Real Madrid travel to face Paris Saint-Germain in a high-profile kick-off to Champions League Group A, and both managers have been forced into tactical reshuffles after being confronted by a long list of absentees.
Realistically, Thomas Tuchel and Zinedine Zidane should see their teams advance to the next stage irrespective of Wednesday night’s outcome, but pride and a sense of positivity will be at stake in a game which provides plenty of talking points.
Here are three of them.
Navas seeking sweet revenge?
This fixture’s most hotly-anticipated individual outing will have to wait for the return match, with Neymar unable to face Madrid – the club which reportedly considered signing him in the summer transfer market – due to a suspension incurred after his social media criticism of the officiating during his team’s exit against Manchester United in last season’s competition.
There is, however, still a personal battle to savour, albeit from a distance of 100 metres, as Keylor Navas takes on his former club and the man who usurped him in the starting position at the Bernabeu, Thibaut Courtois.
Navas was an undisputed starter for Los Blancos for three seasons, winning back-to-back-to-back Champions League titles and becoming a firm favourite of Zidane, who was reportedly highly reluctant to allow the Costa Rican to lose his place to big-money signing Courtois but caved in to pressure from the boardroom.
Navas certainly will not feel that he has anything to prove to Zidane, but he would certainly relish the chance to send a hefty reminder of his shot-stopping talents to Madrid club president Florentino Perez, and the PSG stopper’s motivation to keep out his former teammates could not be higher.
Can Choupo-Moting seize his moment?
Neymar isn’t the only high-profile absentee for the hosts, with fellow superstar forwards Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani also out through injury and deadline day signing Mauro Icardi a doubt after only playing 27 minutes of football this season.
Cameroon forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting – who has started the campaign with three goals in as many games – is therefore likely to lead the line against a Madrid defence also missing some familiar faces with Marcelo injured and Sergio Ramos banned for deliberately earning a red card in the first leg of his team’s tie against Ajax last season.
Nacho is also suspended, so Zidane will give a full debut to summer signing Eder Militao, who suffered a shaky half-hour from the bench as Madrid held on to a nervy 3-2 home victory at home to Levante on Saturday afternoon.
The lack of familiarity between Eder and central defensive partner Raphael Varane, who have played just those 30 minutes together, could provide an opening for PSG to exploit – especially with Ferland Mendy only making his second competitive appearance for the club at left-back.
After spending the 2017/18 season with Stoke City following three years with Schalke, Choupo-Moting could never have dreamed that he would be starting for PSG against Real Madrid in the Champions League. But considering the raft of absentees in the opposition back line, this could be his moment to truly shine.
James back in the limelight…or back on the bench?
One highly positive aspect of Madrid’s 3-2 victory over Levante was a bright and influential display from James Rodriguez. Like teammate Gareth Bale – who is also expected to start in Paris on Wednesday – James was expected to leave the club in the summer after being designated persona non grata by Zidane.
But no suitable bids were made and the Colombian playmaker was forced to stay put. And now, with Luka Modric, Isco and Marco Asensio all missing through injury, James has been thrust into the starting line-up and is playing very much as though he is determined to make up for lost time.
However, his place in the starting XI is by no means guaranteed because Zidane hinted that big summer signing Eden Hazard is set to start for the first time after recovering from injury and making his debut from the bench against Levante.
Bale, James, Hazard, Vinicius Junior and Lucas Vazquez are battling for three places in the starting line-up, and Zidane’s long-term preference is thought to be positioning the Belgian in the centre of the field behind Karim Benzema. As that is exactly where James played on Saturday, he could well be forced back onto the bench just when he appeared to be finding his old form.
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