Spanish giant Real Madrid will today host French side Paris Saint-Germain at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu for the first leg of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.
Striker Edinson Cavani believes Paris Saint-Germain are still growing and should not be under pressure to win the Champions League.
The runaway Ligue 1 leaders face Real Madrid on Wednesday in the first leg of their stand-out last-16 tie but Cavani has attempted to play down expectations.
He told Spanish newspaper Marca: “I believe it is unnecessary that a club like PSG has the obligation to win the Champions League at all costs, regardless of their signings.
“I think there is a story, a myth, created around the Champions League. Of course, it is the greatest of all competitions but for me, the league is very important – it is the result of a whole year’s work.
“This game at the Bernabeu is another step in the growth of the club in recent years. We want to be better each year and continue to grow with the club.”
Big-spending PSG memorably lost to Barcelona at the same stage last season, winning the first leg 4-0 before Neymar – now with the French club following a world record £198m move – inspired Barca to a 6-1 win in the return game.
Adrien Rabiot insists that all that stands between PSG and Champions League glory this term is self-belief.
“The Champions League is a very different competition to Ligue 1 or the domestic cups,” Rabiot told PSG’s official club website.
“We approach these games differently, the pressure is different too. You need to be mentally strong to get the result in these Champions League matches.
“I have no doubt that is what cost us the previous years. We need to be psychologically ready.”
Real are fourth in La Liga – 17 points adrift of leaders Barcelona – and the future of manager Zinedine Zidane as manager rests on the last-16 tie.
But ahead of facing his countrymen, a relaxed Zidane played down speculation over his future, saying: “I am only thinking about the match. I can only control what happens on the field and prepare for that.
“That is what is important. My future does not matter much.”
Real Madrid will be without full-back Dani Carvajal through suspension, meaning Raphael Varane could play on the right of defence with Nacho partnering Sergio Ramos in the centre.
Jesus Vallejo and Dani Ceballos are also set to miss out through injury while Zidane will have to make a call on whether to start Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo as a front three.
Paris Saint-Germain head coach Unai Emery has left Thiago Motta out of the squad heading for the Spanish capital.
Former Real midfielder Lassana Diarra is set to start in his place behind the star-studded front three of Neymar, Cavani and Kylian Mbappe.
- PSG have eliminated Real Madrid in their two previous knockout encounters (1992/93 UEFA Cup, 1993/94 Cup Winners Cup), both times in the quarter-finals.
- Under Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid have won 10 of their 14 Champions League knockout games (D2 L2), lifting the trophy twice in as many seasons. As part of this run, they’ve won all six of their games at the Bernabeu.
- Real Madrid have reached the semi-finals in each of the last seven Champions League campaigns, also a record run in the history of the competition.
- Last season, Real Madrid became the first team since Inter Milan in 2010 to win the Champions League after having finished second in their group.
- PSG scored 25 goals in this season’s group stages, a record in the group phase of the competition.
Real Madrid have got zero to play for other than the Champions League and have the added incentive of the hat-trick, so they’re a dangerous beast.
They’re in a similar situation to Chelsea with the players and all of their egos expecting Zinedine Zidane to pay the price for their poor season. I bet he’d love to play the younger players, throw Marco Asensio in for Cristiano Ronaldo, but I can’t see that happening.
They’re big-time players and they could turn up and smash PSG, but I think it will actually be the visitors’ stars who step up here, with Neymar really relishing the occasion.
My dream final would be PSG v Barcelona, or maybe Manchester City, and I think the visitors will shine brighter in this stardust covered tie.
Charlie predicts: 2-3 and Neymar to score first (55/1 with Sky Bet)
Real Madrid are Sky Bet’s marginal favourites at 11/8 with PSG priced at 13/8 while the draw is a 14/5 shot. It is, however, Neymar and Edinson Cavani who command marginal favouritism in the first goalscorer betting at 7/2 to Cristiano Ronaldo’s price of 4/1.
Possible starting XI for Real Madrid: Navas; Fernandez, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo
Possible starting XI for PSG: Areola; Alves, Marquinhos, Silva, Berchiche; Verratti, Diarra, Rabiot; Mbappe, Cavani, Neymar