PSG-Real Madrid is more than Neymar vs Cristiano Ronaldo, says Zinedine Zidane

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Neymar faces Cristiano Ronaldo for the first time since leaving Spain.

Zinedine Zidane insists his own future has no bearing on Real Madrid‘s build-up to hosting Paris St Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Zidane’s role as Real boss has come under increasing scrutiny with the Madrid giants trailing bitter rivals Barcelona by 17 points in La Liga.

Former France midfielder Zidane helped Real retain the Champions League crown and lift the league title in Spain last term.

But despite Real’s struggles in the league, the 45-year-old insists both he and his top stars are in buoyant mood ahead of the Champions League last 16 first leg clash with PSG.

“I’m happy to be involved in such games, I don’t think there is any real pressure at the moment,” Zidane said in press conference on the club’s official website.

“We have prepared just as we always do and it’s true that pressure will always be there in the background. I’m going to enjoy this.

“I’m not thinking about my future, I’m just focused on tomorrow’s game.

“All of the training sessions, all of the games, they play a role for us and my future is not the key thing here.

“We don’t feel the pressure, we like playing games like this.”

Former Barcelona star Neymar will grace the Bernabeu in PSG colours this week, facing off against the hosts’ glut of fellow Galacticos.

Zidane believes Wednesday’s encounter will be far more than Cristiano Ronaldo versus Neymar however – and insisted there is no comparison between the two global superstars.

“We’ve been speaking about big players but tomorrow is a case of Real Madrid against PSG not Neymar against Cristiano,” Zidane said.

“Cristiano has done some extraordinary things and won five Ballon d’Or trophies. I’m not going to make any comparisons.

“We all know what Neymar can do on the pitch. He has real quality and often makes the difference. We’re not here for a showdown between those two, we’re here to watch Real Madrid take on PSG.”

Midfielder Adrien Rabiot insists however that all that stands between PSG and Champions League glory this term is self-belief.

Rabiot believes PSG should have toppled Real in Spain when losing 1-0 in the Champions League group stages in November 2015 – and has challenged Unai Emery’s men to make amends this week.

“We lost 1-0 but we really played well; I loved playing in that stadium,” Rabiot told PSG’s official club website.

“We haven’t been back since so we can’t wait to get there and we know it’s going to be a big game.

“We didn’t deserve to lose. We played really well and gave Real Madrid the runaround on their own turf, and not everyone can do that.

“We showed that day that Paris could play an important role in European football.

“The Champions League is a very different competition to Ligue 1 or the domestic cups, and the same goes for both teams.

“We approach these games differently, the pressure is different too.

“You need to be mentally strong to get the result in these Champions League matches.

“I have no doubt that is what cost us the previous years. We need to be psychologically ready.”

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Six top Arab players still in the Champions League and Europa League led by Liverpool's Mohamed Salah

Alex Broun 13/02/2018
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Arabic players are set to light up Europe’s two elite leagues as they get down to the pointy end.

Here are our top six Arabic players to watch out for in the knockout stages of the Champions League and the Europa League, headlined of course by the “Egyptian Messi”, Mo Salah:

Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)

v Porto (Feb 14 Estadio do Dragao, Mar 6 Anfield)

Any list of this kind has to start with the extraordinary Egyptian who has been absolutely magnificent since arriving from Roma to Liverpool in the middle of last year.

He has scored a stunning 29 goals this season, including five in the Champions League, plus a further eight assists and his partnership with Roberto Firmino gets better every match.

Yacine Brahimi (Porto)

v Liverpool (Feb 14 Estadio do Dragao, Mar 6 Anfield)

The talented Algerian has slotted in superbly on the left for Porto since his arrival from Granada in 2014.

He played all six of the group stage matches, playing 506 of a possible 540 minutes, scoring a goal and assisting another in the crucial 5-2 win over Monaco that saw Porto confirm their qualification for the knockout stages.

In all he has scored eight goals in 34 matches in all competitions for Porto this season.

Medhi Benatia of Juventus

Medhi Benatia in action for Juventus.

Medhi Benatia (Juventus)

v Tottenham (Feb 13 Juventus Stadium, Mar 7 Wembley)

The Moroccan centre back has been ever reliable at the heart of the Juventus defence this season with 21 appearances in all competitions, including five in the Champions League.

His growing understanding with Andrea Barzagli has been vital to Juve’s defensive solidity this season and he has also popped up with a couple of goals in Serie A, the first against Crotone and the second a crucial winner against AS Roma.

Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid)

v PSG (Feb 13 Bernabeu, Mar 7 Parc de Princes)

The 19-year-old Moroccan made history last year becoming the first Arabic player ever to play for the famous Los Blancos.

Achraf, or “Arra,” as his team-mates call him played the full 90 minutes against Spurs in his Champions League debut at the Bernabeu and backed it up by also playing the full match in the return fixture at Wembley.

