Real Madrid travel to the Parc des Princes for the return leg of their last-16 Champions League showdown with Paris Saint-Germain, holding a two-goal advantage. However, they could well be in for a long night.
The Ligue 1 champions-elect know they face an uphill challenge to claw their way back into the contest against the most successful side in the tournament’s history, but can draw on previous experiences against similar opposition to help them progress.
Almost 12 months ago to the day, PSG dissected a strong Barcelona outfit in the French capital – running out 4-0 winners – and despite eventually throwing their lead away in Spain, home comforts could well be the telling factor.
Paris under no uncertain terms have to enter the contest with a positive mindset, meaning Zinedine Zidane’s side could be staring at a backs-to-the-wall job with the hope of finding success via their preferred counter attack methodology.
So, bearing all that in mind, let’s take a look at four key battles that could very well decide if Real Madrid make the quarter-finals for the eighth consecutive season, or if PSG have the mental strength to do what they could not a year ago:
1. Angel Di Maria vs Dani Carvajal
With Neymar sidelined for up to three months, Angel Di Maria is hotly tipped to replace the world’s most expensive player come Tuesday evening.
Despite playing second fiddle for the most part, when the Argentine has been afforded opportunities to shine by boss Unai Emery, he has done just that – netting seven goals in his last six showings.
It will be the responsibility of Dani Carvajal to contain the former Los Blancos attacker, with the Spaniard getting his first taste of last-16 football after being suspended for the first-leg.
If the 26-year-old is able to mute Di Maria’s influence on proceedings, he could well cut off any attacking flow to the deadly pairing of Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani; something that is imperative if Real Madrid are to progress into the next round.
2. Marquinhos vs Cristiano Ronaldo
Although Emery overlooked Marquinhos during the contest at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium three weeks ago, it would be even more surprising to see the 46-year-old leave out one of his most valuable assets once again this time around.
However, if the Brazilian does get the nod, his duties will involve quashing the threat caused by in-form Cristiano Ronaldo; whose close-range finish alongside teammate Marcelo’s late volley in the opening tie currently sets the two outfits apart.
The Portugal international has found his name on the scoresheet 14 times in his last eight outings across all competitions, and unlike their trip to Barcelona last season, PSG are heavily reliant on keeping a clean sheet in order to come out on top.
3. Kylian Mbappe vs Marcelo
Despite Adrien Rabiot’s name being shone up in lights as Paris took the lead in the Spanish capital in mid-February, the goal was very much the work of Kylian Mbappe, who has been cleared to feature after missing his side’s 2-0 win over Troyes at the weekend.
Although Marcelo is no slouch himself, the Brazil international did struggle to keep pace with his French counterpart in the first-leg – with most of PSG’s joy coming down Real’s left-hand-side.
However, the world’s most expensive teenager must also maintain his defensive duties if the Ligue 1 leaders are to succeed on Tuesday, with the 19-year-old’s lack of tracking back affording the Real Madrid left-back the opportunity to rifle home Los Blancos’ third three weeks ago.
4. Edinson Cavani vs Keylor Navas
Edinson Cavani was virtually anonymous in the Bernabeu last month, with it clear to see his relationship with Neymar off the pitch is having severely detrimental implications on it.
But, with the poster-boy absent from proceedings this time around, the potent striker will be expected to have a much more significant impact on the contest, and Keylor Navas must be wary of this.
The Costa Rica international has been suspect to simple mistakes far too often this season for Zidane’s liking, even though the Frenchman continues to back his number one.
But the current holders cannot afford their 31-year-old custodian to be at anything but his best on Tuesday, and Cavani will be keen to test the shot-stopper’s confidence early on.