Sub-plots old and new on display in barnstorming Real Madrid-PSG classic

By Sports Desk November 26, 2019

There were enough sub-plots for Real Madrid's Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain to be turned into a feature-length film before a ball had even been kicked at the Santiago Bernabeu.

By the end of 90 breathless, pulsating and sheer joy-inducing minutes there were enough storylines to make a franchise that could rival even the lucrative Marvel series.

For 81 of those, Zinedine Zidane and his expensively assembled squad of Galacticos were almost tactically flawless.

The decision to hand Isco a first start in six weeks appeared truly inspired. The short, sharp passing in a midfield trio alongside Federico Valverde and Casemiro had PSG – who had dominated the same opponents 3-0 on matchday one – chasing white shirts with about as much success as an excitable dog longing to reach its tail.

If that problem wasn't big enough then the one caused by Eden Hazard would have given PSG's defence and head coach Thomas Tuchel nightmare-filled sleep for the foreseeable future.

Injury woes early in his Madrid career have meant it has taken Hazard a little while to get up to speed in the Spanish capital.

But for 70 minutes here, Hazard was utterly joyous – try as you might, taking your eyes of this Rolls Royce of a footballer was an impossible task.

Hazard was full of the sort of invention, creativity and genius nuances that convinced Madrid to part with over €100million to prise him from Chelsea.

It was as much a blow to the neutrals watching when Hazard was helped off the pitch following a strong challenge from Belgium team-mate Thomas Meunier as it was to Zidane and his Madrid team-mates.

That Hazard departing the pitch through injury became almost a footnote tells a story in itself about this classic of the Champions League genre.

Karim Benzema's second goal in the 79th minute should have been the cherry atop of a scrumptious cake for Madrid, who despite Zidane's protestations to the contrary would have had revenge in mind.

Granted it had taken a helping hand from the VAR, another of football's most divisive modern issues, to get that point.

The decision to overturn a red card for Thibaut Courtois – who rashly wiped out Mauro Icardi – for the softest of fouls from Idrissa Gueye on Marcelo earlier in the move appeared certain to dominate the narrative.

Even accounting for that let-off, it was another side-note in a game swimming with them that kept Madrid at bay.

Keylor Navas, who left for PSG having fallen behind Courtois in the goalkeeper pecking order at Madrid, was in inspired form – Benzema and Isco particularly left frustrated by his brilliance. That he was received so well by the home crowd speaks volumes of his contribution over five trophy-laden years at the Bernabeu.

Indeed it was his heroics that allowed Kylian Mbappe – the man so desired by Los Blancos fans – to take an almighty spanner and throw it directly into the works.

Those familiar with the story know Madrid have not exactly been quiet in expressing their admiration for the World Cup winner. Heck, even this week Zidane publicly declared his love for the rapid forward, who it is hard to imagine will not one day don the famous white of Madrid.

That love may have dwindled a little when Mbappe capitalised on a lack of communication between Courtois and Raphael Varane to hand PSG a precious lifeline.

Two minutes later, the irony will not have been lost on Zidane that the man to deny Madrid what would, in truth, have been a deserved victory to keep their hopes of finishing top of Group A alive was Pablo Sarabia – a player who graduated through the youth ranks at the Bernabeu.

Remarkably, only the width of a post denied one final twist and one so tantalisingly delicious it would not have been out of place in an M. Night Shyamalan film.

Gareth Bale, a man much derided by his own fans and the Spanish media for his 'WALES. GOLF. MADRID. IN THAT ORDER' banner celebration after Wales qualified for Euro 2020, stood poised over a free-kick 30 yards from goal.

This particular narrative only narrowly failed to play out. Had it done so the reactions would have been incredulity, shock and uncontrollable laughter. In that order.

When the dust settles, Zidane will analyse with forensic scrutiny Madrid's failure to first kill the contest through the numerous chances they created, and second to manage the game when two up with 10 minutes to go.

But for anyone without an affiliation for either of these two giants of European football, the only thing to do was sit back, jaws gaping, as the credits rolled on a match worthy of any big screen.

Related items

  • Coronavirus: UEFA president Ceferin concedes 2019-20 season could be lost Coronavirus: UEFA president Ceferin concedes 2019-20 season could be lost

    UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has acknowledged the 2019-20 season across Europe would likely be lost if football is unable to restart by the end of June.

    The 2019-20 season has been suspended indefinitely across most of Europe due to the coronavirus pandemic, with Euro 2020 also pushed back to 2021.

    While leagues are hoping to restart between the end of April and the beginning of June, there is as yet no definite return date and Ceferin has conceded it may be impossible to finish the season at all.

    In that case, UEFA's president has suggested the campaign would have to be considered as null and void.

    "If we don't succeed in restarting, the season will probably be lost," Ceferin told Italian publication La Repubblica.

    "There is a plan A, B and C. The three options are to start again in mid-May, in June or at the end of June.

