Real Madrid host PSG tonight in the first knock-out round of the Champions League, and Los Blancos could face an uphill battle against the free scoring Parisians. PSG are currently experiencing a fantastic season in Ligue 1, and appear to have finally become a true European superpower following the marquee signings of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe last summer. Real Madrid are still hot favourites to win the Champions League this season, having claimed back-to-back titles in 2015/16 and 2016/17; however, the Spanish giants have struggled for results over the last few months, and are now viewed by many as underdogs heading into tonight’s match.

Just 12 months ago, anyone in their right mind would have favoured Real Madrid to beat PSG in a one off match, but such is the fragile nature of football, that Zinedine Zidane’s side could be just hours away from an historic Champions League defeat. PSG are dangerous, dynamic, defensively sound, possess a solid goalkeeper in Alphonse Areola, and of course, have a fabulous front three in Neymar, Edinson Cavani, and Kylian Mbappe. Madrid on the other hand, have lost to Tottenham, Leganes, and Girona, and been held to draws by Fuenlabrada, Celta Vigo, and Levante.

If you’re mate gave you the option to pick one of these teams on FIFA 18, granted you’d probably side with Real Madrid. In reality however, they head into tonight’s match with chip on their shoulder, and a huge point to prove.

Fortunately, Madrid have a wealth of talent in their starting XI, and should Zinedine Zidane get his tactics right in the few key areas, Madrid could find a way to stop PSG.

Alphonse Areola v Sergio Ramos

Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema may seem like the most obvious attacking outlets for Madrid tonight, with Ronaldo in particular being able to provide individual moments of magic. However, in Layvin Kurzawa and Dani Alves, PSG have two high-energy full-backs, that could keep Madrid’s front line occupied for large portions of the match. Don’t be surprised to see attacking midfielder Isco emerge as the furthest man forward for the home side tonight.

In a face paced game with an increased possibility of turnovers and frequent man marking, goals may come from unlikely sources, and it is here that Madrid can expose one of PSG’s few weaknesses.

Alphonse Areola is one of Ligue 1’s more robust goalkeepers, and his positioning is often called into question. Should Madrid get any corners or long free-kicks, expect to see Areola flying out to meet them. Fortunately, Madrid captain Sergio Ramos is one of the world’s best when it comes to anticipating set-piece crosses, and any confusion in the PSG box would be massively beneficial to Madrid.

Casemiro v Neymar

Edinson Cavani will undoubtedly be PSG’s most advanced striker, but both Neymar and Kylian Mbappe can excel in a No. 9 role. What’s more, is the two new boys are usually given permission to drift in and out of position behind Cavani, employing superb link-up play, crosses, and shooting from a range of areas around the box. Madrid may attempt to man mark PSG’s forward three, but when full-backs Marcelo and Carvajal drift forward, they could leave themselves exposed – particularly when play transitions in the middle of the park.

Casemiro (or whoever plays in the defensive midfield role tonight) will have the responsibility of protecting the back four. He will be charged with dictating the game in the central areas, blocking PSG’s creative midfielders Marco Verratti and Adrien Rabiot, and keeping tabs on a roaming Neymar.

To do this, Casemiro will need to make sure that PSG’s midfielders are forced to make central passes, rather than firing the ball up towards their wide attackers. When play transitions, the Brazilian will also be tasked with keeping track of Neymar’s runs, and helping to organise Madrid’s defenders accordingly.

It’s simple really, disrupt the space between PSG’s midfield and attack, and try to keep Neymar out of the game as much as possible. Whether it will play out like that remains to be seen.

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Photos: Getty