At times you could be forgiven for thinking that the team in white was Real Madrid. The speed, precision and power at which they moved towards the goal they were attacking was reminiscent of Jose Mourinho’s rapid Real of 2012. In reality, it was Thomas Tuchel’s Paris Saint Germain that swarmed the team that had just won three out of the last four UEFA Champions League titles.
Real Madrid looked like a shadow of the team that had mesmerized Europe with their ability to be serial winners, whatever the odds may be. At Le Parc des Princes on Wednesday, they failed to register a single shot on target, the first time in 578 official matches.
Keylor Navas might have almost been disappointed he did not have to make a single save against his former teammates. And this was with a front three that boasted Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale, who are on paper, the club’s most talented and explosive front three. At the other end of the pitch, Thibaut Courtois’ attempts at thwarting PSG’s onslaughts were dubious as usual, having failed to keep a clean sheet since February.
This Real Madrid team was in disarray and failed to execute the basics of soccer. On PSG’s first goal, despite the presence of Daniel Carvajal, Raphael Varane vacated his central berth and moved too wide. Éder Militão subsequently failed to cover and left Ángel Di María in acres of space allowing him to give Les Parisians an early lead.
While attacking, it was clear that some players were not on the same page. At one point, Ferland Mendy was underlapping Hazard, only to change direction at the last minute to go behind him. Hazard meanwhile, had already passed the ball into the space he thought Mendy would fill, leaving them shrugging their shoulders.
The overarching question that might be nagging at the back of most Madristas minds is whether manager Zidane actually has the pedigree to take Madrid back to their scaling heights without talisman Cristiano Ronaldo. The defensive questions that persisted in his previous reign were covered up by Ronaldo’s ruthless nature at the other end.
Second time round, these issues still persist and departures of players such as Navas and Marcos Llorente, who could have been potential solutions, compound the problem. When Ronaldo was in the side he was effectively a second striker with Benzema while the full backs kept the width and targeted these two with pinpoint crosses. Hazard is a different kind of player and will look to link up with Benzema and create space and time for himself or his teammates.
However, it seems as though Zidane is looking to utilise the same tactics as before, now with only Benzema to aim for, leaving Hazard seemingly invisible during games.
Real Madrid and Zidane have a lot of thinking to do. Does he change his style to best reflect the strengths of this team or does he continue to persist with gameplan that requires the man currently at Juventus. Perhaps the most striking aspect about this defeat was not the scoreline, but lack of self belief that the team had, something almost unheard of during their consecutive UCL triumphs.
Is this lack of belief an apt representation of their manager? Only time will tell.