Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid will meet today in the long-awaited first leg of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 clash. Ahead of the fixture, PSG Talk caught up with Football Espana’s Alan Feehely for an in-depth perspective on the La Liga powerhouse.
Which player should Paris Saint-Germain worry about the most?
Karim Benzema. When the Frenchman is playing Real Madrid are a completely different proposition but as things stand it’s uncertain whether he’ll be fit to start. He’s been included in the squad that travelled to France but he isn’t at 100%, although he’s of such importance to Carlo Ancelotti’s team that he might be risked at the Parc des Princes.
Benzema has provided 17 goals and seven assists in La Liga this season as well as five goals and an assist in the Champions League. Vinicius Junior is rightfully earning high praise for his efforts this campaign but it’s Benzema who’s undoubtedly the main man.
How are Real Madrid playing at the moment?
They’re playing well. So far Ancelotti’s second stint at the Santiago Bernabeu has been pretty much flawless where it really matters with Madrid currently sitting four points clear of Sevilla at the top of La Liga and having topped their Champions League group five points ahead of Internazionale. They’ve also won the Supercopa de Espana.
But they are fallible. Benzema’s absence makes the team far less threatening in the final third and they were knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Athletic Club earlier this month. They’ve dropped league points against Elche and Villarreal in recent weeks, although the latter result was certainly influenced by the fact their heads were already in France.
What will Real Madrid’s starting lineup look like?
Ancelotti has been relentlessly consistent in his selections so far this season, choosing to avoid rotation to the point of irritating some supporters who are afraid that their key men will pick up injuries heading into the final stretch of the season – Benzema’s recent issues proving that there’s weight to this theory.
The Italian’s first-choice eleven picks itself. Thibaut Courtois will start in goal behind a back four of Dani Carvajal, Eder Militao, David Alaba and Ferland Mendy. Casemiro will anchor the midfield with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric either side of him. Benzema will lead the line flanked by Marco Asensio. Of this team, only Benzema is a doubt to start tonight. The rest are pretty much nailed on.
What’s the final result of the tie going to be?
I think that Madrid will progress. Ancelotti commands undisputed authority in the dressing room and has the team working together, a pineapple in Spanish football parlance. This doesn’t seem to be the case in the opposite dressing room under Mauricio Pochettino.
Madrid are a team full of experienced players, many of whom have four Champions League titles under their belts. They should have enough to negotiate an admittedly tough tie although it’s true that the presence of Benzema could be the decisive factor from their perspective.
I think we’ll see a score draw at the Parc des Princes with Madrid winning by a single goal in the return leg at the Santiago Bernabeu at the beginning of March.