Angel Di Maria scored twice against his former club as Paris Saint-Germain shrugged off the absences of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe and thrashed Real Madrid 3-0 on Wednesday to get off to the perfect start in their latest bid for Champions League success.
Di Maria beat Real goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois at his near post to put PSG ahead in the 14th minute at the Parc des Princes, but it was his second goal just after the half-hour mark that really lit up this encounter.
The Argentine, who starred for Real for four years and won the Champions League with them in 2014 before making an ill-fated move to Manchester United, gave Courtois no chance with a shot on his left foot from 20 yards out that arrowed into the corner.
Thomas Meunier added the gloss to the score-line at the death but it was Di Maria who had cleared the way for his side, stepping up in the absences of the injured Mbappe and Edinson Cavani as well as the suspended Neymar.
After a summer dominated by the saga of whether the world’s most expensive player would leave the club, here was a reminder that the French champions have others capable of winning such games.
These two clubs are trying to recover some of their lustre after disappointing campaigns in Europe last season, but for PSG this result is a measure of revenge for their defeat at the hands of Real in the last 16 the previous year.
They remain unbeaten at home in the Champions League group stage since 2004 and they are already in control of Group A before facing Galatasaray and Club Brugge, who drew 0-0 in Belgium on Wednesday.
Real remain far from convincing since Zinedine Zidane’s return to the club for a second spell as coach and the 13-time European Cup winners have won only twice in five outings so far this season.
There is still much work to be done if they are to go deep in this competition again after being humbled by Ajax in the last 16 last spring.
– Hazard makes little impact –
They had a Gareth Bale goal disallowed for handball after a VAR review just after going two behind, while Eden Hazard struggled to make an impact on his first start since his 100 million-euro ($110 million) move from Chelsea.
Madrid were also handicapped by the absences of Sergio Ramos, Nacho and Marcelo in defence as well as Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric from their midfield.
Mauro Icardi made his first start for the home side after his arrival on loan from Inter, but his fellow countryman Di Maria stole the show.
PSG, confusingly wearing white while the visitors wore dark blue, opened the scoring in the 14th minute when Di Maria latched onto a Juan Bernat cutback from the left byline and fired in, although Courtois should have done better.
Hazard shot just wide at the other end moments later and Bale curled a free-kick over the bar from the edge of the area after he had been fouled.
Just after that, in the 33rd minute, Di Maria took a touch and smashed a shot into the right corner of the net to make it 2-0.
Then came Bale’s disallowed goal, and the Welshman came close again in first-half stoppage time, yet the Spanish giants created little in the second half apart from a Karim Benzema goal that was ruled out for offside.
Hazard, meanwhile, departed 20 minutes from time having failed to make his mark on the game, and PSG scored again in stoppage time.
With the Madrid defence exposed, Meunier exchanged passes with Bernat before finishing to the delight of the home crowd.
Both sides should still make it through but for now it is PSG, six months on from their horror show and humiliating exit against Manchester United, who have more reason to be optimistic.
Especially with so much attacking firepower still to come back.