There are plenty of mouthwatering last-16 ties as the Champions League moves into the knockout stage – but none as appetising as Real Madrid v PSG.
The narrative is obvious – Real, European champions for three out of the past four seasons and the traditional big boys, against the young upstarts PSG, who have the most expensive footballer of all time, and are hoping to lift the trophy for the first time.
Failure is not an option for either side, but one will have to depart well before the competition reaches its business end.
Zinedine Zidane has been Real manager for two years – and won the Champions League twice. However, past performances mean little at the Bernabeu, and with Madrid sitting 17 points off Barcelona in La Liga in fourth, only another trophy will do to save his job.
PSG boss Unai Emery has overseen one of the most lucrative transfer spends of all time, with the French club’s Qatari owners piling over £380m into the club over the summer, with the sole aim of winning the Champions League.
Neymar’s world record £200m fee was followed by £166m for Kylian Mbappe, and given the huge investment, last-sixteen elimination would be a huge embarrassment for the Parisians.
PSG weren’t always European challengers, however. From 2004/05 to 2012/13, the French club didn’t even qualify for the Champions League – before that Qatari investment kicked in, of course.
Meanwhile, Real, the most successful side in European Cup history, with 12 titles, haven’t missed a season of the Champions League since 1996/97, and have long been known for flashing the cash.
But while the ‘Galactico era’ that Zidane spent at the club as a player was known for its extravagance, Real’s spending has now been overtaken by PSG’s.
In fact, our research has found that since Qatar Sports Investments took over PSG in 2011, they have spent over double the amount of Real – and those additions of Neymar and Mbappe have taken their spending over the £1b mark.
That’s well over the £490.1m Real have spent in the same period, which included the then world record fee of £85m for Gareth Bale in 2013.
Interestingly, since the arrival of Bale, Real have noticeably eased off on their expenditure.
The last two summers have seen just £68.9m’s worth of talent through the doors of the Bernabeu, as Zidane has switched transfer focus to developing talent rather than established stars – the polar opposite of PSG’s lavish strategy.
The current state of affairs is a far cry from a decade or so ago.
Back then, PSG were barely registering as a speck on Real’s periphery, as the Spanish giants spent money like it was going out of fashion.
The French club spent just 6% (£13m v £231m) of Real’s transfer fees in 2009/10, and 9% (£8.1m v £83.7m) the following year.
Contrast that to 908% (£380.2m v £41.9m) this season – a sign of how much things have changed.
While the financial landscape between the clubs has clearly shifted, their on-field performance hasn’t.
Real have made at least the semi-finals in each of the last seven seasons, lifting the trophy three times, and are well established as one of Europe’s elite.
PSG, however, are yet to make it past the quarter-finals – despite qualifying for the knockout stages in each of the last five seasons, they have never been into the last four.
As the pair prepare to face for the first leg in the Bernabeu tonight, PSG have the chance to lay down a marker to the rest of Europe that they mean business and should be taken seriously as potential winners of the competition.
The Qatari owners surely won’t tolerate another season of expensive failure – but as Real Madrid have shown over the past few seasons, money alone doesn’t necessarily win the Champions League.
Photo Credit: SCANPIX / PASCAL PAVINI