    "There is also the possibility of starting again at the beginning of the next [season], starting the following one later. We will see the best solution for leagues and clubs."

    Some matches on the continent, including Paris Saint-Germain's Champions League clash with Borussia Dortmund, were played behind closed doors earlier this month, and Ceferin stated playing games without fans in attendance may be the only solution in order to complete the season.

    "It's hard for me to imagine all the matches behind closed doors, but we still don't know whether we'll resume, with or without spectators," he said.

    "If there was no alternative, it would be better to finish the championships."

  • NFL free agency: The contracts and trades we loved, plus 10 we hated! NFL free agency: The contracts and trades we loved, plus 10 we hated!

    NFL free agency rarely disappoints and this year was no different as a host of transactions gave fanbases plenty to get excited or frustrated about.

    This year, the top names to hit the open market were of a greater calibre to those in a typical offseason, adding to the drama.

    That free agency took place during the coronavirus pandemic meant it was the only major sporting show in town. Hopefully, it provided a welcome distraction to many.

    Including trades that went down over the period, we have picked out 10 of our favourite moves and contracts, as well as those we were not so fond of.

    TEN MOVES WE LOVED

    Brady makes Bucs contenders

    While Tom Brady, entering a season where he will be 43, can no longer carry a team like he used to, the six-time Super Bowl winner is still a top-10 quarterback. A massive upgrade on the turnover-prone Jameis Winston, Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers are postseason contenders with a support system that includes Bruce Arians' scheme, an impressive receiving corps and a defense trending in the right direction. 

    Evergreen Sanders could be Saints’ missing piece

    Drew Brees is coming back for another two shots at glory with the New Orleans Saints after leaving some money on the table to help the team's cap woes. The QB now has a second star wide receiver to pair with the brilliant Michael Thomas in the shape of the ageless Emmanuel Sanders, a piece they have been missing and previously looked to address with Dez Bryant. Sanders has still got it at 33, and with Thomas, the underrated TE Jared Cook and a healthy Alvin Kamara to throw to, Brees can help the WR reach the Super Bowl with a fourth team.

    Chargers add Harris, and much more

    The Los Angeles Chargers added an elite cornerback in Chris Harris for just $8.5m a year, boosting a defensive backfield that already contains Casey Hayward, Desmond King and Derwin James. There were other smart moves too, Bryan Bulaga boosting the offensive line, star tight end Hunter Henry retained on the franchise tag and pass-catching back Austin Ekeler signing a team-friendly four-year deal. The pieces are coming together, though they are lacking an established QB, perhaps one like…

    Rivers gives Colts crucial upgrade

    Philip Rivers contemplated retirement before opting to join an Indianapolis Colts team with one of the better rosters in the NFL, providing them with a big upgrade on Jacoby Brissett at the most important position. Rivers, now 38, will love playing behind a top-five offensive line that brought back Anthony Castonzo. There is little risk for the Colts - if it doesn't work out, Rivers is on a one-year deal and the bulk of a roster that has been built through the draft will still be there in 2021. The Texans' free-agency woes serve as a boost in the AFC South.

    Broncos buy low on dominant Casey

    At age 30, five-time Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey still has plenty to offer, yet the Denver Broncos were able to sign him for pennies on the dollar (a seventh-round pick) to boost a defense that also added A.J. Bouye and already features Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.

    Big Play Slay just what Eagles needed

    The Philadelphia Eagles swooped for Darius Slay, who was coming off a down year but remains an elite corner, without giving up premium draft capital. They then handed him an extension that keeps Slay under their control for four years, should they wish to retain him, as the team improved a glaring weakness in the secondary. In another impressive move, they locked up rising star Javon Hargrave for his peak years and he can be paired with the great Fletcher Cox.

    Campbell smart business for win-now Ravens

    Despite his age (33), Calais Campbell remains a disruptive force on the defensive line. A trade and extension means he will help the win-now Baltimore Ravens for the next two seasons, all at the cost of just a fifth-round draft pick.

    Conklin fills pivotal Browns need

    A dreadful Cleveland Browns offensive line hindered Baker Mayfield’s sophomore season and held back a stellar cast of playmakers. After former GM John Dorsey departed, his replacement Andrew Berry was wise to add star right tackle Jack Conklin, even at $15m per year. Could Trent Williams be next on the other side of the line?

    Wait, Arizona got Hopkins for what!?

    An improving and exciting Arizona Cardinals team added one of the NFL's great receivers is in his prime, DeAndre Hopkins, to pair with Larry Fitzgerald for their number one overall pick Kyler Murray. That they could do that without giving up a first-round draft selection and getting rid of a contract they no longer wanted (more on that later), was a free-agency moment few fans will forget.

