The UEFA Champions League is not only the pride of Real Madrid, but the only bit of silverware still available to Zinedine Zidane’s men.
[ RECAP: Real Madrid 1-3 PSG ]
That put plenty of pressure on the club and its boss ahead of Wednesday’s first leg of the Round of 16 at the Bernabeu, with Paris Saint-Germain coming into town with an arsenal capable of submarining any team’s trophy hopes.
And the crowd was booing and whistling once Adrien Rabiot scored an away goal to put PSG ahead after 33 minutes. Cristiano Ronaldo converted a penalty to put it level into halftime, but doubt remained for the victors of three UCL titles in four seasons.
Certainly there was a bit of good fortune in the win — Sergio Ramos blocked a goal-bound shot with his arm and it went uncalled — but by the time a pair of Marco Asensio assists had put Real up 3-1, it was clear that Zidane and his men had favor back on their side.
“This club has 12 European Cups and that means a lot,” Zidane said. “This is such a prominent competition and we want to prove time and time again that this club values this. We showed it for the full 90 minutes. We coped well, both with and without the ball. We defended well, with aggression and rhythm.
“The Champions League really has a place in this club’s heart. We played 90 stunning minutes against a top rival. That’s all that we’re concerned with. We have to turn our attentions now to the return leg, that will be entirely different.”
It won’t be easy. Tactically, too, it will be interesting to see what Zidane opts to do at the Parc des Princes. Zidane correctly urged his players to come flying out of the gates with hard pressing on Wednesday, and it would take bravery to proffer a similar plan in the second leg.
Just ask one of his best defenders.
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“Defensively we need help,” said Ramos. “We suffered because they have fast attacking players, but we answered well. We must always respect our rivals. We took an important step forward but the tie is wide open, so we need to keep plugging away.”
Zidane got it right tonight, though it’s funny to think of his being fired had the Ramos handball gone in PSG’s favor and two away goals somehow dooming Real. Just like it’s silly that Unai Emery may lose his job based on a two-goal deficit that came moments after that penalty shout went unheeded.