Both Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid are sitting at the summit of their domestic leagues. Undefeated in all competitions. Tipped to win domestic titles. And of course both in the frame for lifting the Champions League.
This PSG side has been imperious so far this season but tonight comes the biggest test of all. It is our first meeting with Los Blancos for over two decades in European competition. This clash as well as the one in Madrid in a few weeks time will go a long way in determining who finishes top of the group.
We only have to look back at what happened last season against Barcelona. Facing a juggernaut in European football, we beat them at the Parc des Princes but ultimately missed out by losing the reverse fixture in the final group game to lose that top spot. Even though we overcame Chelsea in the last-16, we were undone by being drawn with Barca again but this time in the quarter-final. Finishing top of the group and with it avoiding the bigger hitters in the competition does make such a difference when it comes to the knock-out stage. Without being disrespectful to Malmo or Shakhtar, it appears as if it will be a straight shootout between Real and ourselves as to who finishes 1st and 2nd.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who became Real’s all-time leading scorer this past weekend, will be the main attacking threat on the counter-attack. PSG coach Laurent Blanc said there will be no special plan to stop CR7 in yesterday’s pre-match presser. As quoted by UEFA.com, he said; “I love everything about Cristiano Ronaldo. Just look at his statistics. He’s one of two extraterrestrials gracing modern football (Lionel Messi the other). He’s good in all departments. He’s fast, takes on defenders, scores goals. So yes, we’ll have an eye on him. There will be no anti-Ronaldo plan, nothing specific – just to be vigilant at all times.”
LB was keen to emphasise that PSG will do their utmost to dictate the possession against the visitors. He believes Real will arrive at the Parc des Princes in a cautious manner, looking to stun us on the counter. He said; “Everyone knows our philosophy. We like to put our opponents in difficulty by playing in their half. To me, Real have seemed pretty defensive since the start of the season, but they are very effective. They’ve only conceded two goals. So there will be two different philosophies up against each other. Real like to defend deep and make the most of the space. The paradox is that their opponents think they are close to scoring just before they end up conceding. If they let us have the ball, we’ll accept it with open arms. But we’ll have to watch out on the counter.”
You just have to pinch yourself really from a Parisian perspective when you hear the PSG coach speak like that against a club of Real’s calibre. He is talking about taking the game to Los Blancos, dictating the play. Who would have thought that four years ago? Yet here we are rubbing shoulders with the 10-time winners of this competition looking to win – and absolutely no reason why we cant!
Rafael Benitez is without key personnel. Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Pepe and Karim Benzema. As for ourselves, David Luiz was of course already ruled out but Kevin Trapp has made a speedy return and could feature, as has Marco Verratti who missed the 2-0 win away to Bastia last weekend.