(By Rahul Pandey)
The season of love for some might be finished as soon as the clock hits the midnight mark on 14 February 2018. But for many it would be the beginning. The UEFA Champions League is back ladies and gentlemen and it seems as though the blockbuster has come too early. Many might argue but this is the game, which would decide the fate of the season. Perhaps i should call it ‘the’ clash, but let us bring it down to the table as Real Madrid vs PSG, as it carries the quite a weight itself. Two sides who have the best possible 22 players to be lined up against each other. The journey to this stage although has been quite contrasting but if we just sit down and break it piece by piece we would get to know the sheer intensity and importance of this showdown. So let’s get started with 5 pre match talking points that will decide the final result of this glamorous tie.
1. Attacking flair
They are perhaps the two most feared attacking prowess’ in the world. The difference is that, one has done it over a long course of time and hasn’t been able to do recently while the other has been vice-versa. Counter attacking has been at the centre of the success rate. Neymar was quite used to perform as MSN. More so has been the resemblance in attacking strategy of MCN [Mbappe-Cavani-Neymar]. With pace, strength and accuracy, the trio has already scored more than 60 goals in all competitions this season. Madrid on the other hand haven’t been able to make the most of their attacking options. BBC [Bale-Benzema-Cristiano] have barely got to play alongside each other due to suspensions and injuries. Even when they have featured, the instinct of goal poaching has been missing. Despite of having a hard time, Cristiano Ronaldo has been the top goal scorer in the Champions League this season with 9 goals in 6 games. Which brings us to the ultimate battle, Neymar vs Ronaldo. In all ways seems this seems to be the battle of Present vs Future. So no matter how hard anyone tries to deny it, one of these two men would decide the fate of the tie.
2. Depth in squads
How far a team goes in a season as a potential threat, depends on the depth of their squad. To much of a coincidence, Paris Saint Germain’s squad this season is the same as the Madrid squad from last season. Real who had the likes of Asensio, Isco, Vasquez, Kovacic at the beginning of this season haven’t been given much of play time by the boss, who has kept his prolonged trust in players as Karim Benzema clearly in vain. This might come to haunt Madrid as it did against Tottenham and Barcelona. On the other hand when PSG flooded the transfer market earlier this season it was being thought of as a major disadvantage for the dressing room atmosphere with players like Angel Di Maria, Julian Draxler, Javier Pastore who won’t get much space amidst the MCN. The outcome as we know has been quite the opposite with all the players delivering when needed. It is a luxury asset that PSG will have when they walk in the Bernabeu on Wednesday.
3. The Battle of Midfield
FIFA ratings might not be the best criteria to judge here. Modric,Kroos, Casemiro, Isco, one can’t muster a better midfield, or is it? Madrid’s expansive midfield hasn’t been able to supply the best pathways to goals this season. To add to it, the strikers have made it look more worse. Well if we look at PSG’s midfield it hasn’t been as impressive as the front or backline but it has been able to stay with the ball on their feet. Verrati, Rabiot, Diarra have all delivered the front 3 with the best possible chances, although Thiago Motta’s injury might play it’s part. That kept in mind, if we look on big game performances then i’ll surely look on the white side in this department. The Madrid midfield has been more reliable in big games but with little sign of form this season the Los Blancos need to keep their fingers crossed.
4. The Backline
Another department where Madrid look stronger on the paper but haven’t been the same on the pitch. PSG have enjoyed the results in both. When they lost 6-1 to Barcelona last season,the one thing that Paris were missing was strecthing the game wide on the wings. But with the signing of Dani Alves, they have been lended a different aspect to their game. Him alongside Thiago Silva and Marquinhos have given glimpses of an all Brazilian defence that would be put on show in Russia, this summer. Injury might again play it’s part as in form Centre-Back Layvin Kurzawa is doubtful to feature on Wednesday with a prominent thigh injury. The weight of the occassion might just be good for the Madrid Glitzeratti who are used to watch Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Dani Carvajal put up a show on the big stage, but with the current scenario kept in mind Madrid fans need to keep both their fingers crossed.
Certainly one big aspect that favours the Parisians. While Madrid have spilled up easy points both away and home, their counterparts have achieved formidable results, especially at Parc de France which they have made a fortress of their own with 12 out of 12 wins in League games this season. Last week brought the Bernabeu back on it’s feet with a 5-2 win against Real Sociedad, including a hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo. For the fans it would surely be enough, however the current PSG as we mentioned earlier is the reflection of last year’s Madrid team who got the goals and the results from the most challenging circumstances. Madrid surely are PSG’s biggest challenge this season, and the latter’s momentum is above the par requirement to get past a team of Real’s stature, if we look back at what Tottenham did to them at Wembley.
The Tie Verdict:
All aspects taken into consideration, it is surely the game that would play the part in deciding this season’s champion. With a couple of injury issues and a spark of comeback, last week, Madrid just has a little bit of an advantage in the first leg, but if Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t fire up and PSG scores in the away game, i would be really surprised to see Real Madrid win this tie.