Di Maria provides the ex factor to spell double trouble for Real’s under-fire Zidane
No Neymar, no Mbappe, no Cavani but no problem for Paris St-germain as they profited from the Immutable Law of the Ex.
Angel Di Maria did not want to leave Real Madrid five years ago, and certainly did not want to go to Manchester United for a miserable season before fleeing to Paris, and so this revenge was five years in the making, with the PSG winger scoring twice and tearing his former club apart.
In doing so Di Maria heaped the pressure on Real coach Zinedine Zidane, who will be aware of another ex – Jose Mourinho – who is waiting to see whether the man who delivered three Champions League titles for the Spanish giants is going to survive much longer on his own second coming.
Results like this will only heighten the growing expectation that he will not – former Juventus coach Max Allegri is another option – with Zidane’s big summer signing, Eden Hazard, struggling before eventually being substituted.
Gareth Bale fared better, but also went off and was not acknowledged by Zidane, who stood rooted to the edge of the technical area, looking lost as his side failed to produce a shot on target for the first time since such records began in 2003.
It may have only been the opening game in a group which both clubs can expect to progress, but Real are in a downward spiral and it will hurt that they lost to a team who had Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani out injured and Neymar banned for two matches.
Maybe without them, PSG played more as a team. Idrissa Gana Gueye, who joined from Everton, was excellent and the dominant midfielder against the colourless Toni Kroos, Casemiro and James Rodriguez – who Di Maria had been forced out to make way for.
“He is a machine, he never stops running,” Thomas Tuchel, the PSG coach, said of Gueye, while banning any talk of this result being a statement. “If anyone asks if we are going to win the Champions League I am leaving [the press conference].” Zidane’s contribution was as uninspiring as his team.
There were, in fact, more French players in the Real side than in PSG’S and, conversely, more Spanish representing PSG. To add to the reversal, the home side were wearing their all-white, third kit and the visitors were in dark blue. Confused? Real seemed to be, for sure.
And so it was maybe also appropriate that it was a player who used to play for the other team who opened the scoring – and then doubled it. Di Maria claimed his first goal as Marquinhos’s header was cleverly flicked on by Mauro Icardi – on his first start since his loan move from Inter Milan – to the overlapping Juan Bernat, whose cross was met first time by Di Maria to neatly beat Thibaut Courtois at his near post.
The fans cranked it up. “A mythical stadium. A historic city. Paris is magic!” read a giant tifo prior to kick-off at the Auteuil end of the ground, where the PSG ultras congregate and the drums beat ever louder, with smoke from the flares drifting across the stadium.
PSG struck again. Gueye fed the ball into Di Maria. On the edge of the area the Real defenders stood off and Di Maria took advantage to catch out Courtois with a fierce shot. In the stands Mbappe and Neymar giggled in celebration, with David Beckham – another who
had played for both clubs – also among the onlookers.
From the kick-off it appeared Real had struck back when Bale, superbly it seemed, juggled the ball three, four times with his left foot before lifting it over goalkeeper Keylor Navas with his right.
What a goal. But, hang on. English referee Anthony Taylor eventually went to the side of the pitch, after consulting with the video assistant referee, Stuart Attwell, and it was clear that Bale had handled the ball as he brought it under control. The goal was disallowed.
Di Maria should have completed his hat-trick when Gueye, impressively tenacious, again won the ball back. Marco Verratti pushed it into the path of the winger but, with just Courtois to beat, he attempted to chip the goalkeeper, with the ball landing on the roof of the net.
In injury time, PSG claimed the third goal they deserved. They broke away, with Di Maria again involved as he sent Thomas Meunier through. The right-back picked out the other full-back, Bernat, and the Spaniard returned the pass for Meunier to steer into the net with Courtois stranded, kicking the turf as he was beaten. It summed up Real’s forlorn night.
Handle with care: Gareth Bale has a goal ruled out for handball by VAR