Champions League

Champions League: Madrid Defeat Napoli As PSG Stun Barcelona

Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (2L) and teammates celebrate their third goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg football match Real Madrid CF vs SSC Napoli at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on February 15, 2017. / AFP / JAVIER SORIANO (Photo credit should read JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images)
Champions League: Madrid Defeat Napoli As PSG Stun Barcelona

It was a Champions League week of very differing fortunes for the top two in Spain as Barcelona were humiliated in Paris by four goals to nil against PSG; whereas Real Madrid completed one of their most impressive performances of the season, beating Napoli 3-1.

Angel Di Maria turned in a man-of-the-match display for PSG on his 29th birthday, opening the scoring with a precise free-kick and bending home a second in the second half at Parc des Princes.

A Barcelona side stuffed with some of the world’s most decorated stars were brushed aside with ease as Julian Draxler and Edinson Cavani added their names to the scoresheet and the margin might even have been bigger, such was the home side’s control.

The job must still be finished off in the return leg at the Nou Camp but Di Maria, who won the competition with Barça’s El Clasico rivals Real Madrid in 2014, is already setting his sights on the big prize.

“It’s hard to think of a better birthday or a better performance than this,” he said.

“Our aim is to reach the final and win the Champions League. We are getting there gradually and moving forward – this was a tough game against one of the best teams in the world, so we did a great job.

“We’ve been showing this for a few years now. We controlled the game for 90 minutes. It’s not easy to control Neymar, (Luis) Suarez and (Lionel) Messi but we managed it.

The message from a downcast Barcelona camp was clear: they had been bested by a superior opponent.

Head coach Luis Enrique told Uefa.com:

“The result reflects what happened out on the field. We were clearly second best.”

The following evening in Madrid, eyebrows were raised when Napoli took the lead in the eighth minute thanks to a spectacular strike.

Marek Hamsik delivered the through-ball, but Lorenzo Insigne decided not to let it run all the way, hitting it first time instead, from 40 yards. Usually, shots from that distance go over the goalkeeper. This did not; this bent round Keylor Navas and into the corner. Navas may have been out of position but the finish was superb and Insigne raced to the other end of the stadium.

 

The pass had made its way through the centre circle and it was a path that Napoli sought to embark upon often. They had a lot of the ball, although the final pass did not always materialise, as runners headed up both wings. In the opening 20 minutes Madrid combined less but made more, their momentum building.

Karim Benzema had three headers in six minutes, the third of them levelling up the score 10 minutes after the opener. Ronaldo provided the first cross, James Rodríguez the second and Dani Carvajal the third, the ball curled in superbly with the outside of his boot for Benzema to power past Pepe Reina, the noise deafening.

 

Madrid were moving, not satisfied with being level. Soon the balance had tilted their way, as they sought the goal that would give them a lead they judged they needed. Zinedine Zidane had said that it would be vital not to concede; Insigne’s goal obliged them to seek more, and they did.

It didn’t take long for Madrid to take the lead once the second half began. On 49 minutes, Cristiano Ronaldo constructed a goal for Toni Kroos, dribbling deep into the area from the right, reaching the byline alongside the six-yard box. There, he stopped, looked and waited, pulling the ball back for the German to guide the ball into the net.

Madrid wanted more, and quickly got it. The pressure was applied and the pressure brought it – the ball looping out to beyond the edge of the area where Casemiro sent a stunning diagonal volley dipping and flying 25 yards into the far corner capitalizing a remarkable performance for Los Blancos.

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Champions League
@alexclapham

An Englishman that is a coach and analyst within the youth academy of a Spanish club whilst studying Sports Coaching. Obsessive over the tactical concepts of the European game, Alex regularly attends games in the La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A.

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