The glamour tie of the last 16 pits Real Madrid against PSG, with the visitors holding a slender 1-0 advantage after Kylian Mbappe’s blockbuster last-gasp winner at the Parc des Princes three weeks ago.
After a colossal first leg of epic proportions, these two huge clubs, with A list casts, go head-to-head for a quarter-final place with PSG facing a daunting task of protecting a slim first-leg advantage at the Bernabeu.
With this year’s final having been moved to Stade de France in Paris, what better time for PSG to win their first continental crown?
Real Madrid in contrast are this competition’s record winners, with 13 titles to their name, including in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018. However, since defeating Liverpool in Kyiv, los Blancos have won just two of five knockout ties, falling at this stage to Ajax and Manchester City.
Real Madrid’s European pedigree is not up for debate, though, and Carlo Ancelotti’s side have at least responded to the 1-0 setback at PSG in ideal fashion, by securing three La Liga wins on the bounce, including a 4-1 demolition one of the better sides in LaLiga, Real Sociedad, in what was probably their most complete performance of the year. And so Madridistas are believing that they can pull off another memorable European Remontada on Wednesday night at the same venue, the venerable Santiago Bernabeu.
However, recent history is not on the hosts’ side, with Real Madrid being sent packing in the last-16 twice in the last three editions of the Champions League and only progressing from one of their last 10 knockout battles when losing the first leg.
While Ancelotti’s side are certainly welcoming PSG to the Bernabeu at a good time, Les Parisiens’ did not prepare for the second leg in ideal fashion as they fell 1-0 to Nice over the weekend.
As Nice manager Christophe Galtier bluntly put it during his post-match press conference, there is a PSG with Mbappe and a PSG without Mbappe, and the Aiglons coach’s words did indeed ring true during their heavyweight clash at the weekend.
With the suspended Frenchman helplessly watching on from the sidelines, PSG fell to a second defeat from three Ligue 1 matches, with Mauricio Pochettino cutting a frustrated figure on the touchline.
THE MESSI SUB-PLOT
This fixture reunites Lionel Messi with Real Madrid, a club against which he has made his name like no other. This will be his 47th match against Los Blancos and he goes seeking his 27th goal.
Among his most famous contributions was a remarkable individual effort in the Champions League semi-final of 2011, when he carved through the Madrid defence to score past Iker Casillas.
This is the type of moment that PSG are waiting for from Messi. The 34-year-old Argentine was lured to the French capital for exactly this type of match, with eye-popping money serving as the carrot.
After all, following a decade of Qatari ownership, the Champions League remains PSG’s great ambition. It has continually eluded them, despite millions poured into trying to win the competition.
Certainly, there are few players more qualified with regards to his history in the competition. He has lifted the trophy on four occasions and stands at second in the all-time lists for both goals and assists in the tournament.
PSG NEED MESSI TO RISE TO THE OCCASSION
Messi, who missed a penalty in the first leg, was part of a team that failed to break down Nice in a rare defeat for the Ligue 1 leaders on Saturday. Even the most ardent Messi supporter would be forced to admit that things have not gone according to plan at Paris Saint-Germain.
The former Barcelona talisman failed to register a single shot on goal in the shock to Nice. The last time Messi failed to register a shot in a game in any competition was against Real in the 2019 Copa del Rey semi-final and the last time the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner failed to register a shot in a league fixture was all the way back in the 2009/10 season.
Nobody, though, is about to write the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner off as a lost cause. A player of such talent is always only a matter of moments away from igniting something special, and that is especially the case in the biggest games.
It’s fair to say Messi’s scoring form in Ligue 1 has been disappointing compared to expectations. In the Champions League, he has delivered with five goals in six games, despite his potentially costly penalty miss in the first leg and if he shines in this Champions League clash and guides PSG to the last eight, all will be forgotten.
While Messi has celebrated Champions League glory on four occasions throughout his glittering career — four more times than PSG has tasted — his recent efforts in the competition have ended in early disappointment. Since winning his most recent Champions League crown in the 2014-15 tournament, Messi has seen the semifinals just once and hasn’t been back to the final.
Meanwhile, PSG came within 90 minutes in 2020, when they lost a tight final to Bayern Munich, and the opportunistic summer recruitment of Messi was made with the goal of taking that final step.
PSG have rarely seen the real Messi yet, but a successful performance against Real Madrid may just be the catalyst he needs to finally get going.
In 22 games at the Bernabeu, Messi has scored 15 goals, won 12 times, drew three times and lost seven. However, he’s not scored there since December 2017… and even that was a penalty. He’s also not scored in any of his last eight games against the Spanish giants.
Will that streak continue, or will he snap it and push PSG into the Champions League quarterfinals? We’ll find out tonight.
*Real Madrid have been eliminated from nine of their last ten knockout ties in the UEA Champions League when losing the first leg.
*PSG have been eliminated from three of their eight UEFA Champions League knockout ties when winning the first leg.
*Real Madrid have only lost one of the previous five games when hosting PSG in European competitions, winning the other four.
*PSG have won just one of their last eight Champions League away games against Spanish opposition (D2 L5).
*Real Madrid star Karim Benzema has scored 12 goals in his previous 11 Champions League home matches. Overall he has netted 64 goals for the La Liga side in the competition and is only behind Cristiano Ronaldo (105) and Raul (66) in the scoring charts for Los Blancos.
With Mbappe fresh and raring to go, PSG can certainly carve their way through an unfamiliar Real Madrid midfield, and attack may be the best form of defence for the visitors as they attempt to build on their slender advantage.
However, Ancelotti’s men are enduring a golden spell at their headquarters while PSG are flattering to deceive on their travels, so we are backing the Benzema and Vinicius-inspired Blancos to turn the tie on its head and crush Les Parisiens’ Champions League dreams for yet another year.
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