifinal is within touching distance.
For Real Madrid, the task is even clearer; next week's tie should be an opportunity to rest some fatigued and injured players for a tough run-in. And a word too for Jurgen Klopp, who not once has complained about the spate of injuries his team has had to deal with. Klopp has fielded 15 defensive variations this season, and not one has been his first choice. Dortmund may be on the verge of elimination, but can leave with heads held high.