Spanish Football Expert & Columnist @GuillemBalague
Paris Saint-Germain caught cold by Real Madrid's extra gear, says Guillem Balague
Cristiano Ronaldo inspires Champions League holders to 3-1 first-leg victory at the Bernabeu
Last Updated: 15/02/18 11:41am
Paris Saint-Germain were caught cold by Real Madrid's ability to find an extra gear in their thrilling Champions League last-16 tie, says Guillem Balague.
The runaway Ligue 1 leaders were seven minutes away from a positive result in the first leg at the Bernabeu with the score locked at 1-1 after Adrien Rabiot's opener was cancelled out by a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty.
PSG dominated large spells against the 12-time winners but Ronaldo's second and a quick-fire third from Marcelo left Unai Emery's men with a daunting two-goal deficit to overturn at the Parc des Princes on March 6.
"This was going to be a draw, it looked like a draw and PSG seem comfortable with a draw," Balague said. "But, of course, PSG forgot that Real Madrid have got an extra gear - a Real Madrid gear.
"It has nothing to do with the performance, or who deserves it more, Real Madrid appear when it's needed and they've been doing now for four years now. In fact, for decades!
"They've been to at least the semi-final in the last seven seasons and they look to be heading the same way, draw permitting.
"Regardless, on tonight's showing, Real Madrid clearly showed they have the qualities to go far in this competition."
With PSG coasting to a draw at the Bernabeu, it was Zinedine Zidane's utilisation of his substitutes that swung the tight contest in Real Madrid's favour.
And Balague singled Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale and Lucas Vazquez out for praise after their contributions from the bench.
"The Real Madrid fans were demanding fresh blood and something new as PSG were controlling the game," he added.
"Bale came on, Vazquez came on and then Asensio came on. They changed the game completely. Asensio and Vasquez provided the fresh blood while Bale allowed Real to play longer.
"That stretched PSG and Asensio and Vazquez operated in that spaces created by Bale. They recovered balls, as they did for the third goal, kept running into space and, as we saw with Asensio, he created chances.
"By hook or by crook, in the end, Zidane changed the game from the bench."
Ronaldo became the first player in history to score 100 goals for one club in the Champions League with the equaliser on the stroke of half-time.
Yet, while Ronaldo stole the headlines, PSG's failure to provide the platform for Neymar and Kylian Mbappe to win the game proved telling for Balague.
"Ronaldo scored two more goals, that's eight consecutive games he's found the target - the record is nine," Balague said.
"But it wasn't about Cristiano tonight, it wasn't about Karim Benzema and it wasn't about Edinson Cavani.
"For most of the game you could see that Neymar and Kylian Mbappe have a freshness, bravery and cheekiness to their game but they did not sustain it until the end.
"That's what I was fearing for PSG, they are not a team that can last the duration. When PSG were on top until the 80th minute - helped by the addition of Thomas Meunier into midfield - they missed the Neymar goal, the Mbappe special moment. A coach can try to change things but it is the players who make the difference.
"Emery complained about the referee and rightly so. Kroos' penalty was not a penalty and Sergio Ramos' handball was. True, Neymar could have been sent off but in the balance of play, Real were benefited by the officials.
"But, and it's a big but, I feel Emery moaning about decisions is a bid to detract away from the fact Neymar did not score the key goal and did not affect procedures as much as needed.
"It was a strange game because up until 80 minutes PSG deserved much more, but you have to fancy Real to qualify for the next round from this position."
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