This has been a tough campaign for Zinedine Zidane's side, whose hopes of retaining the La Liga title have already evaporated - Madrid currently find themselves 17 points behinds leaders Barcelona, and are therefore putting all their eggs in the basket marked 'Europe'. Zidane finds himself in a strange position at present: although he is under pressure given his team’s league form and could reportedly be sacked if los Blancos are eliminated by PSG, the former France international is potentially a few games away from securing his place in the history books with Madrid gunning for a third consecutive European Cup. They will hope their greater experience at this level will make the difference, but there are still a number of tactical issues which need to be resolved, particularly surrounding the recent performances of striker Karim Benzema. Cristiano Ronaldo has struggled in La Liga for much of the campaign, but it is notable that his form unaffected in the Champions League group stage, where he scored nine times in six games.
PSG looked to have finally cracked the Champions League last season, when they delivered what seemed to be a coming-of-age performance by thrashing Barcelona 4-0 in the first leg of their last-16 clash. That result put Unai Emery’s men among the favourites to go all the way, but they succumbed in humiliating fashion in the return meeting, going down 6-1 at the Camp Nou and exiting the competition. The club responded by smashing the world-record transfer fee and signing Neymar from Barca in the summer, with teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe also arriving at the Parc des Princes from Monaco. Ligue 1 has consequently been a stroll for the capital club, who are 12 points clear at the summit of the standings after 25 games, but the real test comes in Europe, and defeat by Madrid in the round of 16 would surely be fatal for Emery.
Zidane will have to make do without Daniel Ceballos (ankle) and Jesus Vallejo (thigh) for Wednesday's first leg, but he has no major injury concerns ahead of a game which could help determine his future at the Bernabeu. Dani Carvajal is suspended, however, and will probably be replaced at right-back by Nacho Fernandez, with Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane and Marcelo making up the rest of the back four. Zidane opted for a two-man midfield of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in the 5-2 victory over Real Sociedad last time out, but Casemiro will return to the engine room alongside the two aforementioned players, while Benzema looks set to start up top despite his struggles of late.
Emery will be unable to call upon the services of Thiago Motta, who is lacking match fitness after a calf problem, but Layvin Kurzawa and Edinson Cavani should be available after thigh and hip issues respectively. Mbappe has been out of sorts in recent weeks but still looks likely to get the nod ahead of Angel Di Maria, while Emery has a big call to make when it comes to choosing between Lassana Diarra and Giovani Lo Celso for the holding midfield role. Marco Verratti’s creativity will be key, and Marquinhos and Thiago Silva will have to keep things tight at the back if PSG are to pick up a positive result in Spain.
This looks set to be an intriguing encounter between the reigning European champions and the up-and-coming pretenders to their crown, and the outcome of the two-legged tie could have significant consequences for both clubs and both managers. Madrid have had an underwhelming season up to now but deserve to be considered favourites for the first leg, where home advantage and superior experience could prove decisive. A home win in a game featuring more than 2.5 goals in total could be worth backing here.