Unai Emery‘s men have blown away all before them domestically this term, but with world-record signing Neymar failing to fire and captain Thiago Silva left to sulk on the Santiago Bernabeu bench, Cristiano Ronaldo led struggling Real to a 3-1, first-leg win.
That leaves PSG needing an unlikely comeback to reach the quarter-finals, having fallen at the last-16 stage in dramatic fashion to Barcelona last season.
Failure to reach the final this season, even if a domestic treble of Ligue 1, French Cup and League Cup titles is won, could see Emery’s job in danger and the rumours of a Neymar exit intensify.
Neymar’s fellow Brazilian and Real left-back Marcelo said before the match that he thinks “Neymar will play for Real Madrid one day”.
But the Spanish press were not impressed with the 25-year-old as Ronaldo stole the show, with Marca writing on Thursday: “His match was not that of a Ballon d’Or (winner). The real Ballon d’Or was at the other end of the pitch, with the No. 7 on his back.”
The French capital-city side return to action on Saturday with what looks to be a straightforward league game against Strasbourg at the Parc des Princes, despite losing for the first time this season at the newly-promoted outfit in December.
Spaniard Emery has some tricky decisions to make ahead of the weekend and, more importantly, the second leg in two weeks’ time, after dropping Silva just hours before the Real match and replacing the Brazilian with 22-year-old Presnel Kimpembe.
“It was the choice of the coach,” said Silva’s usual centre-back partner Marquinhos.
“He had all the players available and, (Silva) is our captain, a very important player who kept a positive attitude in the dressing room.”
Silva’s wife wasn’t so positive, though, criticising Emery on social media saying: “Tactics, tactics, what tactics?”
The fact that PSG are coming under so much fire for losing what was a tight contest at the defending European and Spanish champions shows how high expectations have risen, and Strasbourg can expect to face a backlash on Saturday, whoever Emery selects.
Stevan Jovetic stepped up with two goals in the absence of the injured Radamel Falcao in the 4-0 thrashing of Angers, while Keita Balde has also started to hit form.
When Lyon stunned PSG to move to within eight points of the leaders last month an unlikely title challenge looked possible, but three straight defeats have left them four points adrift of Marseille in the third and final Champions League spot.
Bruno Genesio’s men visit relegation-threatened Lille on Sunday, while Marseille host Bordeaux.
Player to watch – Mario Balotelli
The enigmatic Italian striker was booked last week for complaining about racist abuse at Dijon, with the French league since opening an investigation into the incident. Nice will be looking to Balotelli on Sunday to help them end a three-match losing streak against Nantes, in a crucial match in the fight for a Europa League spot behind the top four. Balotelli has scored 19 goals in 26 matches this season, while being booked 11 times and sent off once.
Paris Saint-Germain’s trip to the Santiago Bernabeu to take face Real Madrid did not disappoint as a spectacle.
The Champions League regularly serves up some great clashes but they don’t always live up to their billing. This one did.
However, PSG fans can be forgiven for not marvelling at the occasion after their side ended up on the wrong end of a 3-1 scoreline.
Both Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo featured heavily but it was the latter who starred on the night with a vital brace.
All is not lost for Unai Emery and his men though and there’s still plenty that can happen in the second leg back in Paris.
The same game plan deployed in the Spanish capital just won’t do though and the Ligue 1 giants will have to alter their approach if they’re to make a successful comeback.
Here are three changes they need to make for the second leg.
TURN TO EXPERIENCE
Against the likes of Real Madrid, you have to draw upon all the Champions League experience at your disposal.
However, instead of fielding his stalwarts, Emery opted for a Thiago-less line-up with Motta left in Paris and Silva only earning a place on the bench for the first leg.
Granted, Motta has endured a season plagued by injuries but having returned against Sochaux, should at least have travelled with the squad even if he wasn’t ready to start. His presence in the dressing room itself for a fixture of that magnitude should’ve justified his inclusion.
Giovai Lo Celso started as the midfield anchor and struggled, conceding the penalty to allow the hosts back into the game.
Meanwhile, Silva was dropped in favour of Presnel Kimpembe. The 22-year-old has proved a reliable option in the past and has been part of the first team for a while but found himself chasing Ronaldo’s shadow at times. Silva’s experience and know-how surely would’ve brought more composure to the back-line.
With the task all the more daunting as they trail 3-1 in the tie, Emery must turned to his experienced duo to help inspire a recovery.
