Real Madrid hold keys to Group A after goalless draw at PSG

Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid ground out an entertaining 0-0 draw on Wednesday night in France in a match that presented its chances — but also displayed curiously little appetite for risk. In the end, the home side were revealed as being short of ideas on the night, but the football on display was of the highest caliber.

The result left both teams atop Group A on seven points, separated only by goal difference, and that a quite slight one. Malmo now trail by a full four points after other results on Wednesday, and Shakhtar Donetsk remain very much dead last.

In the grand scheme of things, this was not expected to be a make or break match. In fact, both PSG and Real Madrid should easily advance out of Group A, with Malmo and Shakhtar left to fight for that unwanted Europa League slot. Yet this remained thrilling matchup on paper despite some high profile absentees — Karim Benzema, James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale were but a few of the players unavailable.

Real, unquestionably the more depleted of the two sides, looked anything but threadbare. Crisp in the back and very dangerous on the counter, their 4-4-2 forced Laurent Blanc to play it safe. Blaise Matuidi, hamstrung by collecting an early and foolish card, was unable to get into the attack and connect with Serge Aurier’s runs out of the back, often leaving Zlatan Ibrahimovic as a lonely target man in the box.

Real also had the better of the chances in the early going, with Jese looking particularly dangerous, and getting off the first real shot of the game after only 3 minutes. Cristiano Ronaldo was the provider, pouncing on a loose ball from Thiago Motta to force Kevin Trapp into a sliding stop.

Jese would force another great stop in the 28th minute when Toni Kroos slipped in a lovely disguised pass that was in turn blasted to the far corner from 15 yards. But Trapp again got down well and booted the shot clear to save what should have been the game’s first goal.

Ronaldo would have several chances of his own, heading a cross from Marcelo to Trapp’s far post that the keeper was forced to turn around and out; then launching a fine point-blank header off the ensuing corner kick that Trapp did well to palm over.

UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE RESULTS

At the other end, chances were sparse. Matuidi had a ball fall kindly to him in the 18th, but the shot was tame and routine in the end for Keylor Navas. Aurier and Angel Di Maria were given space by Marcelo bombing forward, but there was a lack of technique when it came to the final ball. Too often, good work from the likes of Aurier and Maxwell went to waste.

Still, both sides went into the lockers deadlocked at the half, and while Rafa Benitez was probably the happier of the two managers, it looked as if it would take something special to separate the sides. Edinson Cavani looked as if he might provide that spark. Anonymous for much of the game he nonetheless popped up in the 47th, beating Varane to a cross from Motta — only to see his shot go agonizingly wide.

Cavani would continue to find himself in positive areas and nearly struck again in the 56th only to see it smartly stopped. Ibrahimovic then had a fine chance on a header as Maxwell’s cross beat Sergio Ramos but the whistle went for a push — and the header was also high.

Despite PSG’s endeavor, the best chances continued to fall for Ronaldo. A gorgeous attempt that on any other day would have billowed the back of the net was instead somehow missed in the 71st, Ronaldo stroking a fine left-footed shot past Trapp — and past the far post to boot. It was an uncharacteristic flub, and his reaction told the story — he knew he should have scored.

And with that, the game noticeably dropped in pace and tension. Real Madrid simply throttled the match and PSG were left chasing long balls and hopeful passes. It was not until stoppage time and a very late chance fell to Ibrahimovic — a free header he put nowhere near the frame — that the Frenchmen looked as if they wanted a winner. They did not get it.

"Despite the injuries, we have seen a good Real Madrid," Benitez said after the match. "I’m not worried about not holding possession, what worries me is the image that we give. I was convinced that the team was going to give their all. We’ve had more chances than PSG despite having to do without a number of injured players."

Both sides will get a chance for a do-over: Real Madrid will next host PSG on Matchday Four coming up immediately on Nov. 4.

Malmo 1, Shakhtar Donetsk 0

Malmo remain in contention to reach the Champions League’s last 16 after a 1-0 group A victory over Shakhtar Donetsk that took the Ukrainians to the brink of elimination.

The goalless draw between Real Madrid and Paris St Germain leaves the Spanish and French teams level on seven points and joint top of the group, and Malmo in third place with three points and three fixtures remaining. Shakhtar have lost all three matches, and may even struggle to progress into the Europa League by finishing third after a goal from Malmo striker Markus Rosenberg gave the hosts a win that should have been by a wider margin.

Rosenberg’s goal came in the 17th minute, soon after Brazil international midfielder Bernard missed a chance for the visitors. Reading left-back Pa Konate’s run and cutback, the striker, formerly of West Brom, calmly and routinely sent a side-footed effort across goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov to give the hosts their first goal of this season’s group stage.

Their confidence grew after the goal and they improved, albeit against flat opponents, as the half progressed. Ten minutes after the break, when Jo Inge Berget was fouled in the area by Darijo Srna, Malmo were given a penalty.

Nikola Djurdjic’s reasonable effort was saved by Pyatov, however, keeping the visitors’ hopes of avoiding defeat alive. Shakhtar’s finest chance to equalise came in the 87th minute, when Taras Stepanenko missed the target when well placed, though given Malmo had also by now wasted enough chances to give them an unassailable lead, a goal for the visitors would have been unjust.

The teams meet again in Ukraine, on Nov. 3, when anything but victory for hosts Shakhtar would likely condemn them to bottom of the group.

Information from FOXSoccer.com’s newswire services contributed to this report.