How would Gareth Bale have celebrated had his last minute free-kick hit the back of the net instead of coming back off the post in Real Madrid’s extraordinary 2-2 draw with Paris Saint Germain?
A gesture to the spectators who have whistled him in the last two games maybe? Or perhaps just a golf swing? We will never know. Bale’s near-miss was the last kick of a topsy-turvy game in which Real Madrid looked back to their Champions League best, Eden Hazard shone and then got injured, and Thibaut Courtois was the only blemish, still looking some way short of the keeper Real Madrid thought they were signing last summer.
Hazard was the star of the first 69 minutes until he went off injured. He started the move that led to the first half goal brilliantly slaloming away from three PSG opponents and rolling the ball between the referee’s legs before spraying it wide to Fede Valverde.
Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema opened the scoring for the hosts with a tidy finish
France striker Benzema fired home the rebound after Isco had hit the post in the 17th minute
Real Madrid: Courtois, Carvajal, Varane, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Valverde (Modric 76), Casemiro, Kroos, Isco (Rodrygo 82), Benzema, Hazard (Bale 69).
Subs Not Used: Areola, Eder Militao, Jovic, Mendy.
Goals: Benzema 17, 79.
PSG: Navas, Meunier, Thiago Silva, Kimpembe, Bernat, Gueye (Neymar 46), Marquinhos,Verratti,Mbappe-Lottin, Icardi (Sarabia 75), Di Maria (Draxler 75).
Subs Not Used: Cavani, Sergio Rico, Diallo, Dagba.
Goals: Mbappe-Lottin 81, Sarabia 83.
Ref: Artur Soraes Dias (Portugal).
In fairness, the referee jumped to make the nutmeg easier, but it was still a little bit of magic to sum up Hazard’s performance.
Valverde played the ball to Dani Carvajal and he continued his run into the area. When he got the ball back he set-up Isco whose shot came off the post and into the path of Benzema. He dispatched into the far corner for 1-0.
Mauro Icardi had gone close from a Kylian Mbappe cross on 12 minutes but Madrid had taken over thereafter. Keylor Navas, back at the Bernabeu for the first time since his summer move was tested from long-range, twice by Toni Kroos and twice by Casemiro.
With both Bale and Rodrygo Goes left on the bench Zinedine Zidane had surprised everyone by recalling Isco. He struggles when games are stretched and physical but with Kroos, Valverde, Casemiro, Hazard and Benzema flitting between PSG players the returning Spain international had stepped back into pass and move heaven.
Benzema took his tally to five goals in his past three games with a header 11 minutes from time
Benzema looked to have wrapped things up when he headed in Isco’s cross at the back post
Madrid shifted the ball crisply and with imagination, with Hazard lifting it effortlessly over Marco Verratti when the Italian went to ground.
He also had the Bernabeu out of their seats after Marcelo’s shot from Kroos’ clever corner was cleared he raced to the loose ball to win it back.
The only blight on Madrid’s first half came when Courtois brought down Icardi inside the area. Referee Artur Dias pulled out the red card and wrongly awarded a free-kick.
Kylian Mbappe gave his side a lifeline when he pulled a goal back just minutes later
Mbappe capitalised on mix-up between Raphael Varane and Thiabut Courtois to tap in a cross
The PSG players celebrated in front of the home fans after Pablo Sarabia’s stunning equaliser
Gareth Bale almost struck a last-gasp winner but his free-kick cannoned off the post
Dias would have pointed to the spot in retrospect but was first advised by VAR that Marcelo had been brought down in the build-up to the move that led to the Courtois foul. He consulted the pitchside monitor and promptly withdrew the red card and over-ruled his own penalty decision.
Alphonse Areola, the substitute goalkeeper once of PSG, had to sit back down. Still trailing at the break PSG coach Thomas Tuchel took radical action removing Idrissa Gana Gueye and bringing on Neymar. Could PSG’s four-man attack get them back in it? They could although with no real input from Neymar. Kroos smashed into him and came away cleanly with the ball as Madrid continued to dominate with Benzema converting Marcelo’s cross to make it 2-0.
But not everyone was graduating with honours. Courtois will have to retake the exam. He fumbled a cross from the right from Thomas Meunier allowing it to squirm to Mbappe who scored what was his 70th goal for PSG in his 100th game for them.
Thibaut Courtois was penalised in the first half for bringing down Mauro Icardi in the box
Real Madrid goalkeeper Courtois was initially sent off for the foul just before half-time
The referee overturned the dismissal of Courtois after spotting a foul in the VAR review
Courtois might want to apportion some of the blame to Raphael Varane who got a touch on the cross but, added to his first half error, his was a night to forget.
He was beaten again by substitute Pablo Sarabia on 83 minutes to give PSG a draw they never looked anywhere near in the first half. The result didn’t really matter. These two were always going through first and second.
Finishing top of your Champions League group never completely guarantees a clear path to the quarter-finals – there is always one rogue rival no one wants to have to face in the last-16. This season, on this showing, that gremlin in the draw is likely to be Madrid.
Eden Hazard suffered an injury to his ankle after being fouled by Thomas Meunier
Hazard was forced off with the problem and had to be helped by two Real Madrid physios