Paris Saint-Germain got their Champions League challenge off to a flying start by comfortably downing Real Madrid 3-0 at Parc des Princes on Wednesday night.
The pitch was filled with superstars despite some big-name absentees, but by far the biggest contribution came from a player who had been in danger of becoming a forgotten man.
And Angel Di Maria’s reminder of his talents has to be the first of our talking points to arise from the game.
DI MARIA SERVES A REMINDER
Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani, Julian Draxler: the list of exciting attacking talent at the disposal of PSG boss Thomas Tuchel is long and mouth-watering… and they are just the players who were unavailable for this fixture.
Despite having so many big names missing, Tuchel was still able to call upon a former Madrid star who probably deserves to be ranked among the world’s best attacking players of the last decade – but who for some reason is rarely classed in that category:l Di Maria.
The hard-working winger, who has totalled more than 500 appearances for Madrid, Manchester United, PSG and Argentina since his move to Santiago Bernabeu in 2010, has suffered a steady erosion to his status at the Parc des Princes in the past couple of years, and will have known he was only starting on Wednesday night because many others were absent.
But his action-packed performance will have left Tuchel wondering whether that really should be the case. Not only did he score twice to fire his team to victory – a well-taken strike at the near post from a left-wing cross and a glorious curling shot from 20 yards – but he also never stopped running up and down the left wing, giving his team everything in attack and defence.
The only shame was that he couldn’t complete a fairy tale hat-trick, lobbing a great chance over the bar.
HAZARD FAILS TO SHINE
With both sides beset by injury problems, a number of new faces were given the opportunity to shine as Keylor Navas, Pablo Sarabia and Mauro Icardi lined up for PSG while the visitors featured Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy and Eden Hazard.
Of those players, Hazard has prompted the most excitement among his news fans, with his summer arrival from Chelsea giving Real fans reason to believe they have a player capable of becoming their new Galactico superstar.
Hazard showed a few flashes of his talent, coming close to an equaliser with a low strike which fizzed just wide of the right-hand post after 15 minutes. But on the whole he was a marginal presence and appears to be still finding his feet – and perhaps his fitness – after joining a new club and then enduring a month on the sidelines through injury.
He got worse as the game went on, with his second-half display typified by a comical piece of play when he ran into the penalty area and tried to cut back onto his right foot but fell over, and shortly after that he was replaced.
There will be a lot more to come from Hazard at Real Madrid, but this was a full debut to forget.
BIG PROBLEMS FOR ZIDANE
Never mind the quality of individual performances, this was a massively concerning team display by Real Madrid, who were lucky to get nil as they consistently found themselves under siege in defence and were totally toothless in attack, not mustering a single shot on target.
All over the pitch, Madrid were inferior to their opponents in terms of determination and quality, and the gulf in collective shape and structure was often startling to behold.
In that sense, it was a resounding tactical victory for Tuchel over Zinedine Zidane, who continues to look anything but convincing in his efforts to mould an effective team out of his undeniably talented pieces.
The nadir of the night came in stoppage time, when PSG were confident enough and Real were dishevelled enough to allow the home team’s two full-backs, Juan Bernat and Thomas Meunier, to waltz through the entire defence for the former to tee up the latter for the final goal.
That moment was a bizarre and alarming illustration of just how much the visitors were struggling, and Zidane must find answers quickly – his team’s next game sends them to La Liga leaders Sevilla on Sunday.
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