The Champions League last 16 fixtures are finally upon us after a two month break since the group stages.
In arguably the tie of the round we’ll see last season’s semi-finalists Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid go head-to-head in a star-studded two-legged affair.
Lets take a look at the tie in more detail and make our predictions to see who will progress into the last eight of Europe’s most prestigious cup competition.
Route to the last 16
Paris Saint-Germain were planted right in the middle of another group of death scenario as they were last season, alongside Man City, RB Leizig and Club Brugge.
They made hard work of it, ending the group stage in second place some way behind City after draws with both Brugge and Leipzig as well as a defeat by City at the Etihad Stadium. It wasn’t until victory in the final game that they secured qualification.
Real Madrid had an easier time of qualification in their group, alongside Inter Milan, Shakhtar Donetsk and minnows Sheriff.
They were shockingly beaten at the Bernabeu by Sheriff, but were able to win all five of their other fixtures to top the group and pull clear of Italian champions Inter on the final day to secure that spot.
PSG are likely to be without former Madrid captain Sergio Ramos for the first-leg of the game, with the Spaniard still suffering from calf problems that have restricted him to just four appearances this season.
Neymar is back in training after injury but will likely only make the bench at best for the first leg, meaning old foe Lionel Messi and Madrid-bound Kylian Mbappe will lead their attack.
Gianluigi Donnarumma is likely to get the nod ahead of Keylor Navas in goal, while Achraf Hakimi will also be making a return to the Bernabeu during this tie.
For Madrid, they’re struggling to get key man Karim Benzema fit following a thigh injury.
The French striker has missed each of the last three games, and Ancelotti’s side have managed just one goal in his absence. Vinicius Jr has also seen his form dip since, which is bad news for Los Blancos.
Eden Hazard is fit but out of favour, but as a man always ready for the big occasion he could get the nod in Benzema’s absence. Ferland Mendy is also a doubt at left-back, so Marcelo could start.
Breakdown and Prediction
Tactically these two teams are very similar on the pitch with the way they set up defensively and the way they attack.
Both managers have formed a solid defence during the season, with a midfield that is all about control rather than creativity or solidity.
They complete plenty of passes on the ball and play their way out of tight situations, using pace and individual skill to create goalscoring opportunities in the final third.
With Benzema likely to be out of the game and Vinicius’ form struggling without him, PSG have a huge chance of progression.
Messi’s best form has come in Europe this season, with five goals in the six group games while Mbappe has been sensational this season and is the club’s top scorer.
Away goals are no longer a factor in the tournament so home advantage in the second leg is less important, and PSG must look to take advantage of a weaker Madrid team that they’ll be coming up against.
It’ll be a close but entertaining affair for sure, simply because of the quality on the pitch, but I do expect PSG to have the added X-factor in attack and be able to eliminate the 13-time champions.
Paris SG 2-0 Real Madrid Real Madrid 1-1 Paris SG (Paris SG qualify 3-1 on aggregate)
It was announced earlier this week that Barcelona youngster Pedri was the winner of the 19th edition of the coveted ‘Golden Boy’ award.
The award is handed to the best Under-21 player in Europe’s top leagues based on a vote by sports journalists, based on the performances during the calendar year.
Looking through the list of previous winners, there have been some hits and misses as to how their careers ended up. But who is the best? Who is the worst? I’ve ranked them all, starting with the worst.
The Brazilian was one of the most exciting prospects to come out of Brazil when he joined AC Milan but after an impressive couple of years, injuries took their toll and Pato never made the impact he was meant to. It might strike you to realise he is only 32 these days, but plays in the MLS with Orlando.
If you look at Anderson’s CV, there’s an argument that he shouldn’t be this low down. But when you consider that injuries absolutely battered him throughout his career and most of those accolades came due to being part of an amazing squad, he has to be near the bottom.
The Italian broke onto the scene with Inter Milan, but a career that has been clouded in controversy didn’t go without it’s moments. The ‘Why Always Me?’, the fireworks, the fights with the manager are balanced out with the assist for *that* Aguero goal and his Euro 2012 performances get him off the bottom.
