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Champions League: PSG, Real Madrid in Valentine’s quarterfinal duel

© Lionel Bonaventure, AFP | Paris Saint-Germain training on February 13, 2018 on the eve of the Champions' League football match against Real Madrid.

Text by Yann BUXEDA

Latest update : 2018-02-14

PSG has its first hot date of the season lined up against Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League. What’s at stake? A qualification for the quarterfinal – and potentially much more.

This Valentine’s Day is a day for lovers – football lovers, that is.

And it will be the pairing of Cristiano Ronaldo for Real Madrid and Paris St Germain’s Neymar, that is likely to keep fans enthralled as the star rivals face off on Wednesday in a first-leg round of 16 match at Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

It’s a duel that could prove a game changer for the ambitious Paris team, which is on a mission to establish itself as a leading competitor among Europe’s elite.

Even Real’s normally taciturn manager Zinedine Zidane has spoken out about the tense face-off. “We have prepared as we usually do,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday. “Certainly tomorrow (Wednesday) there will be a bit more pressure than usual, but I’m going to enjoy it.”

After an abrupt exit from the King’s Cup at the quarter-final stage, and straggling behind in the Spanish league, Real Madrid is counting on a Champions League win to save their season.

Real Madrid has been suffering humiliation in La Liga for several months now. It’s an unusual event to see Los Blancos so far down the league tables, with 17 points between them and their long-time rival Barça.  

The King’s Cup could have provided the breath of fresh air that Real so badly needed, but turned into a missed opportunity when the Madrileño favourites were kicked out in the quarterfinals by Leganés (0-1, 0-2)   much to the suprise and disappointment of their fans.

Real Madrid are the League’s two-time defending champions, and also boast the greatest record as a 12-time European champion, but it seems that lately their luck has been running low. If Real continue in the same vein, it could provide the break that PSG needs to propel it into Europe’s top league.

PSG on a mission to rewrite history

On the Paris side of things, the gods seem to have been smiling on PSG. They’re 12 points ahead in France’s Ligue 1, with over three goals scored on average per match, and have an almost entirely full team, leaving behind only midfielder Thiago Motta from their squad for the Spain trip.

PSG has grown up a lot since their horrifying defeat to Barcelona at the same stage of the competition last year (4-0, 1-6), and now they’ve added to their arsenal with Brazilian powerhouse Neymar.

What could let Paris down is the team’s record of poor performance when playing away from home. Their defeat on the Bayern Munich pitch (1-3) this season has revived some doubts about the player’s capabilities on different turf.

This match is a clash of the titans, with star players on each side presenting a formidable challenge. There’s the ‘MCN’ triptych on the Parisian side, composed of Mbappé, Cavani and Neymar; and on the other, Madrid’s traditional ‘BBC’: Bale, Benzema and Cristiano [Ronaldo]. These six stars potentially have their managers’ fates in their hands. Because, whatever the outcome of the match, the losing coach will have to fight to save his place. For Zidane, it could be the hit to knock him off his perch, after two successful seasons. And for Emery, another early defeat in the Champions League could cost him his blue jersey.

Either way sparks are set to fly with Wednesday's match likely to be decisive for both teams: launching PSG into the top league and shaking Real Madrid’s foundations even further, or confirming the latter’s status as defending champions.

This article was adapted from the original in French by Catherine Bennett.

Date created : 2018-02-14

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