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.

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