The Manchester United man is only 25-years-old as of this writing, but he’s really failed to kick on since winning this award in 2015. He’s lost that X-factor he had when he first moved to Old Trafford and while he’s got time to turn it around still, at his current trajectory he’d be considered a disappointment.
Rafael Van der Vaart
The inaugral winner of the award was a star for Ajax before earning himself a move to Real Madrid via Hamburg. But under the brightest of lights he struggled to really make an impact and the rest of his career was spent as being the best player in relatively mediocre sides.
The star of a young Benfica side who helped Portugal to their first ever international trophy at Euro 2016, Sanches looked destined for greatness. A poor move to Bayern Munich and injuries have stalled his development and while he finally looks to be getting back to a high level, it’s too early to have him above some of these guys in the list.
There may not be a more iconic career moment from anyone on this list than Gotze scoring the winning goal in the World Cup final during extra-time in 2014. Since then though it’s been downhill, with injuries and a loss of form seeing him become a shadow of his former self. He’s only 29 now, but he plays for PSV in the Eredivisie.
2021’s winner gets into this list at this height simply because it’s far too early to put him any higher or lower. His career has been strictly high points thus far, becoming a key member of the Barcelona team and putting in amazing performances during Euro 2020 to help Spain to the semi-finals. If he continues at this level, he will be one of the best in the world without a doubt.
Matthijs De Ligt
The only defender to win the award, De Ligt is still considered one of the best young defenders in the world. After helping Ajax to the Champions League semi-finals as their teenage captain, he earned a move to Juventus where he’s failed to rip up any trees but has maintained a steady level of performances. There’s definitely more to come from the Dutchman.
Felix blew up with his performances for Benfica in the Europa League and earned a nine-figure move to Atletico Madrid. Since moving though, injuries and a style of play that doesn’t really suit him have seen him stagnate. We’ve seen some top level performances in that time though, so we know the talent is still there.
The Spanish playmaker was a superstar in the making and was a key member of the Spain and Real Madrid side for years, with his brilliant guile and technical ability on show regularly. He’s won it all but the last few years have seen him barely touch the pitch and that will affect his legacy somewhat. A top player though, without doubt.
2020’s winner is currently regarded as one of the best strikers in the world despite being just the tender age of 21. His phenomenal goalscoring record has got everyone’s attention and the ease with which he’s taken to top level football is a sight to behold. He has got a long and successful career ahead of him, without a doubt.
The Manchester City and England winger won the award during his time at Anfield as a Liverpool player and hasn’t looked back since. He is the City player with the most goals under Pep Guardiola, has won everything at club level except the Champions League and even helped England to their best tournament finish since 1966 at Euro 2020. A superstar.
Despite his time in England since returning to Manchester United splitting opinions on him, Pogba’s talent is and always has been undeniable. He broke into a title winning Juventus team, is a leader at international level and scored in a World Cup final. His United stint may be up for debate, but his career is not.
Fabregas has had success everywhere he has been until he moved to Monaco, but the levels he reached during his prime have him down as one of the best midfielders of his generation. He won everything there is to win at club level and international level, while being a key player in every success and will be remembered greatly despite the winding down of his career at a relatively young age.
The man with the most iconic moment in Premier League history, Aguero’s legacy as a world class footballer is undeniable. He is the player with the most hat-tricks in Premier League history, the most goals in Man City history, the most goals by a foreign player in Premier League history and he’s top three goalscorers in Argentinian national team history. Unfortunately forced to retire early due to heart problems, but he will go down as a great.
Mbappe is only 22-years-old at the time of writing this, but his legacy is already solidified. He won the league with Monaco as a teenager against a dominant PSG side, then switched to Paris to become a cornerstone of their recent success. He’s won golden boots, trophies and even became the youngest player since Pele to score in a World Cup final. The scary thing is, he’s only getting better too.
