The Kylian Mbappe Show? No! The Karim Benzema Show. The Real Madrid striker scored a 17-minute second-half hat-trick to turn this Champions League last-16 tie on it’s head and eliminate Paris Saint-Germain in a fashion they know only too well. As the clock ticked onto the hour mark at the Bernabeu, this was PSG’s to throw away; and so they did, because 18 minutes later they were 3-1 down and heading out 3-2 on aggregate.
The focus, rightly so, had been on his countryman, Mbappe, before the late drama. His goal in the first leg in Paris had given PSG the advantage and then his well-executed finish in the 39th minute ensured PSG were as close to progression to the quarter finals as they can be given their notorious history in knockout games.
But Benzema — a player reborn at the club he’s been at for over a decade who is having another fine season — switched this tie in dramatic fashion. He took his goals well and urged his Real teammates to attack PSG like no tomorrow. However, PSG more than played their part in this capitulation.
They are becoming the masters of losing in such a manner in this competition. For Madrid 2022, read Barcelona 2017 or Manchester United 2019. This was the first time for Mauricio Pochettino, and most definitely the last. With PSG’s hopes of claiming their inaugural European Cup gone for another season, their manager will exit as expected.
He looked helpless on the touchline as his players succumbed not necessarily to pressure but to nerves and a dilapidating sense of deja vu. Just like the tussle between Benzema and Mbappe, the old dog of Europe showed the upstart some new tricks.
Story of the game
Real Madrid were without their midfield linchpin, Casemiro, and defender Ferland Mendy who were both ruled out through suspension. However, that didn’t hold the home side back in what was a frantic start. Ancelotti had clearly urged his team to go for broke from the off and although they forced the issue a little, they were on the front foot.
PSG, absorbing Real’s early pressure, were only too happy to test them going the other way with swift counters. It was the Parisians who had the better of the early chances too. One touch, two touch and Mbappe was in, firing a low shot which Thibaut Courtois saved. Mbappe was equally as quick to pounce on Eder Militia’s overcommitment to winning the ball and nicked it off him but the subsequent shot was straight at the Real ‘keeper.
This was already a more open affair than the somewhat tepid first leg in the French capital three weeks ago. Real’s first chance came after Leo Messi’s tackle sent the ball rolling perfectly for Benzema to curl a first-time shot with his right instep. The attempt had Gianluigi Donnarumma scrambling across his goal to tip the ball over. Benzema went on to head chances both over and wide of the PSG goal.
The La Liga leaders were made to pay. Messi attempted a dinked finish over Courtois from a tight angle but it travelled parallel to the goalline. On 34 minutes, Mbappe thought he had put PSG ahead when he finished past Courtois but Nuno Mendes had failed to hold his run and play was brought back. It was five minutes later that Mbappe struck for real.
Neymar, starting in PSG’s forward line ahead of Angel Di Maria in what was the Parisians' only change from the first leg, swiped the ball over the top for Mbappe to chase. The 23-year-old only had David Alaba for company and Courtois just off his goalline. He deceived the Real ‘keeper by appearing to aim for the far corner but instead whipped his shot in at the near post.
Having grown more assertive as the half wore on, Pochettino’s side were now in an enviable but not insurmountable position. Mbappe, unstoppable now apart from by the linesman’s flag, showcased his phenomenal close control and footwork to jink around Courtois and slot home, but from an offside position.
Up against it, Real needed something quickly. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. As the clock struck 60 minutes, Donnarumma had an aberration. With the ball played back to the PSG goalkeeper inside his six-yard area, he dallied with Benzema sharp to assert pressure. The flustered ‘keeper passed to anyone available, however, that player was Vinicius who set up Benzema to finish into a semi-guarded net.
Game on! Tie on! And suddenly PSG looked nervy in defence. Benzema sensed it but could only head narrowly wide from what in truth was a sub-par cross from Rodrygo. Vinicius almost capitalised on PSG’s wobbling defending but snatched at his shot, sending it over. Then came a remarkable 12 seconds of play.
Firstly, in the 77th minute, Luka Modric — quiet up until now — drove forward and played a beautifully weighted pass to Vinicius. The Brazilian couldn’t get a shot away so turned it back to Modric, who instantly sent a deft pass in to Benzema and his low shot deflected in past Donnarumma.
Then, straight from the kick-off Real won back the ball and progressed up-field. Marquinhos’ error was pounced on by Benzema, now purring, and the French striker thumped home his third. Some turnaround, indeed. PSG have seen it before. So have Real Madrid.
Real Madrid: Courtois; Carvajal (Vazquez 66), Militao, Nacho, Alaba; Modric, Valverde, Kroos (Camavinga 58); Asensio (Rodrygo 58), Benzema, Vinicius.
Subs (not used): Lunin, Vallejo, Marcelo, Ceballos, Isco, Hazard, Diaz, Jovic, Bale.
PSG: Donnarumma; Hakimi (Draxler 87), Marquinhos, Kimpembe, Mendes; Paredes (Gueye 71), Danilo (Di Maria 81), Verratti; Messi, Mbappe, Neymar.
Subs (not used): Navas, Kehrer, Dagba, Diallo, Wijnaldum, Michut, Simons, Ebimbe, Icardi.
Referee: Danny Makkelie (Netherlands).