“He had a lot of the ball; he didn’t look out of place at any stage,” El Pais journalist Pablo Perez said after the match. “He incorporated very well in attack. He didn’t suffer much in defence.”

We’ll have to wait and see if he appears in the knockout stages but its clear he has a big future ahead of him in Madrid.

Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal)

v Ostersund (Feb 15 Ostersund Arena, Feb 22 Emirates Stadium)

Along with Salah, Elneny played a key role in Egypt’s historic qualification for the World Cup.

Since his arrival at the Emirates in 2015 he has made 33 appearances for the Gunners contributing three assists.

The jury is still out with most Arsenal supporters about just how big a role Elneny can play for the Gunners but the 25-year-old is sure to feature as they try to go deep into the Europa League.

He’s played six matches in the tournament so far, scoring a goal in the 6-0 rout of BATE Borisov.

Sofiane Hanni (Spartak Moscow)

v Athletic Bilbao (Feb 15 Stadion Spartak, Feb 22 Estadio de San Mamés)

The 27-year-old Algerian attacking midfielder began the season at Anderlecht in Belgium where he played all six group matches of their unsuccessful Champions League campaign, even scoring against Bayern Munich.

On the January deadline day he joined Spartak Moscow in a three-and-half-year deal, which will now see him turn out for them in the Europa Laegue, starting with Athletic Bilbao on Thursday.

Hanni scored 18 goals in 61 league appearances for Anderlecht and led the Purple-Whites to league triumph last season as the captain.

He gained his first cap for  Algerian side in June 2016, aged 25, in an Africa Cup of Nations qualification match against Seychelles.

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Real Madrid tie sets stage for Neymar to launch Ballon d'Or claim

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This is why Neymar left Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain.

Sure, the money undoubtedly was a factor, but the biggest motivation to leave the Catalonia paradise and eject himself from potentially one of the greatest ever attacking triumvirates, was to step out of Lionel Messi’s shadow and assume a starring role.

Seeing as he dominates the narratives ahead of PSG’s trip to Real Madrid — mission accomplished … well, sort of.

Taking centre stage was never going to be a problem following his high-profile €222 million transfer that made him the most expensive player of all-time.

The second and third phases of his mission are slightly more daunting — win the Champions League and his first Ballon d’Or. Failing to do so would render his move to the French capital redundant.

Despite the fact that he’s been given every privilege at PSG, including jetting off for a week to celebrate his 26th birthday, the transition hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for Neymar.

And that started with a transfer saga that turned into a rather ugly affair with him storming off during a training session and Barcelona’s lawyers attempting to block the deal by pulling out every technicality in the book.

Having successfully made the switch, French football – predictably – hasn’t proved to be a very challenging landscape for the Brazilian who has nonchalantly cruised to 22 goals in 21 games in the domestic scene this season without breaking a sweat.

A strained relationship with Edinson Cavani, which often boils over on the pitch, hasn’t helped matters. After their initial clash over penalty-taking duties back in September, tensions ran high again last month in a fixture against Dijon.

Neymar, who scored four goals on the day, was jeered by his own fans when he refused to let the Uruguayan take a penalty in the 8-0 win which would’ve seen him become the club’s all-time leading goal-scorer.

PSG may not feel like home for the prodigious talent but he must keep his eye on the prize and remember why he’s there in the first place.

Facing Real Madrid and going toe-to-toe with five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo in the pursuit of European glory is just the kind of challenge that Neymar would have coveted.

Who will come out on top?

Who will come out on top?

This is the sort of game that has the potential to exalt him to the pinnacle of world football alongside Messi and Ronaldo and Madrid’s interest in the Brazilian has only raised the stakes.

Despite his recent upturn in form in La Liga, the Portuguese has had a difficult season with the team struggling to find their rhythm. At 33, whispers of Los Blancos being in the hunt for an heir to Ronaldo’s Bernabeu throne are steadily rising in decibels.

Neymar is the latest to emerge as a potential target exclusively for that purpose and it’s no surprise given that they lost out to Barcelona for the Brazilian’s signature when he first landed in Spain.

Florentino Perez has recently reiterated his desire to sign Neymar and a return to La Liga would seem like an appealing next chapter in his career but not before closing this one on the right note.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic put PSG on the map and Neymar has been entrusted with elevating them to the next level, one where they’re capable of rubbing shoulders with the biggest European powerhouses, and not just in the transfer market.

Neymar moved to Paris for a purpose and this game, against the reigning European champions led by the Ballon d’Or winner, represents everything he needs to beat to fulfill it.

He spent four years as Messi’s deputy at Barcelona but did he pick up any new tricks along the way? He’s already proved that he is capable of delivering on the big stage when he inspired that remarkable comeback against his current employers in last season’s competition.

But can he hit those heights like Messi has, and still does, time and time again? A starring performance to help PSG past Madrid would be a good start to answering just that.

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