It’s crazy to think that some people believe Wayne Rooney never fulfilled his potential despite ending his career as the all-time top goalscorer for Manchester United and England. He won it all at club level, playing several positions and is the owner of several iconic moments. A world class footballer and one of the best his country has ever produced, he was a true golden boy.
There was no other option for the number one ranking of this award, because the greatest player of all-time won it back in 2005. The only ‘Golden Boy’ to go on to win the Ballon d’Or, he has gone on to do everything except win a World Cup and his legacy will transcend generations. Without a doubt the greatest I’ve ever seen, it’s a no brainer that he sits at number one on this list.
If you ask most football fans across the world who the best young players in the world are, the answers are usually pretty unanimous.
Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland are often battling it out for the top spot in people’s minds, while some less popular choices including Manchester based duo Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood.
But it wasn’t that long ago that there was another name in the mix for fans to debate about for the podium in Joao Felix.
Felix had a stunning breakthrough season as a teenager with Benfica, before completing a sensational £113m transfer to Atletico Madrid in 2019 on the back of it.
He opted to join the Spanish side ahead of interested clubs such as Real Madrid, Manchester United and Man City according to reports with Diego Simeone seeing him as the ideal replacement for the Barcelona-bound Antoine Griezmann in that window.
On paper it made a lot of sense. Felix excels as one of the most creative attackers in La Liga, and has the goalscoring ability to fill in for a 20 goal per-season star like Griezmann in a team that tends to challenge on all fronts each season.
However at such a young age and with so much expectation due to the transfer fee, the deal hasn’t quite gone as planned for the now 21-year-old.
Felix is into his third season at the Wanda Metropolitano and he has scored just 19 goals so far for the club, which is less than he scored for Benfica in his one season with the first-team in Lisbon.
Injuries haven’t helped, while Felix’s love for attacking and flair football hasn’t really fitted in seamlessly to the way ‘El Cholo’ likes to set up his teams with defence also prioritised over goals. He’s had a somewhat fractious relationship with his manager and his bad form has seen him left out of the side on occasion too.
But through all that, it’s still very clear just how talented Felix is as a footballer. Against Barcelona on Sunday, Felix didn’t get a goal or assist officially but he was every bit as influential as Thomas Lemar and Luis Suarez who did.
His dribbling got him out of predicaments, his quick feet got him out of tight situations and his passing ability was on display for all to see as he carved open Ronald Koeman’s side at will. It was just a glimpse of his talent and ability but it served as a reminder to just how good he is.
With Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann both at Atletico now, the pressure is no longer on Felix to lead the line and be the primary goalscorer. Instead, he is in the side to develop and be part of a unit in attack that is looking to go back-to-back for the La Liga title and make another push in Europe.
Felix barely got on the pitch at Euro 2020 for Portugal as they suffered a disappointing Round of 16 exit to Belgium, but with the World Cup in Qatar coming up at the end of next year he has a chance to get right back to it.
Cristiano Ronaldo won’t be around forever and Bernardo Silva may be the man now but he is also creeping up on 30. Felix is the future of the Portuguese national team undoubtedly, but he could also be the future for Atletico Madrid or another top European team.
He needs to get back to his confident best to show it and he’s now in an environment where he doesn’t have added pressure. If the style of play at Atletico continues to negatively effect him then he may need to consider moving on, but it’s so easy to forget he won’t be 22 until November.
He’s got the best part of a decade ahead of him and I wouldn’t bet against him having another breakthrough season ahead of the 2022 World Cup to remind everyone that there is another name missing from that starboy conversation. Don’t sleep on Joao Felix.
It was one of the biggest stories of the summer in the world of football, but in the end Kylian Mbappe wasn’t sold to Real Madrid and instead stayed at Paris Saint-Germain.
The French forward was subject to a €180m bid from the Spanish giants as the deadline approached and with less than a year remaining on his contract it was believed that he would leave the club.
But Paris Saint-Germain stood firm and refused to sell one of their star-men to keep together a squad that they built over the course of the transfer window as one of the best in Europe, citing the late interest from Madrid as a big factor.