    Niners keep Armstead, land key draft pick

    The San Francisco 49ers found a way to keep Arik Armstead after his career year, and, with significant resources already invested in their defensive line, allowed the Colts to pay DeForest Buckner an eye-watering $21m a year. While his exit will hurt, the number 13 pick in the draft was impressive compensation that, in a WR-heavy class, should secure some major help for QB Jimmy Garoppolo. 

    Honourable mentions: Cory Littleton to the Las Vegas Raiders, Gerald McCoy to the Dallas Cowboys, Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills, D.J. Reader to the Cincinnati Bengals.
     

    THE MOVES WE DIDN'T LIKE

    Texans spend big on Cobb

    Randall Cobb was productive in racking up 828 yards for the Cowboys last season, but handing the slot man $27m over three years just before he turns 30 is a questionable move when there is a Hopkins-sized hole in your receiving corps and limited draft capital with which to fill it.

    Texans (sorry!) take on Johnson contract

    The Texans' return for losing Hopkins was pitiful and they even did the Cardinals a favour by taking on the last two years of David Johnson’s big contract. Johnson has battled injuries and not been dominant since 2016. Even if he does get close to that level again, as a running back he offers less value than a star wideout.

    Dolphins overpay for Flowers

    New York Giants draft bust Ereck Flowers had a decent year at guard for the Washington Redskins, but surely that improvement was not enough to justify a three-year, $30m pact in Miami.

    Bears still believe in Graham

    Jimmy Graham still believes he has speed and big play ability, but the Green Bay Packers disagreed as they cut him this month. The Chicago Bears promptly handed the 33-year-old a two-year, $16m deal with a no-trade clause. Recent evidence suggests this will not work out.

    Jags make puzzling Schobert splash

    At a time when they are stripping their roster bare and entering full rebuild mode, the Jacksonville Jaguars' decision to lock up a middle linebacker for five years and $53.75m was a puzzling one, whatever the merits of Joe Schobert may be.

    Titans give Tannehill all the money

    Ryan Tannehill was incredible for the Tennessee Titans after replacing Marcus Mariota, but his career to date suggests 2019 is likely to prove an outlier that will be extremely tough to repeat. The QB looked a prime candidate for a prove-it-again franchise tag but instead landed $118m over four years, as the Titans committed their immediate future to him and dropped out of the Brady sweepstakes. It could work out, but at this stage you must ask if it was all worth it just to tag Derrick Henry.

    And they pay up for struggling Beasley

    While it is only a one-year deal, there are likely better ways for the Titans, who let Casey leave, to spend $9.5m fully guaranteed (potentially rising to $12m) than on Vic Beasley, who the Atlanta Falcons were happy to let walk as he struggled to generate consistent pressure, despite recording a flattering eight sacks in 2019.

    New York make Giant reach for Martinez

    The Giants were right to move on from middle linebacker Alec Ogletree, but Blake Martinez’s career to date suggest he might not offer a huge improvement when it comes to the all-important area of pass coverage. Big Blue have agreed to pay $30.75m for three years to find out.

    Fant unlikely to solve Jets' woes

    A former college basketball star, George Fant may have been a good swing tackle option in free agency, but not a three-year, $30m starting option who the New York Jets hope can solve their offensive-line woes. He spent a good portion of last year playing as a sixth offensive lineman for the Seattle Seahawks, and did not become an established starter on a unit that has traditionally been among the league's worst.


    Dishonourable mentions: Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Jamie Collins to the Detroit Lions, Melvin Gordon to the Broncos, Jordan Howard to the Dolphins.

  • Real Madrid striker Jovic doing everything to 'ruin his career' Real Madrid striker Jovic doing everything to 'ruin his career'

    Real Madrid striker Luka Jovic is doing everything he can to "ruin his career", according to former Eintracht Frankfurt coach and fellow Serbian Dragoslav Stepanovic.

    Jovic has endured a difficult first season with the Spanish giants following his move from Eintracht, scoring just two goals in 24 appearances across all competitions.

    He courted controversy earlier this month after breaching self-isolation measures in Serbia.

    Jovic, who returned to his home country after the LaLiga season was suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic, blamed the incident on being given poor instructions.

    Stepanovic, who also managed Bayer Leverkusen and Athletic Bilbao, is not impressed by Jovic's behaviour and says he needs to changes his ways if he is to fulfil his potential.

    "He is the only man who does [everything] to ruin his career," he told Kurir.

    "Jovic works against himself. He was lucky that Adi Hutter [Eintracht head coach] gave him a shot at Eintracht and then made the biggest transfer in Serbia's history and went to Madrid. I can't believe what the boy is doing to himself.

    "I read the media in Serbia and I know what life he had, that as a child he slept in his car with his father to wait until morning to train. What a sacrifice he made, and then this. 

    "I don't know, Luka obviously doesn't think about himself. 

    "When they tell you it's a ban, you pretend you didn't understand anything! You better shut up, don't talk. I can't believe he did something like this."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.