NEYMAR MUST MAKE BETTER DECISIONS
Whether it was the glamourous stage that saw him get carried away or an intense desire to prove himself against the best, Neymar made some poor choices in the first leg. He needs to look up, and see more than just the goal.
The most frustrating aspect about his performance was the fact that he actually played very well for the most part but let his team down with some of his decision-making.
He was a constant threat and completed a phenomenal 13 dribbles on the night but tried to do too much on his own. It’s not like he never passed the ball. He did create some good chances but only when the option for him to shoot or take on another defender was no longer available.
The Brazilian is his side’s main man but he’s also surrounded by a wealth of talent. He needs to trust his team-mates more.
The first leg was played at a frenetic pace and while that made for a great spectacle for the neutrals, Emery must’ve been shaking his head on the touchline at times, wishing his team would settle down and be more compact.
The Parisians must not forget that they didn’t come away from Spain empty-handed. Adrien Rabiot’s strike to open the scoring remains a vital away goal.
Madrid are the masters of the counter-attack and will no doubt set up to hurt the hosts on the break. Emery cannot allow his side to play into their hands. If they come on too strong, Zinedine Zidane’s side will most likely pick them off when possession is turned over.
All PSG need is one goal and suddenly the momentum will be on their side. On the other hand, a Madrid goal would make an already difficult task seem impossible.
By now we all know who will be contending for the golden boot come the end of the season – but which of Europe’s super-charged strikers make the best use of their time on the pitch?
Taking into account each player’s domestic league and the Champions League combined, we’ve worked out which of the top scorers this season have the best goals to minutes ratio.
WARNING: This list does not include Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as both missed the cut.
5. NEYMAR – 93.6 minutes per goal (2247 minutes, 24 goals)
The most expensive player in the world only makes it to number five in this list.
He has scored 24 goals in just 25 games but is very rarely subbed off by Paris-Saint Germain boss Unai Emery, meaning he has so far not been as efficient a goal-scorer as the men to follow.
Given the fact that he plays weaker opposition in Ligue 1, he perhaps should have scored even more – though, in fairness to the Brazilian, he has also contributed with 14 assists.
4. MOHAMED SALAH – 93.4 minutes per goal (2614 minutes, 28 goals)
The Arab superstar is toppling record after record with Liverpool and became the second-fastest player in the club’s history to reach 30 goals. It took Salah just 36 games and only George Allan, a player from the 19th century, had reached the landmark more quickly.
Taking into account just the Premier League and Champions League and unsurprisingly Salah also shapes up pretty well.
Despite being a winger – though in Liverpool’s fluid three, normal rules don’t necessarily apply – the Egyptian is a shade more lethal than Neymar. Not bad for someone who cost a fraction as much.
3. EDINSON CAVANI – 92 minutes per goal (2483 minutes, 27 goals)
Ligue 1 or no Ligue 1, it’s mightily impressive that PSG can boast two of the most dangerous strikers in the continent – and that’s even while they’ve been at war with each other.
Cavani, at 31, is the oldest entrant of this list and has got better with every passing year in Paris, especially in the Champions League, where he fired another six goals in the group stage this season.
How PSG hope both Neymar and Cavani improved their ratios just that little bit more when Real Madrid come to town next month.
2. HARRY KANE – 91.2 minutes per goal (2,735 minutes, 30 goals)
Harry Kane has played a staggering amount of football already this year. At 2,735, he tops the list for minutes played and it’s a figure that should concern England heading into the World Cup.
He’s made full use of each and every one of them, however, hitting 30 goals for the season in the Premier League and UCL combined when he rounded Gianluigi Buffon in Turin on Tuesday.
1. SERGIO AGUERO – 88.2 minutes per goal (2,204 minutes, 25 goals)
Pep Guardiola was reportedly lukewarm on Sergio Aguero earlier in the season but the red-hot Argentinian simply cannot be ignored – as his table-topping place in this list underlines.
With Gabriel Jesus out injured over the last two months, Aguero has made full use of being the focal point in attack including his four strikes against Leicester.
He is the only striker to be averaging more than a goal a game when taking into account top-flight and Champions League football.
The only mark against his name is that against tougher opposition, the goals have not been quite as forthcoming – Arsenal, Liverpool and Napoli are the only truly top teams that Aguero has found a way past this season.