Real Madrid knocked Paris Saint-Germain out of the Champions League on Tuesday with a composed performance in which they never lost control. For all the potential narratives we were sold when the draw was made about Neymar finally stepping out from behind the curtain and PSG making a giant step towards relevancy, it was an academy product from Real Madrid, Lucas Vazquez, who had to fight his way into contention that had the biggest say in the second leg.
When PSG were concocting their plan for European domination, you have to think they looked to Real Madrid for inspiration. But in a game that pitted two Galactico models against each other with PSG's ambition versus Real Madrid's history in the competition being another side-plot, Zinedine Zidane threw away the script. It was partly down to necessity because of injuries and partly because he needed a more functional side than one studded with stars. Real Madrid showed them that you need a culture of winning opposed to sheer ambition in the transfer market. It's a blend that's hard to stumble upon.
PSG were slow dancing through the first half while their ultras were trying to bring some rock n' roll. The flares were lit at the start of the second half but Real Madrid scored just minutes later, and before the home side knew it, the music had stopped, the lights were turned back on and they were going home alone again.
The man who stole the headlines on the night was from Los Blancos' famed La Fabrica. Vazquez seemed surplus to requirements during the summer with the emergence of Marco Asensio last season along with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale on the wings. The earliest stages of the season looked bleak for the 26-year-old, and he only played for seven minutes in Real Madrid's opening four Champions League encounters -- two short cameos sandwiched between two games he looked on from the bench.
Vazquez is the kind of player who helps Zidane buck the trend too as he rebels against group think and the suits in Real Madrid's boardroom. He left Bale and Isco, two of Real Madrid's most talked-about players, on the bench in favour of the Galician attacker; it seemed a risky move at the time with Mateo Kovacic and Asensio starting too, but Zidane has made a habit of being his own man when the chips are down in big games.
It's that willingness to play in-form players that keeps Vazquez going. "The manager showed that he is not wedded to anyone," he said after the game, knowing that he had usurped a couple of players many thought would start.
For the first goal, the one that seemed to break PSG's will, Asensio -- a player bought for peanuts at €3.8 million from Mallorca -- put Vazquez through with a lovely disguised pass that sent the whole of Paris the wrong way.
In another sequence of play, just before Casemiro put Real Madrid 2-1 up on the night, Vazquez is seen sprinting by a number of would-be PSG defenders, his eagerness to get on the ball impossible to suppress. Starting 15 yards behind Javier Pastore, who had just come on to liven up a faltering PSG side, he ended up 15 yards in front of him before delivering the ball into the penalty area where the Brazilian would eventually strike the killer blow.
Which is not to sell Real Madrid as some thrifty club scouring Spain and Europe for the cheapest talent, for it was they who helped shape modern football, and they invented the Galactico model of buying big. But when players like Vazquez fall into their lap, they know how to harness their ability, surround them with that winning mentality and ensure that if they do ever make it to the first team, they will be ready.
Zidane has been readying Vazquez for this too. He has constantly praised the industrious winger in the media prior to the second leg and started him in five games on the spin before resting him against Getafe last weekend to be ready for 90 minutes of tearing up and down the right-hand side in search of opportunities on Tuesday. The team isn't constructed to compromise on the wings against a side like PSG.
"Playing Lucas and Marco, [Tuesday]it was important to have two lines of four," Zidane said. "To defend well against their wide players, we did that very well. Lucas is in very good form, Marco too. So they played, and did very well," Zidane continued, knowing he got his tactics and personnel spot on.
PSG are on a mission to win the Champions League, but to also create a team and a club that is teeming with winners. Aside from money, you need tradition, a winning culture and you need a squad starving for success regardless of how many times they've won before.
Unai Emery said it was no shame to lose to Real Madrid. After all, they are "a team of Champions," as he put it. All the money in the world can't buy you the history Real Madrid have in the competition and their ability to bring the noise when the its needed most.