UEFA's Technical Observer panel analyse Paris' late, late win against Real Madrid.
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Kylian Mbappé earned the headlines for the piece of individual brilliance which gave Paris a narrow advantage in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 tie against Real Madrid.
Yet in this article presented by FedEx, the UEFA Technical Observer panel spotlights the high-intensity team effort from Mauricio Pochettino's side which laid the platform for their victory – and left Madrid without a single effort on target.
1-0: Kylian Mbappé (90+4)
The 23-year-old's fifth goal of this European campaign was an act of virtuosity which captured his capacity to make something out of nothing. Collecting a back-heeled pass from Neymar out in his favourite position, attacking the box from the left, he approached the area and then suddenly turned the speed dial as he darted between Lucas Vázquez and Éder Militão – before unleashing a low shot which, with the aid of a slight deflection off Federico Valverde, flashed between the legs of Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and into the far corner of the net.
As UEFA's match observer put it: "A direct action that was typical of Mbappé's style and profile, and worthy of winning any UEFA Champions League game."
Best player: Kylian Mbappé
The hosts had 21 shots, eight of them on target, and an xG (expected goals) of 1.88 but would have finished goalless were it not for Mbappé's moment of magic. For the scorer, it was reward for his efforts throughout: he forced a fine stop in each half from the excellent Courtois and also won the penalty which Lionel Messi could not convert against the Belgian.
Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti attempted to thwart Mbappé by introducing fresh legs down the right in Rodrygo and Lucas Vázquez, but ultimately it was not enough to contain a player who has been involved in at least one goal (be it scoring or assisting) in every Champions League game he has played this season.
Paris's 4-3-3 featured Mbappé (7) in his strongest position on the left of the attack, with Messi (30) free to find space centrally. Ángel Di María (11), nominally the right-sided attacker, took up positions inside as the home full-backs advanced.
Further back, the role of Danilo (15) was significant. From his starting position on the right of the midfield three, he dropped to support his centre-backs when Paris had the ball and the full-backs pushed up. This allowed Achraf Hakimi (2) the freedom to get high and wide while guarding against the threat of Vinícius Júnior (20) on the counterattack. Off the ball, meanwhile, Danilo used his defensive qualities to stymie the playmaking of Toni Kroos (8) along with helping Hakimi stifle Vinícius Júnior.
Overall, he was quick to apply pressure and always aware of any player coming into his area of the pitch, including Karim Benzema (9), a centre-forward who tends to find good space in that pocket. As Danilo himself noted afterwards: "We have great players here with Messi and Hakimi who are quite attacking so I'm here to counterbalance the two."
Paris were solid and compact off the ball when they switched to a 4-5-1 formation. And it was telling that their discipline and defensive concentration extended to their creative talents. As a case in point, it is worth noting how they were able to effect a successful high press from Madrid's goal kicks as Messi joined Marco Verratti (6) and Leandro Paredes (8) in forming a three-man triangle in the middle to deny space to the visitors' midfield trio.
Like their hosts, Madrid set up in a 4-3-3. However, their struggles to keep hold of the ball, on a night when they had 43% possession, meant they spent long stretches defending deep around their own box in a 4-5-1 set-up with only Benzema (9) stationed higher up the pitch.
In their best period, the last ten minutes of the first half, Dani Carvajal (2) stayed as the deeper of their two full-backs while Ferland Mendy (23) pushed up and tried to penetrate on the inside, leaving the touchline for Vinícius Júnior (20). Yet the closest Madrid came to threatening the goal was a Kroos (8) shot which whistled over the crossbar nine minutes after the restart.
From the first minute, the French hopefuls showed better tempo and intensity. UEFA's observer noted how they looked to force Madrid on to the back foot at every opportunity, taking quick free-kicks or throw-ins, for example, to sustain the pace. Impressively, it was a rhythm they kept up for almost the whole game except for a drop-off in the lead-up to half-time, when the visitors finally imposed themselves on the game.
Otherwise, Madrid could not keep the ball long enough for their attacking players to influence the contest, with Kroos and Luka Modrić unable to impact proceedings as they normally would and Benzema struggling to get involved on his return from a hamstring injury.
Arguably the most impressive feature of Paris's performance was their defensive reaction when they lost possession. Defending high up the pitch as a team, they made more recoveries (61) than in any other Champions League match this term.
As a consequence, Madrid struggled to find a way to play through their hosts' aggressive press. Courtois went short at times to Éder Militão but could find no secure line of pass. In the first half, there were one or two occasions when Benzema dropped short. However, he looked frustrated with the lack of intensity around him and at one point was seen urging his team-mates to step up and press closer to the middle third.
In the second half, Courtois tried to find Vinícius Júnior in space with longer passes but again to little effect. Hence, while Madrid were well organised in defence, they struggled in possession from start to finish. Ancelotti made five substitutions but could not change the momentum; tellingly, even the winning goal came after Madrid had surrendered possession one final, crucial time in the middle of the field.
Mauricio Pochettino, Paris coach
"We cut off their passing circuits by pressing on their midfielders. We worked hard to stop them and recover the ball as high as possible, while controlling the game well for 90 minutes. We conceded very few chances."
Carlo Ancelotti, Real Madrid coach
"We couldn't get out with the ball and we misplaced a lot of passes because of their high press. They did that well and put us under difficulty in that sense. We need to press more in the second leg. We are behind on the scoreboard and need to be better on the ball, which we didn't do well today."