Paris Saint-Germain beat Real Madrid 1-0 in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie with Kylian Mbappe scoring an injury-time winner, but all eyes were on Lionel Messi once again.
The Argentine hasn’t had the best of seasons since joining PSG in the summer, at least in Ligue 1 where he has scored just two goals in 14 appearances. But Messi has once again made the Champions League his.
In the group stage, Messi scored five goals in five games including one in a 2-0 win over Manchester City – only failing to score in the opening draw against Club Brugge and return fixture with the Cityzens at the Etihad. But the last 16 would see him face Real Madrid, his old foe from his Barcelona days.
Messi loves scoring against Real Madrid, or at least he used to. In 45 appearances against Real Madrid for Barcelona across all competitions, Messi scored 26 goals including 18 in La Liga and two in the 2010/11 Champions League semi-final. But things haven’t been good for Messi against Real Madrid lately and he went into Tuesday’s game without a goal in seven appearances vs Los Blancos.
At the Parc des Princes, Messi had more shots than any other player (eight) and hit the target twice but he couldn’t find a way to convert his chances. He arguably had the best opportunity to score too, even including Mbappe’s winner, when a penalty was awarded just after the hour mark.
Mbappe was fouled inside the area by Dani Carvajal but Messi was handed the chance to give PSG the lead from the spot having already netted a penalty in the 3-2 win over RB Leipzig in the group stage.
The chance to end his scoring drought against Real Madrid was golden. But it was a chance missed, as Thibaut Courtois was equal to the shot, saving to his bottom right.
It was Messi’s fifth penalty missed in the Champions League from 23 attempts, and no player has missed more in the competition since Opta started collecting that data from the 2003/04 campaign.
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It could have been so different for Messi though, had he done his research. Watching on from home, former Chelsea striker Demba Ba recalled the research his side did ahead of their Champions League semi-final against Atletico Madrid in 2013/14 when Courtois was in goal.
“Just for info, an analysis done by the guys of Chelsea in 2014 before the semi-final of Champions League showed us that Courtois always dives on the cross side of the strike,” Ba tweeted.”
And where did Courtois go, facing a left-footed Messi? To his left/Messi’s right.
Ba was right: “Apparently that hasn’t changed!”
Juste pour infos, une analyse effectuée par les gars de @ChelseaFC en 2014 avant la demi de #UCL nous à montré que Courtois plonge toujours du côté croisé de la frappe. Apparemment ça n'a pas changé !
— Demba Ba (@dembabafoot) February 15, 2022
Courtois was a little more humble with his explanation of the save, saying: “It was hard to guess right but he missed a few ones on this [left] side.
“So I think it was obvious he was going to the left, maybe to the middle he scored one against Leipzig. So yeah, I just said ‘I will go left’ and I had a good save.”
The penalty miss wasn’t as important on the night as Mbappe’s late winner gave PSG the win their performance deserved against a defensive Real Madrid side. But it could still prove costly in the second leg, especially with the abolition of the away goals rule meaning PSG won’t have any extra advantage from their clean sheet this week.