Mbappe has started the season well, scoring four and assisting five goals in 11 games for the French giants so far. But after going back to international duty with France now, he has revealed in an interview with RMC Sport that he told PSG he wanted to leave in July.
“I asked to leave [in July] because from the moment I didn’t want to extend, I wanted the club to have a transfer fee to have a quality replacement. I wanted everyone to grow, to go out ‘hand in hand’, to make a good deal, and I respected that. I said, if you don’t want me to leave, I’ll stay.
“People have said that I’ve turned down six or seven offers for an extension, that I don’t want to talk to Leonardo anymore, that’s absolutely not true. It’s a club that has given me a lot, I’ve always been happy, and I still am.
“My position has been clear. I said I wanted to leave (PSG) and I said it early enough. Personally, I didn’t really appreciate saying ‘he’s coming the last week of August’ because that sounds like a thief. I said at the end of July that I wanted to leave.”
But why now? When Real Madrid are arguably at the weakest point they’ve been in during Mbappe’s lifetime and Paris Saint-Germain are undoubtedly the strongest they’ve ever been.
It’s simple really. It’s a lifelong dream for Mbappe, and he now has the chance to dictate his own future and make it a reality.
So often fans and media criticise players for going for the biggest paycheck, or for not caring about the “beautiful game” anymore. Mbappe is doing the exact opposite.
He knows he could walk into any club side in the world already, even at 22-years-old. He is already one of the highest earners in the PSG dressing room and could quite easily become their all-time top goalscorer if he stayed until he was 25.
But he’s done it all in France already. He’s a multi-time golden boot winner, he’s won the league with Monaco and PSG, he’s won all the domestic cups. The only thing he hasn’t done is win the Champions League, and he could very well do that this season.
It’s hard to imagine that Mbappe hasn’t seen how the Harry Kane situation unfolded this summer with Spurs and Man City and not learnt from it. PSG are not a club that need money and therefore they never need to sell a player that they don’t want to sell.
They clearly want to keep Mbappe, so signing a new contract with the club just ties him down and ruins his chances of a future move. As it stands, all the cards are in his hands.
He stays at PSG for another year still happy, still scoring goals and still being influential. When next summer comes he has the world at his feet. If Real Madrid can’t stump up enough in wages and a signing on fee to sign him, then Mbappe will not be short on options.
But if they do, which you have to assume is likely considering they were willing to spend €180m this summer, then Mbappe will be joining one of the most prestigious clubs in the history of world football. Not only that, but he will be joining as their star man, the face of the club and the face of the Spanish top division.
He will be the man, something that he isn’t and can’t be at PSG while Neymar and Lionel Messi exist. He makes Madrid so much better and a huge threat in every competition they enter and he has the chance to pursue a career and be successful with the club of his dreams.
For once, the love of the game and the love of football wins out over money and glory. He should be praised for his decision and the way he has gone about it, not questioned. He’s just a fan at the end of the day.
The business end of the season is upon us as the final four of the 2020/21 UEFA Champions League is upon us.
Two mouth-watering clashes make up the semi-finals, as Chelsea take on Real Madrid for the first time ever while Paris Saint-Germain will take on Manchester City in the other game.
We’ve done predictions for every knockout tie in the competition so far, so we continue here with the two most exciting attacking sides left in the competition as the Cityzens take on the Parisians.
PSG come into the game having eliminated two of the pre-tournament favourites for the competition, beating both Barcelona and Bayern Munich away from home to be able to progress despite not winning the second leg of both games.
Kylian Mbappe was the star of the show, scoring five times in those ties as Mauricio Pochettino’s team showed a brilliant counter-attacking style over the four games while also mixing in their ball retaining abilities where needed.
PSG will thankfully be able to count on Marco Verratti and Marquinhos once again too, who missed out through injury and COVID-19 last time out while Mauro Icardi is also fit and in goalscoring form once again. It will be interesting to see which front line Pochettino chooses to go with and whether he opts to try and keep the ball in midfield with City or just soak up pressure and defend.
