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Mauricio Pochettino’s men could have success with a counter-attacking game plan against a Real Madrid team that offered little in attack in the first leg.
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Real Madrid did not give a good account of themselves in the first leg of this last-16 tie. They were passive and unadventurous. From the very start, it was clear that Carlo Ancelotti would have been happy with a 0-0 draw. Karim Benzema was left isolated upfront.
Vinicius Junior did not get the ball in dangerous areas on enough occasions.
Madrid allowed PSG to dominate possession and did not register a single shot on target. They managed only three efforts on goal all night.
Expected goals, a statistic that measures chance quality, gave Madrid a score of 0.2 – based on the opportunities they created, Los Blancos could expect to have scored one goal in five games.
Even so, Madrid almost got what they came for. It took a brilliant solo strike from Kylian Mbappe in the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time to get PSG a 1-0 win.
Yet Mauricio Pochettino’s men could easily have found the back of the net before then. Lionel Messi missed a penalty shortly after the hour mark. The home team had 21 shots, eight of which were on target.
Madrid will need to do much more in the second leg on their own patch, but that would have been the case even if they had drawn 0-0 in France last month. In Madrid’s favor is the vast experience within the squad and the coaching team.
Ancelotti has won this competition three times as a manager.
Some of his players, such as Benzema, Luka Modric, Casemiro, and Toni Kroos, have been crowned champions of Europe even more often than that.
Madrid will need to put all that know-how to good effect if they are to overturn the deficit and qualify for the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
If Mbappe had not found the net late on at the Parc des Princes, Madrid would be the favorites to advance.
As it is, the Caesars sportsbook offers -300 on PSG to qualify and +225 on Madrid to go through. The Ligue 1 leaders are in the driving seat thanks to Mbappe, a player who is still likely to move to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu this summer.
For now, though, he is fully focused on the task at hand – as his fantastic all-around display in the first leg demonstrated.
PSG’s season will be defined by the Champions League. Both they and Madrid are on course to win their respective league titles, but that is more of an achievement for Los Blancos than it is for PSG.
It is true that Lille won Ligue 1 last term, but such is PSG’s financial advantage over their domestic competitors that anything less than a title triumph by a 10-point margin would count as a surprise.
Real Madrid are not exactly short of cash either, but Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have the means to challenge them in La Liga.
If PSG were to lose the second leg on Wednesday but win the Ligue 1 title, it would go down as an unsuccessful season. Pochettino might fear for his job, although reports suggest he is keen to move on this summer anyway.
Conversely, a win at the Bernabeu could be a coming-of-age moment for PSG in the Champions League.
PSG are used to dominating possession in Ligue 1. They are averaging 64.2 percent this season, more than any other team in the division. That is a natural consequence of their overall superiority.
In the Champions League, though, they rank only 10th for average possession – behind not only Bayern Munich and Manchester City but also Shakhtar Donetsk and Sevilla.
Pochettino’s side might actually benefit from having less of the ball on Wednesday. In Mbappe and Neymar they have two lightning-quick forwards who can do real damage on the counter-attack. Lionel Messi may drop a little deeper and attempt to play accurate through-balls to his two attacking colleagues.
It could be a recipe for success, especially if PSG can keep Madrid out in the opening stages of the match.
Ancelotti and his players will remain calm even if they fall behind on the night. Madrid’s squad has been there and done it when it comes to high-stakes European matches. Perhaps, though, that will not be enough to deny PSG a place in the quarter-finals. Back the French side to win the second leg at the Bernabeu.
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|Real Madrid vs PSG Information|
|Teams||Real Madrid vs PSG|
|Location||Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain|
|Time||Wednesday, 9 March 2022, 3.00 PM EST|
|How to watch||Paramount+|
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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