It was billed as the ‘match the entire world would be watching’ but, in the end, there was little surprise as Paris Saint-Germain sunk to a 3-1 defeat at Estadio Bernabeu.
The one unpredictable moment in the match was Adrien Rabiot giving the visitors the lead yet the manner in which they surrendered their position and fell to defeat was all too familiar.
Last season, Unai Emery’s side remarkably exited the competition at this stage despite beating a badly off-form Barcelona 4-0 at the Parc des Princes.
A comeback from such a deficit was so unlikely that it would surely require several events in the return leg. The first, was that the Parisians would collapse, the second was a virtuoso performance from Lionel Messi and the third was Barca’s best performance of the season.
True to form, PSG duly obliged in falling apart but even then they suffered not one but two scarcely believable collapses within the same match.
The first was to fall 3-0 behind – the opening two goals were gift-wrapped to the Catalan giants – and the second was to somehow, unbelievably, surrender from a 3-1 deficit in the 88th minute to a 6-1 loss.
Not only did Messi not produce a typically fantastic performance but his showing was uncharacteristically anonymous and whilst Barca were good in spells, it was an unbalanced performance.
There is a deep-rooted sense of vulnerability at the French giants, perhaps born from being a squad of highly-paid players accustomed to playing without pressure against opponents far below their skillset and being unable to cope with the psychological challenge of knockout football at the highest level in Europe.
Such deficiencies were once again shown at Madrid last month were despite facing an opposition who were off-colour, they could not force home any meaningful advantage before totally unravelling.
The concession of a penalty, then allowing Cristiano Ronaldo to score from a rebound off his knee before Marcelo’s late third summed up the fragility at the heart of PSG.
Zinedine Zidane’s side could not be contrasted more sharply: they thrive under the pressure of Champions League knockout football, knowing that it is less about quality football and more about game-management, belief, patience and providing an ice-cool edge of clinical authority when attacking.
Unlike PSG’s unnerving capability from snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Real Madrid always find a way of progressing and overcoming obstacles placed before them.
This is a team who were a goal down in the third minute of stoppage time in the 2014 final before running out 4-1 victors, who triumphed in a penalty shootout two years later and last season, blasted past an all-conquering Juventus despite being outplayed in the first half.
In the first leg, they were inferior to the Parisians in terms of possession and chances created yet had enough to spare to take a reasonably commanding lead into this week’s tie. Real Madrid have a vast array of attacking talent and can maximise opportunities within a match.
Fantastic victories are not beyond this PSG side but under such pressure and expectation, they must show that they can finally deliver on the biggest stage.
Can PSG overcome the inevitability of Real Madrid and their own vulnerability? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.