Paris: Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane could only hold his hands up after his side were outclassed by Paris St-Germain in their opening Champions League game of the season on Wednesday, going down 3-0 in the French capital.
“They were superior to us in everything,” Zidane admitted after the match at the Parc des Princes. “In terms of how they played, in midfield, but above all, and what annoys me the most, in terms of intensity.”
Games at this level are often won in the centre of the park and the Madrid trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez could not cope with their opponents, for whom the tireless Idrissa Gueye was outstanding.
Zidane had pinpointed the same issue last weekend after his side almost blew a three-goal lead against Levante in La Liga.
“When I looked to the bench there was nothing else,” he said of his midfield then, but he could and certainly should have seen this coming.
While an injury to Luka Modric has exacerbated the problem, Zidane allowed Dani Ceballos and Marcos Llorente to leave in the summer and did not have an alternative to a failed move to sign Paul Pogba.
The defeat in Paris may ultimately not prevent Real from reaching the last 16, but their performance contrasted sharply with two seasons ago, when they dumped PSG out en route to winning the trophy for the third year running.
Zidane walked away after that success only to be tempted back in March. If it seemed like a huge risk at the time to gamble his legacy, six months on and the France great appears no closer to getting the 13-time European Cup winners back on track.
He did not have to deal with such adversity in his glittering first stint in charge. They have won seven and lost five of 16 games since his return.
On Wednesday, according to renowned Spanish sports statistician Mister Chip, apart from two disallowed goals, Real failed to muster a shot on target for the first time in a decade, a period spanning 578 competitive games.
That was despite the presence of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard up front.
“To not create chances with the players we had on the field, it is a bit of a strange feeling but that is how it is,” Zidane said.
“We need to forget this defeat, it is hard but we have another game on Sunday and we need to focus on that.”
It may be stretching it to say his position is under threat at the moment, but another defeat this weekend might change that, and a derby away to Atletico awaits a week later.
Fernandinho holds the key for City
Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho has the personality and experience to solve their injury crisis in defence, manager Pep Guardiola has said.
The Brazilian was deployed as a makeshift central defender in Wednesday’s 3-0 Champions League win at Shakhtar Donetsk, with John Stones out for five weeks due to a muscle injury and Aymeric Laporte recovering from knee surgery.
Partnering City’s only other fit senior centre back Nicolas Otamendi, the 34-year-old Fernandinho looked comfortable in the role with the additional responsibility of captaincy in his first start of the season.
“I didn’t have doubts that he would [look comfortable in the back four]. That’s why he’s so important for us,” Guardiola told a news conference.
“We don’t have many choices… he’s the only one I have. Other players can play in that position but Fernandinho is a clever player, so intelligent — an incredible guy.
“He has a lot of experience and personality and what he says the people follow him in the locker room so it’s important.”
A tough tackler with natural passing ability, Fernandinho is the ideal player to slot into defence in Guardiola’s system and has emerged as a potential replacement for former club captain Vincent Kompany, who departed at the end of last season.
The Brazilian is unlikely to get any quicker in the twilight of his career and is aware that a redefined role could ensure more playing time at the Premier League champions.
“I’ve been training in this position since the start of the season,” said Fernandinho, who made two interceptions and had a passing accuracy of 90% against Shakhtar.
“Today was my opportunity, I hope I can improve. It was a quiet night at the back but the team have made a very good game … because we played as a team.”
Club Brugge 0 Galatasaray 0
Olympiakos Piraeus 2 Tottenham Hotspur 2
Atletico Madrid 2 Juventus 2
Bayer Leverkusen 1 Lokomotiv Moskva 2
PSG 3 Real Madrid 0
Bayern Munich 3 Red Star Belgrade 0
Shakhtar Donetsk 0 Manchester City 3
Dinamo Zagreb 4 Atalanta 0