Kylian Mbappe linked with Real Madrid move
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Karim Benzema scored a remarkable hat-trick as Real Madrid came from 2-0 down on aggregate to beat Paris Saint-Germain 3-2 in the last-16 of the Champions League. Kylian Mbappe doubled PSG’s lead with a brilliantly-taken opener, but the visitors fell apart in the second half to gift Benzema a hat-trick on a hugely dramatic night at the Bernabeu. Here are five things Express Sport learned.
Mbappe (briefly) takes centre stage
As soon as the draw for the Champions League last-16 had been made, the narrative was predetermined, thanks to Real’s determined pursuit of Mbappe.
Mbappe is out of contract with PSG in July and, although the French club haven’t given up hope of him signing an extension, a move to Madrid has long been on the cards.
This match could hardly be framed as an ‘audition’ – he is already one of, if not the best, player in the world and showed all his talent by scoring in the first leg.
But his performance at the Bernabeu was some next-level stuff. Perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid is that, even when playing alongside Messi and Nemyar, Mbappe is still the main man.
His goal came from a brilliant Neymar through-ball, rapid speed and a subtle piece of trickery. The second of his two offside goals was perhaps the highlight: a supremely confident exaggerated dummy to floor Courtois and a powerful finish.
Whatever he chooses to do this summer, Mbappe is set to take on the mantle as the world’s best player.
Real’s ageing stars
Real Madrid have been very conservative in the transfer market over the past few years, with Covid-19 and the waste of 2019, when they splashed out on Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic, weighing heavy on the Spanish giants.
This summer had always been earmarked as one for renewal and a cursory look at the average ages of the two starting line-ups suggests that might still happen, regardless of this result.
Real Madrid: Courtois (29), Carvajal (30), Militao (24), Alaba (29), Nacho (32), Valverde (23), Kroos (32), Modric (36), Asensio (26), Benzema (34), Vinicius (21). Average age = 28.72
PSG: Donnarumma (23), Hakimi (23), Marquinhos (27), Kimpembe (26), Mendes (19), Danilo (30), Paredes (27), Verratti (29), Messi (34), Neymar (30), Mbappe (23). Average age = 26.45
Messi the walking instigator
While it was Mbappe – and Benzema’s – night, it was impossible not to be drawn to Messi as well.
With PSG’s front three rotating at will, Messi dropped into pockets of space so easily, without even the need for a jog.
Messi’s intelligence, first touch and passing ability allows him to move as he pleases while knitting together eye-catching move after eye-catching move.
The speed of Neymar and Mbappe are perfect for the 34-year-old genius to thread balls into space and for a period in the first half he was at his very best.
Messi’s move to PSG came about out of a strange necessity, with all going wrong at Barcelona and the French club the only club rich enough to provide an out.
PSG’s classic, now yearly, Champions League collapse had nothing to do with the Argentine great.
Although the equaliser came largely due to a terrible error from Donnarumma, there was little surprise in the scorer.
Benzema is Real’s reliable talisman at the top of the pitch and an undoubted club legend.
Coming into this game, the French striker had 306 goals and 156 assists in 591 appearances for Real, which are indisputably world-class numbers befitting of a player who has been with the club since 2009.
Real were 2-0 down on aggregate and playing in front of an angry crowd when Benzema changed everything.
It was he who chased down Donnarumma and then stuck away the resulting chance when set up by Vinicius.
And it was he who stuck in the second from Modric’s pass, via a healthy deflection from Marquinhos.
And, inevitably, it was he who scored the third to complete his hat-trick 12 seconds after a PSG kick-off, after Marquinho’s inexplicable defending gave him the ball.
On an unforgettable night, Benzema scored his 77th, 78th and 79th Champions League goals – only Cristiano Ronaldo (140), Messi (125) and Robert Lewandowski (85) have scored more.
Chokers tag deserved
PSG have long been described as chokers in the Champions League – and after a night like this, it is entirely deserved.
The money which has been poured into the French club has been done so with one goal in mind: a first Champions League trophy.
But playing against the competition’s most successful side, it was clear they are miles off in one crucial factor.
Panic at the back was to blame for this shocking capitulation, with Donnarumma and Marquinhos completely falling apart in the face of Benzema’s brilliance.
All three goals were avoidable. All three goals were indicative of PSG in the Champions League.
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