City on the other hand made it through to this stage of the tournament with a comfortable 4-0 aggregate win over Borussia Moenchengladbach, before surviving a scare against Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-finals thanks to a late Phil Foden goal in both legs.
Defensively they have been one of the best sides in Europe this season, and they will need all of that during this tie against one of the better attacking outfits on the continent. Going forward they have been excellent too, with the lack of a natural centre forward leading the line often leaving defences with nobody to mark and causing issues.
Kevin De Bruyne and Verratti in the middle of the park will be a terrific battle, while Pochettino will almost certainly look to his thrilling win back when he was the Spurs manager as inspiration on how to get the Paris club to consecutive finals.
This is truly set up to be one of the most mouth-watering semi-finals in recent memory and over two legs either team could come away with a win and nobody would be surprised.
In goal both number ones are excellent, while the defences are evenly matched. You can argue that PSG have the better centre-back options, while City without a doubt have the better full-backs. In midfield the options are pretty even, while in attack it’s probably fair to give the nod to PSG.
The way that City play with the vast majority of possession and stretching the pitch will definitely suit them, but we have seen how they can struggle against teams who are potent on the counter attack. Their record against Manchester United shows you that, and PSG are best described as Man United on steroids with their style of play.
It’s an incredibly tough game to call. PSG’s style is tailor made for playing away against a side like City, while at home they have shown an ability to mix it up and be solid defensively but also take the game to their opponent when needed.
Overall, I won’t be surprised whoever goes through but I give the edge to Paris Saint-Germain’s frightening attack.
Paris SG 1-1 Man City Man City 1-2 Paris SG (Paris Saint-Germain to progress 3-2 on aggregate)
Manchester City survived a scare in Germany as they came from behind to beat Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League and set up a mouthwatering semi-final clash against Paris Saint-Germain.
City held a 2-1 lead from the first leg thanks to Phil Foden’s late winner at the Etihad after Kevin De Bruyne’s opener was cancelled out by Marco Reus. In the second leg Dortmund started quick and strong and took the lead thanks to a stunning striker from Jude Bellingham, who became the second youngest player ever to score in a Champions League knockout tie.
His goal meant the hosts just had to hold out in the second half, but Pep Guardiola’s side were having none of it. They came out aggressive and won a penalty just ten minutes into the second half when Emre Can handled in the penalty area. Riyad Mahrez slammed the penalty home before Foden scored a belter from outside the box late on to seal the win.
It means that City have made it to a semi-final in the Champions League after three consecutive years of crashing out at the quarter-final stages to AS Monaco, Tottenham and then Lyon last year in a one-legged tie.
The win also sees that their quadruple hopes don’t end just yet, with an FA Cup semi-final to come this weekend along with a Carabao Cup final later this month and just 11 points needed to seal a third league title in four seasons.
It was a top performance from City, who shook off the nerves of the first half to come out in the second and implement their usual high quality. They pressed fantastically well to dominate the ball, they controlled the tempo, cut off the service to Erling Haaland and created chances to stave off the threat Dortmund possessed.
Guardiola’s sides have struggled mostly against clinical counter-attacking sides and Mauricio Pochettino’s side have shown that they are capable of playing in that way, beating Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena 3-2 and dominating a Barcelona side to a 4-1 win at the Camp Nou in each of the last two rounds.
With the pace and skill of Angel Di Maria, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar in attack, they are a huge threat for anyone they come up against and Guardiola will need to conjure up a master plan to get the better of last season’s beaten finalists.
A game that would have been touted as Neymar vs De Bruyne not long ago will now surely be headlined by the young bucks of Mbappe and Foden. Both were instrumental in their sides progression in both previous rounds and are without a doubt likely to be battling for the Ballon d’Or in years to come.
Both opposition managers will make it a big part of their plan to stop the other player and it is sure to be a frenetic two-legged tie that you won’t want to miss.
