- Real Madrid and Liverpool are on to the Champions League quarterfinals, while PSG is left dealing with another premature exit in the competition it spent big to win.
Real Madrid’s bid for a third straight Champions League title remains alive after a relatively comfortable 2-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes completed a 5-2 aggregate win in their heavyweight showdown.
Liverpool, already 5-0 up against Porto from the first leg, also took its place in the quarterfinal with a goalless draw at Anfield.
Cristiano Ronaldo sent Madrid on its way in Paris with a 51st-minute header. Edinson Cavani did pull PSG level on the day, but by then Marco Verratti had been sent off, and a deflected Casemiro shot sealed Madrid’s progress.
Here are three thoughts on the day in the Champions League, and the first two quarterfinal tickets officially punched:
More frustration for selfish PSG
When you bring in the two most expensive players in the world–albeit that PSG won’t actually pay for the on-loan Kylian Mbappe until this coming summer–the expectation must be for more than an exit in the last 16 of the Champions League. PSG will win the French league this season, but this stands as another season of failure for the club, whose focus was very clearly on conquering Europe.
The draw, admittedly, was tough, and if PSG had gone out with dignity, coming close in a high-class game, perhaps an exit would have been forgivable. As it was, it was well-beaten by a side that has had a miserable season domestically and exited in a fog of recrimination and petulance.
As in the first leg, the sense was of a slightly frantic, chaotic game, lacking the coherence or fluency of the very best sides. Perhaps, given the stakes, that was only to be expected, and at least it wasn’t a match that revolved around Neymar constantly running down blind alleys. It did, though, feel like a battle of a load of very good players rather than two excellent teams.
PSG had set a new record for goals scored in the group stage and had scored at least three goals in each of its last eight home games. The suspicion about the side all season, though, has been that it's a team that is great at hammering weaker sides but rather less equipped when it comes to a battle. Here, it was oddly lacking in spark or incision. The excuse, perhaps, would be that it was missing Neymar, who is back in Brazil following surgery on a broken metatarsal, but if that was indeed the case, that merely shows how dependent a team can become on one star.
When PSG did create a clear chance in the first half, with Dani Alves weighting a perfect pass through the Madrid defense for Kylian Mbappe, he shot from a narrow angle rather than squaring for Edinson Cavani, who would have had a tap-in. Selfishness at PSG evidently isn’t confined to Neymar.
Cavani did level the score for the second leg with 20 minutes remaining as a half-cleared corner bobbled in off his knee, but by then PSG was already down to 10 men after the sending-off of Verratti. Booked for a crude lunge on Casemiro in the first half, he was shown a second yellow for dissent after halftime, the reaction of a spoiled player in a spoiled team that has become far too used to having matters go its own way.
Diminished Ronaldo still deadly
Cristiano Ronaldo is not the player he was. In many ways he is a frustrating figure, existing in ever decreasing areas in and around the box, a fine finisher and a superb header of a ball, like the pure essence of a 1950s style English center forward–if less mobile. There is a very good argument that Real Madrid would play better, more imaginative football without him, but who would dare relinquish his goals? His opener on Tuesday was his 22nd goal in his last 13 Champions League matches and marked the ninth straight Champions League match in which he scored.
He had also got two in the first leg–a penalty and one that bounced in off his knee–but this was a proper goal. The first half had seen Ronaldo in one of his tetchy moods, complaining regularly at referee Felix Brych, throwing himself to the ground and kicking out at Dani Alves, for which he was a little fortunate to avoid a red card. But PSG had been warned when he got in front of Thiago Silva and headed just wide. A minute later he scored and effectively sealed the series with a powerful header. The finish, all bulging neck muscles, was spectacular, but credit was due also to Marco Asensio, who led the counter, checked back and then slipped in Lucas Vazquez to cross.
Many questions have been asked about the tactical acumen of Zinedine Zidane, and it remains true that he seems incapable of setting up a side that can control a game, but he is restricted in what he can do when Ronaldo moves so little, particularly given Karim Benzema similarly seems indifferent to defensive responsibility. His selection here was surprising, but it undeniably worked as Mateo Kovacic was preferred in midfield to either Luka Modric or Toni Kroos, with Gareth Bale also missing out as Zidane opted for a 4-4-2 with Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez in the wide areas. Asensio, as he has been so often in a largely disappointing season for Madrid, was excellent.
Liverpool content to snooze its way into quarterfinals
Jurgen Klopp had tried to inject some tension before the second leg, saying that his side’s 5-0 in the first leg had not been entirely representative of the game. Maybe not, but equally there was no prospect of Liverpool surrendering that advantage at home against Porto.
Klopp was relatively restrained in his changes–Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino started, while Mohamed Salah entered for a 16-minute cameo at the end–but this was a night when he felt able to bring on Danny Ings in the second half. It wasn’t very exciting, but it didn’t need to be. Ings came closest, forcing a highlight-reel save from Iker Casillas, but Liverpool didn't need much on a day devoid of drama or suspense.