The Champions League returns with a bang on Tuesday as Paris Saint-Germain host Real Madrid in the first leg of their last-16 tie.
It was a clash that was not originally scheduled to happen when the Champions League draw was made in December. However, due to an error with the draw it was redone and the two sides, managed by Mauricio Pochettino and Carlo Ancelotti, were pitted against each other.
It will be the first meeting between PSG and Real in the knockout rounds since they met in the last 16 in 2017/18, when the Spanish side won 5-2 on aggregate.
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Ahead of the clash we asked our reporters at Eurosport France and Spain to assess the strengths and weaknesses of both teams and where the tie could be won and lost.
Who do you think will be the key players?
Eurosport Spain's Ivan Castello: The big names, of course, will be the protagonists of a duel that is full of them, starting with the best in history, Lionel Messi, against the best Champions League club in history, Real Madrid.
Eurosport France's Cyril Morin: I'd say Kylian Mbappe. Because of all the history around him and Real Madrid. But mostly because if anything happens for PSG, he will be part of it, no doubt about him. He's the key player of PSG for several months now and his skills look quite threatening for Real Madrid defense. You can choose Messi, as well, because of what he represents but also because PSG brought him here just for theses games. He needs to step up and Real Madrid looks like the perfect match for that.
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What are the big decisions for Pochettino and Ancelotti?
IC: Risking the players chosen to play who can give everything despite their potential physical problems, such as Neymar and Karim Benzema, who have both been carrying injuries ahead of the tie.
CM: Pochettino already made one, choosing not to put Idrissa Gueye as a starter whereas his pressing skills might have been an oxygen bottle for Paris. Two mains questions remain now: who will start as goalkeeper? In the press conference, he didn't suggest any name but his strategy of alternating remains the same. So Keylor Navas might start this one. Secondly, will Neymar play? If so, can he start? From here, he might be a super-sub coming from the bench but it's difficult to imagine Pochettino putting him as starter whereas Di Maria may bring a better balance to the team defensively.
How do you think both sides will approach the first leg?
IC: For Real Madrid it is clear that they must be better to be able to pass and they will surely try to carry the weight of the game from the first moment. And if not, they have plenty of speed to be lethal on counterattacks. Vinicius Junior is on fire.
CM: I think Paris will try to have the ball control and Madrid will let them have it without a problem. Both team will be very scared of the counter-attack and fast transitions as these two teams might be the best in the world at doing it. So I imagine a game without many risks, without much sign of disorganisation. For me, it will be very tactical match.
How important would it be if Benzema is out?
IC: Benzema is a decisive player and as such has been looked after so he can play. Only Ancelotti knows if he will start or not, but he does know that he needs Benzema in the tie to be able to eliminate PSG. Gareth Bale, in his case, suddenly surprised against Villarreal at the weekend with his good performance and could indeed be one of the key players in the tie.
And also how important is it for PSG that Neymar plays?
IC: We assume in Spain that he is a fundamental player because he always was, although going to PSG was a serious mistake for his own career, and the beginning of the Barcelona debacle.
CM: Well, very important. Just like Messi, he came here to help PSG in these type of games. He managed to do so sometimes in the last eight and even against Bayern last season. When he's fit, he has to play. But his physical form is a big question mark. So I see him enter in the game during the second half. Maybe earlier if PSG are in a bad situation.
What areas of the pitch will the tie be won and lost?
IC: In both boxes. Here the one who scores has already won a lot in a new football without twice the value of the away goals.
CM: I will make an alternative suggestion: the right side of PSG versus the left side of Madrid. This left side is the one where Real are very powerful. It allows Real to solve many problems in terms of construcing their game. If Paris managed to limit the Mendy-Kroos-Vinicius influence, Real will be powerless. That's why Pochettino might chose to put Di Maria (a harder worker defensively than Messi) on this flank but also put Danilo Pereira here to cover Hakimi and help against Mendy's actions.
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