Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid played out an anticlimactic 0-0 draw in the Champions League on Wednesday despite both teams being able to call upon their all-time leading scorers.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who overtook Raul as Madrid’s top scorer in history last weekend, came as close as anyone to breaking the deadlock in the French capital with a second-half volley that whistled wide.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and PSG, meanwhile, were stifled by Real’s defensive organisation and never seriously tested Keylor Navas in the visitors’ goal.
But while the game failed to live up to expectations as a spectacle, the result is not a bad one for either team, particularly the injury-hit visitors.
“Given the circumstances, the performance of the team was not good, it was exceptional,” said Madrid coach Rafa Benitez.
“We had chances to win the game, more than them, and decent control of the match against a team who are not easy to play against. As coach I am very satisfied.”
His opposite number Laurent Blanc was pleased with his team’s defensive display but admitted they didn’t do enough to win the game.
“I’m not satisfied because we didn’t get the result we were looking for,” he said.
“Even against a Real side with lots of absentees it’s not easy, but we competed with them and the draw was fair.”
Both sides remain unbeaten this season and are yet to concede after three games in Group A as they sit locked together on seven points atop the section.
Malmo won 1-0 at home to Shakhtar Donetsk in the night’s other game but Paris and Madrid are each four points clear of the Swedes and will have an opportunity to clinch qualification for the last 16 when they meet again in Spain in a fortnight.
Perhaps that will be a more open contest, but under the Parisian drizzle it was Benitez’s tactical nous that frustrated the hosts and enabled Real to secure a result that is not to be sniffed at given their current injury concerns.
Deprived of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and James Rodriguez, Benitez handed starts to Jese and Lucas Vazquez on the flanks in a 4-4-2 formation but his main objective appeared to be to stifle a PSG side obsessed with dominating possession.
It was a tactic that proved very effective in the first half, with Paris unable to trouble Navas other than from a low Blaise Matuidi shot from the edge of the box in the 11th minute that was stopped comfortably enough by the Costa Rican.
– Disappointing Di Maria –
The French champions were too slow and predictable on the ball and Angel Di Maria, who had said ahead of the game that he would not celebrate if he scored against the club with whom he won the Champions League in 2014, looked like he would rather not be playing at all.
It was Real who were the more likely side, and Toni Kroos slipped a pass through to Jese, who was denied by Kevin Trapp racing from his line.
A brief spell of applied Madrid pressure followed after Di Maria lost the ball cheaply in the opposition half and Trapp tipped over a Ronaldo header following a Kroos corner.
Ronaldo tried his luck from two long-range free-kicks either side of half-time but they only served to show why, for all his immense talent, he has scored from just two of his last 89 direct free-kicks.
But it was Ronaldo who might have won the game in the 72nd minute. When a Paris corner came to nothing, Real broke quickly and Marcelo teed up the Portuguese superstar for a volley from a tight angle to the left of the box that fizzed just past the far post.
He was also the target of the affection of a pitch invader who ran on to the field for a hug with the Ballon d’Or winner before being dragged away to the biggest cheer of the evening.