Real Madrid head to the Parc des Princes for their Champions League last-16 showdown with Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday evening knowing anything better or equal to a one-goal defeat will see them through to the quarter-final stages of the competition for the eighth consecutive season.
A brace from Cristiano Ronaldo and a late volleyed effort via defender Marcelo cancelled out Adrien Rabiot’s tidy opener and placed Los Blancos one step closer to becoming the first side to defend the Champions League crown for three years running.
Real Madrid 3-1 PSG FT:
Pass accuracy: 89%-87%
Chances created: 12-6
Two late Real Madrid goals sees them beat PSG in the first leg of their Champions League tie. pic.twitter.com/cIBbafp4PU
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 14, 2018
Since their Santiago Bernabeu Stadium victory over PSG in mid-February, Zinedine Zidane’s men have tasted defeat just once – going down 1-0 to Espanyol just under a week ago – with maximum points claimed from Real Betis, Leganes, Alaves and Getafe all building confidence in their run up the European bout.
Paris have also claimed four wins since that night in the Spanish capital; conceding just two goals in the process; however, have lost vital frontman Neymar to long-term injury and on the verge once again of underperforming on the grandest stage.
So, ahead of the mouthwatering second-leg, let’s take a look at all you need to know…
Real Madrid 3-1 Paris Saint-Germain (February 2018)
Although it was only three weeks ago, Real Madrid’s 3-1 win over PSG inside the overspilling Santiago Bernabeu Stadium is one of distinct note – partly because the two sides had only met each other twice previously in competitive matches, with both underwhelming.
Rabiot was able to latch onto Kyliam Mbappe’s cute cross into the area after the young French striker broke down the right wing to slide his effort past Keylor Navas and secure the travellers a much-needed away goal.
The 22-year-old’s first-half strike could have been much more influential, however, had it not been for Giovani Lo Celso hauling down Toni Kroos in the area on the stroke of half-time and offering Ronaldo the chance to square things up going into the break.
Despite looking comfortable on the ball, Unai Emery’s XI continued to struggle to create any clear-cut opportunities, with a dangerous cross into the area which just evaded Neymar’s outstretched leg the only sighting of note.
And the French outfit’s lacklustre attacking potency afforded the hosts to strike twice in quick secession following the introduction of Marco Asensio, with the young Spaniard drilling a cross into the area which was eventually turned home by Ronaldo, and also providing Marcelo the opportunity to lash home a late volley to give Zidane’s side a two-goal buffer heading into the return leg.
Mateo Kovacic vs Adrien Rabiot
Despite both Toni Kroos and Luka Modric returning to training in Madrid on Sunday, and the pairing part of the travelling contingent to Paris, Zidane may well think that fielding both could be too risky in such a high profile setting so quickly after returning.
If so, the Frenchman may well opt for Asensio and Isco alongside Casemiro and Mateo Kovacic as a midfield four, meaning it will be the latter pairing’s job to keep their PSG counterparts quiet as they hunt for a way back into the contest.
Kovacic has not played a great deal of football so far this term – completing 90 minutes on just four occasions – although his showings of late have been a significant improvement compared to those towards the back end of 2017.
When Kovačić gets dispossessed there’s 98% chance he’s going to recover it all by himself
— Ryan. (@Rygista) February 24, 2018
The Austrian-born Croatia international will, however, have his hands full when coming up against a nothing-to-lose Paris side, with Modric’s lack of concentration for a split second in the first-leg evidence of how crucial his role could be on Tuesday evening, with Rabiot losing the ex-Tottenham Hotspur ace only momentarily before slotting home.
When coming up against strong opposition in the past, the midfielder has been on occasion left wanting; with his questionable display in Barcelona’s 3-0 win at the Bernabeu earlier in the season telling.
But should Zidane be reliant on Kovacic on Tuesday evening, a contest in which Los Blancos’ season rests upon, the former Inter Milan man must be at the top of his game throughout.
Following the return to training of both Kroos and Modric – although the duo remain doubtful for Tuesday’s contest – defender Jesus Vallejo is the only unavailability within Zidane’s squad, with the 21-year-old still sidelined through injury.
Dani Carvajal will get his first crack at PSG this year, after missing the first-leg through suspension.
For the hosts, Neymar is the most significant exclusion after it was announced he would face surgery and a three-month wait to return, with it likely Angel Di Maria will take his place.
Javier Pastore, meanwhile, is the only other player doubtful within Emery’s ranks, meaning Mbappe is set to start after missing his side’s 2-0 win over Troyes at the weekend, and both experienced midfielders Lassana Diarra and Thiago Motta are available after missing the opening tie through injury.
PSG saw much of the ball in Spain three weeks ago, and it would be expected for the same theme to occur again.
Real Madrid prefer playing a more counter-attacking style of play, and with Les Parisiens the only one of the two with a need to score, it would not be a surprise to see the visitors create the odd chance here and there on the break, especially if they still hold an advantage in the latter stages.
An early goal for either side completely changes the complexion of the contest, but Los Blancos’ experience in these types of situations, alongside the hosts’ lack of, should undoubtedly shine through.
Score Prediction: Paris Saint-Germain 0-2 Real Madrid