Real Madrid’s last-gasp victory over Paris Saint-Germain was another sign that times have changed at the Santiago Bernabeu. The Merengues’ formerly all-conquering ‘BBC’ front line has lost its privileged place in the club’s eyes, and is no longer needed to deliver goals or wins even in Madrid’s biggest clashes.
Wednesday’s 3-1 triumph might just prove a turning point for Zinedine Zidane’s men, under heavy pressure having underachieved for much of the current domestic season. The result itself, obtained through two Cristiano Ronaldo strikes and a late third courtesy of Marcelo, is huge, but perhaps even more important for the Champions League holders was the manner of victory.
PSG have been in formidable form over the course of 2017-18, and looked more likely to snatch three points for large spells of the last-16 encounter. Madrid, however, pulled away in the final minutes with two hammer blows, courtesy of two switches ordered by Zidane on the sidelines. Most notably, at no point on Wednesday were all three members of the BBC on the pitch, with Gareth Bale left on the bench and only flung into the action as a substitute for Karim Benzema in the ultimately decisive last 20 minutes of the game.
Without that trio from the off, Zidane shuffled his tactics. Madrid lined up with a midfield diamond similar to the set-up that failed spectacularly against Barcelona in the Clasico meeting earlier this season, making room for Isco as the link between fellow playmakers Luka Modric and Toni Kroos and Ronaldo and Benzema in the final third.
Having seen Mateo Kovacic try and fail to mark Lionel Messi out of the game in December, the coach deemed it unnecessary to pay similar attention to PSG’s ace in the hole Neymar. His faith was vindicated by a storming performance from Nacho on the right, as the Brazilian gave Madrid plenty of frights but fell short of stamping his authority on the game in front of a hostile Bernabeu crowd.
Later, with PSG flagging after an intense start to the second half, the introductions of Bale and Marco Asensio gave the home team devastating pace out wide, which they used to full effect. Both of the side’s late goals originated in a burst to the byline and low cross from the latter, as full-back Yuri Berchiche was left panting and cursing his fresh, lightning-quick new adversary.
Ronaldo was logically lauded as the hero of the evening, with a first-half penalty and a neat, unorthodox finish with his knee to tap home an awkward deflection taking him to 101 Champions League goals in Madrid colours. Bale and Benzema, however, were only afforded marginal roles in the game, begging the question: Is this the end of the BBC?
At least publicly Zidane has never doubted his star-studded trio. “The BBC is non-negotiable for me,” the coach fired on one occasion, as the more excitable sectors of the Spanish press linked Bale and Benzema with imminent exits from the club. But actions speak louder than words. Leaving Bale on the bench, and bringing him on only when his colleague could give no more, shows that Madrid are no longer dependent on the trident’s unique talents to prosper in decisive moments.
That might not be good news for two-thirds of the attack – Cristiano, of course, is on another level entirely thanks to his almost unreal knack of finding the net in European competition – but it is testament to the strength of Zidane’s squad, on the mend after a horrific end to such a memorable 2017.
Even with all three members of the BBC fit and ready Zizou can just as easily turn to Asensio, or Isco, giving Madrid an unpredictability that ultimately proved too much for PSG on Wednesday.