Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain take centre stage on Wednesday night as the two juggernauts battle it out in the heavyweight tie of the Champions League last 16.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar will likely be centre of attention, but both sides possess a wealth of talent capable of changing the match in a blink of an eye.
Here, we look at the key battles which will form the basis of what we all hope will be a thrilling spectacle in Madrid.
CRISTIANO RONALDO V NEYMAR
Shot accuracy: 46%-50%
Key passes: 1-20
It’s a case of the present meeting the future as veteran marksman Ronaldo comes up against one of the game’s brightest young talents in Neymar.
It could also provide a glimpse into Real Madrid’s own future with the brilliant Brazilian supposedly being fitted for a bright white shirt in the Spanish capital.
Ronaldo has always had his detractors, critics who claim he’ll never be remembered as a true equal to Lionel Messi, but this season his form in front of goal has dropped.
The 33-year-old has returned to his best in recent weeks, scoring seven goals in his last four La Liga outings, including a hat-trick in Saturday’s 5-2 defeat of Real Sociedad.
Two braces against Deportivo and Valencia confirm Real’s talisman is hotting up when it matters most.
While Real have struggled in the face of Barca’s brilliance domestically this season, Ronaldo has driven them and himself on in Europe, where he broke yet another record before Christmas, becoming the first player to score in every single Champions League group game.
He’s also the competition’s highest scorer ever with 115 – 18 more than Messi.
On the other side of the pitch will be Neymar, who surprisingly left Spain last summer after failing to really shine in Messi’s shadow. He’s predictably been purring in Paris, even if his talent appears wasted in an inferior league.
The Samba sensation has netted 28 times in 27 games for PSG in all competitions this term, including 11 in his last eight appearances.
He’s joint second in this season’s goalscoring charts – behind Ronaldo’s nine – on six, while only James Milner (yes, James Miler) – has more assists (5) than Neymar’s four.
LUKA MODRIC V MARCO VERRATTI
Key passes: 5-7
Pass completion: 89%-94%
While Ronaldo is very much the centre of attention at Los Blancos, the real star at Real in recent years has been Luka Modric, who has been one of Europe’s best creative sparks.
The crafty Croat dictates the Madrid tempo in midfield alongside Toni Kroos, with the marauding Casemiro providing the freedom for Modric and Kroos to set up attacks and feed the frontmen.
While he doesn’t possess lung-busting pace or power, he is rarely dispossessed, although he has lost some of his consistency this season and if rumours are to be believed, the 32-year-old is one of the players under threat of the axe this summer.
He only has one assist and one goal in the Champions League this season while his 89 percent pass success rate is only good enough for 10th place among midfielders who’ve made 380 passes or more, and just five key passes made. Although he still has the guile to make things happen, it appears his powers are waning.
While Modric may be on the move this summer, the only place Verratti seems to be going is closer towards the standards set by the ex-Tottenham man. The Italian is one of the best performing midfielders in the Champions League this season, having made 573 passes at an average of 97.2 per game – only Ever Banega (711) has made more.
His 94 percent success rate though puts him right near the very top, with only Scott Brown (97), Steven N’Zonzi (96) and Sergio Busquets (95) above him who’ve made 300 passes or more.
Unlike many of his peers, Verratti thrives on breaking up the play of PSG’s opponents and then distributing the ball to his teammates with more flair. His awareness and positioning are both excellent. His high success rate for tackles and interceptions means he’s constantly focused throughout the 90 minutes.
MARCELO V DANI ALVES
Pass completion: 81%-86%
Total passes: 324-445
Tackles won: 22-3
Aerial duels won: 6-1
Two fierce competitors whose chief concerns are preventing their teams from conceding goals, but whose real value arrives in how effective they are at starting and joining their attacks.
Marcelo and Alves are two modern great full-backs, equally adept at halting opposing wingers in their tracks as they are bombing forward and contributing an attacking threat.
Marcelo, who was prone to errors in his early Madrid career, has significantly cut out a lot of the mistakes which diminished his overall quality to establish himself as one of, if not the, world’s best left-back.
Going forward, he has taken huge strides in recent years, displaying significantly improved on-the-ball skills and passing creativity to help carry the weight of Madrid’s attack, recording high figures for both assists and even goals.
He will have his work cut out on Wednesday as he is likely to be tasked with shackling one of the most electrifying talents in the game, Kylian Mbappe.
As for veteran Alves, he has been a pioneer of the new, modern-day full-backs, helping to redefine the position. And despite winding down his career, he is still a ball of energy on the right flank, who shows no signs of fading.
Despite turning 35 in May, no defender has attempted more passes in the Champions League this season than the Brazilian (445) other than Man City’s Nicolas Otamendi.
Only Aleksandar Kolarov, Alex Telles and tonight’s opponent Marcelo have attempted more crosses.
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