With two wins out of two apiece, both Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain should already feel confident of making it into the Champions League knockout phase. But which of the European heavyweights does so as group winners is likely to be decided in two head-to-head clashes, the first of which is set for the Stade de France on Wednesday evening.
On paper it is arguably the most enticing match of the group phase. Ten-time champions Real Madrid going up against the French champions still looking to make a major breakthrough on the European stage since joining the ranks of the mega-rich.
Ligue 1 winners for the past three seasons, in each of those campaigns PSG have seen their Champions League hopes dashed in the quarterfinals. Barcelona have accounted for them twice, with Chelsea doing the damage in between. The task for Laurent Blanc is to start beating the continent’s blue bloods and close in on lifting the European Cup for the first time.
In an effort to get to that point, PSG again invested heavily this summer, and have added a player familiar with the feeling of grabbing the most prestigious prize in club soccer. Ángel di María was a vital part of Real Madrid claiming their historic La Décima in 2014, and was even voted man of the match in the final against Atlético Madrid. Despite that success, his lack of a superstar profile meant Real Madrid were happy to sell him to Manchester United that summer. Yet his time in England was a huge disappointment and just a year later they accepted a significant loss to allow him to depart for Paris for €63 million.
The Argentinian netted his first goal for PSG in their 2-0 victory over Malmo to open their Champions League campaign and played his part, too, in a 3-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk three weeks ago. Di María revealed that he would not celebrate if he finds the net against Real Madrid, yet did state that he believes his new team is capable of replicating his success with his former club.
“We'll fight together to win the Champions League,” he told Canal +. “Besides my arrival, PSG have a team of great quality. With the players we have here, we can do it.”
Meanwhile, Real Madrid will have to do without the man who effectively replaced Di María at the Bernabeu, James Rodríguez . The Colombian has managed just two appearances this season because of injury, and he won’t be the only one to miss out on Wednesday. Dani Carvajal and Pepe continue to be sidelined, while the world’s most expensive player, Gareth Bale, reinjured his calf muscle in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Levante. Luka Modric and Karim Benzema are still striving to regain fitness in time to play a part in Paris.
Although captain Sergio Ramos is expected to be fit, it is still hardly an ideal scenario for manager Rafael Benitez as he prepares for his first real European test since taking over at the Bernabeu this summer. And, although Madrid sit top of La Liga on goal difference from Celta Vigo and Barcelona, the Spaniard still has many people to win over following plenty of skepticism surrounding his appointment.
In terms of fixtures, Benitez has had a relatively kind start to his reign, yet against Levante Madrid were again far from dominant and required some further impressive saves from goalkeeper Keylor Navas. Still, Madrid, like PSG, are unbeaten so far this season, and will doubtless be happy for it simply to remain that way after Wednesday night.