PSG 0-0 Real Madrid: Stalement leaves Merengues top

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Wednesday’s marquee matchup in UEFA Champions League failed to live up to expectations, though given the statures of Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, anything short of a full-blooded shootout would have disappointed. Instead, viewers at the Parc de Princes were given a highly skilled but often cagey match, one befitting the third round of a Champions League group stage. Come full-time, despite multiple chances for Cristiano Ronaldo to forge a divide between them, the two European powers ended scoreless, keeping the teams even on point atop the tournament’s Group A standings.

The 10-time European champions can take solace in their first half performance, having come close to an opening goal twice before intermission. They can also be assured by a road point earned without a number of stars, with Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez missing the trip while Luka Modric started on the bench.

Paris Saint-Germain, on the other hand, will be left to consider another match with a top European side where they failed to convince. Since establishing themselves as France’s best after Qatari Sports Investments took over ownership in 2011, PSG has failed to make a meaningful run in Champions League. A mixed performance at home against an undermanned Madrid will do little to assuage concerns about their chances in this year’s tournament.

The draw leaves both sides on seven points at the top of Group A, with Real Madrid momentarily holding the goal difference tiebreaker over the Ligue 1 champions (+7 to +6). The teams meet again in Madrid on Nov. 3 in the fourth round of group stage play.

The match’s first big chance didn’t materialize until the 26th minute, before which PSG were content to concede control. But when Toni Kroos found too much time on the ball just inside the PSG defensive third, the hosts were almost made to pay. If it wasn’t for the quick reactions of goalkeeper Kevin Trapp, able to come off his line to close down the angles on a neglected Jese Rodriguez, Real Madrid would have broken through just before the half-hour mark.

When the Parisians started to show more initiative going forward, Real Madrid generated the match’s second big chance. In the 35th minute, a cross from the left  was headed down by Ronaldo from the edge of the six-yard box and onto the outstretched hand of Trapp. Ronaldo’s next header off, the subsequent corner kick, tested Trapp once more, with a fingertip save pushing the shot over the bar.

Come intermission, fans in Paris were left considering a half that’d looked like too many marquee matchups before. On talent, their team was certainly capable of matching up with their opponents, but the level of play offered by the more established power left PSG on the back foot. Through the score was 0-0, the Merengues had generated all of the half’s big chances, outshooting PSG 10-3 while keeping much of the action in the hosts’ half of the field.

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PSG generated their first big chance four minutes into the second half when Edison Cavani, coming in from this left-sided forward position, beat Raphael Varane to a cross from left back Maxwell. From just outside the six-yard box, Cavani’s volley went wide of the near post, drawing gasps from a home crowd that momentarily thought the Uruguayan had put them in front.

The home side appeared to be gifted a chance in the 56th minute when a lapse by left back Marcelo left Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic charging at a surprised and disorganized defense. But a great one-on-one challenge from Sergio Ramos, going to ground to win the ball as Cavani entered the penalty area, extinguished the chance before it ignited, allowing Real Madrid to quickly transition back into the home side’s half.

As the half went on, PSG gained a stranglehold on possession, though a series of half-chances and stunted movements left Keylor Navas relatively untested. By the time Laurent Blanc made his first change, bringing on Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore for Angel Di Maria and Cavani in the 66th minute, Paris Saint-Germain were controlling the game, with Rafa Benitez’s team looking more and more happy to leave France with a draw.

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Moments later, however, a Madrid side that had adjusted with the introduction of Luka Modric caught PSG in transition, generating an open chance for Ronaldo just outside Trapp’s right post. Ronaldo’s left-footed try was pulled just beyond the far post, giving Madrid’s all-time leading scorer a trio of near misses.

It also proved Real Madrid’s final big chance of the night. Content to settle back into two defensive lines of four, Madrid did little to test a team that had sacrificed Marco Veratti for Ezequiel Lavezzi with its final substitution. Instead, PSG enjoyed the same type of possession they had over the previous 20 minutes, control that left them dictating play at a safe distance. Even after some late drama, Navas added another clean sheet to his impressive 2015-16 resume, though there as never any true threat to his shutout.

Come full time, the game had played out as a function of its managers. Rafa Benitez had implemented an approach that sacrificed building on first half superiority to accept a good road result. And Laurent Blanc, so short on European benchmarks to answer his critics, again played to type, failing to produce a plan that would deliver victory for the French champions.

Lineups

PSG: Kevin Trapp; Serge Aurier, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Maxwell; Marco Veratti (Ezequiel Lavezzi 80′), Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi; Angel Di Maria (Lucas Moura 66′), Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani (Javier Pastore 66′)

Real Madrid: Keylor Navas; Danilo, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Marcelo; Lucas Vazquez, Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Isco (Luka Modric 69′); Jese (Denis Cheryshev 73′), Cristiano Ronaldo.

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