PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain remain optimistic that they can record what would be the biggest victory since the Qatari takeover of the club, even with Neymar out injured, when they face Real Madrid on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila).
A late collapse saw PSG lose 3-1 in Madrid last month in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie. And they come into Tuesday’s return without Neymar, as the world’s most expensive player recovers in Brazil from a foot operation.
Despite that blow, and the prospect of having to overturn such a deficit against the two-time reigning European champions, PSG are not throwing in the towel as they bid to reach the quarter-finals.
“I think that we need games like this and to beat these teams to take a step forward and so that our opponents really take notice of PSG, and don’t just think we have loads of money,” said Dani Alves, who played in two Champions League final victories for Barcelona and was in the Juventus side beaten by Real in last season’s final.
“I said last summer when I was presented here that I wasn’t coming just to live in Paris or take the money. I came here because I am a competitor,” added Alves, speaking to media at the Parc des Princes on the eve of the game.
After Qatar Sports Investments bought the club in 2011, PSG had four successive quarter-final defeats in the Champions League before the humiliation in Barcelona in the last 16 a year ago.
A failure to turn the tie around on Tuesday would mean PSG being eliminated by one of Spain’s big two for the fourth time in six seasons.
“PSG have had their limits in this competition in the past and now we need to go beyond them to keep on progressing as a club,” added Alves.
Neymar’s absence is an obviously huge blow, but Alves and coach Unai Emery both insisted that Paris have enough quality in their ranks to cope without him.
“When one player is missing, it opens the door for someone else, and I know that whoever comes in through that door will do so with all their force,” said Emery.
Angel Di Maria, who won the Champions League with Real in 2014, is likely to be the major beneficiary of Neymar’s absence.
The Argentine has been PSG’s form player with 13 goals in 14 starts in 2018, although he has played just 67 minutes in the Champions League this season.
“He is a spectacular player, who made history with Real Madrid. He can play in any position across the middle, he moves well, has a good shot, and is quick,” said Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane.
No margin for error
Di Maria has a point to prove, as does Emery, who took charge of his 100th PSG game at the weekend.
His contract expires in June and there is surely no prospect of a renewal in the event of a defeat, even with PSG on course for a domestic clean sweep.
The pressure is also on Zidane, albeit less so after the manner of their first-leg victory.
Cristiano Ronaldo, whose brace in the first leg took him past 100 Champions League goals for Real, is in form again and the Spanish giants have not been knocked out at this stage of the competition since 2010.
“Tomorrow (Tuesday), after the game, it’s going to be difficult for one of the two teams, but that is football,” said Zidane.
Fifteen points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona and out of the Copa del Rey, Real are throwing everything into their quest to win a third consecutive Champions League.
“That can mean added pressure or added motivation,” said captain Sergio Ramos. “We are focusing everything on the Champions League and the margin for error is minimal.”
Toni Kroos and Luka Modric trained on the Parc des Princes pitch on Monday evening and could play after spells on the sidelines with respective knee and thigh problems.
Javier Pastore, who had been a slight doubt with a calf problem, was named in the PSG squad.