The UEFA Champions League is back with some absolutely mouth watering ties as we enter the quarter-final stage of the competition.
In a rematch of last seasons final, Bundesliga champions and current holders Bayern Munich will take on Ligue 1’s Paris Saint-Germain in arguably the most star-studded clash of the round.
Hansi Flick’s men cruised the the most comfortable last 16 tie there was, with wins both home and away against Serie A side Lazio to waltz to a 6-2 aggregate win, while Paris Saint-Germain were able to smash through Barcelona at the Camp Nou meaning the draw at the Parc des Princes wasn’t a downer with a 5-2 progression on aggregate.
In the Bundesliga, Bayern are on the verge of securing a ninth successive league title as they currently sit seven points clear at the top with just seven games to play. Paris Saint-Germain on the other hand look like they could miss out on a fourth successive title and an eighth in nine years after flailing under both Thomas Tuchel and Mauricio Pochettino this season.
With seven games to go, PSG currently sit three points behind Lille having been defeated by their rivals in the most recent game at the weekend. They have lost eight league games so far this season, the most since the 2010/11 season and as many as each of the last two seasons combined.
One positive for Pochettino’s side is that even despite their poor league form, they have looked fantastic in Europe. After a shaky start in the group stages they were able to come through as the winners of the group of death ahead of RB Leipzig and Manchester United.
Under Pochettino they have attempted to play a possession based game, with good pressing and incisive attacking patterns to help Kylian Mbappe and Neymar thrive. The Brazilian missed both games against Barcelona but is fit once again, although he was sent off at the weekend.
Bayern have maintained their excellent form from last season and overcame their first blip under Flick earlier in the season to get back on track. Their high press, high line in defence and dominance in midfield allows them to control every game they’re in and their lethal attack led by Robert Lewandowski means they punish any mistakes.
The issue for them in this tie comes from the fact that they will be without the legendary Polish striker after he picked up a knee injury on international duty. That means the likelihood is that Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting will lead the line up front as he did this past weekend, although Thomas Muller could also start as the furthest man forward.
Serge Gnabry is a doubt for the first leg after missing training but PSG are also struggling with injuries. Marco Verratti and Alessandro Florenzi have both tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the games, while Leandro Paredes is suspended for the first leg.
Both teams are weakened but PSG will feel as though they have a great chance of exacting their revenge with their first choice attack on the pitch. The one-legged final last year was a very close game in which PSG missed a host of chances before former academy star Kingsley Coman was able to head in the winner in the second half.
With Bayern not look as solid defensively this season and the game being played over two legs rather than one, it seems unlikely Flick’s team will be able to stop PSG from scoring yet again. Without Lewandowski in the team, the German side’s chances of scoring goals diminish hugely despite the quality they possess and if Mbappe and Neymar are fit and raring to go then this could be enough to see the Parisians come through with a win.
It’s quite easily the most closely contested tie of the round and I think PSG will be able to earn some revenge this year.
Bayern Munich 1-1 Paris Saint-Germain Paris Saint-Germain 2-0 Bayern Munich (Paris Saint-Germain to progress 3-1 on aggregate)
Every now and then you get a nation that has a pool of players available to fill three of four starting XI’s capable of winning a tournament.
Most recently was Spain, who won three international tournaments in a row between 2008-2012, had a generation of players that were part of the most dominant side of the post-war era but were also spread all over the continent at the biggest club sides.
Now, France are the leading generation when it comes to player development with a pool of players to pick from as deep as the Atlantic. But with Euro 2020 around the corner and the World Cup 2022 qualifiers underway, what is their strongest lineup?
There are a handful of positions in the side that aren’t up for debate right now and goalkeeper is one of them.
Tottenham stopper Hugo Lloris is the captain of the national team and has been the man to don the number one shirt since 2009 and is the most capped goalkeeper in the history of Les Blues. He maintains a high level of performance for the team, even since winning the World Cup two years ago and he is still the best option.
Starter: Hugo Lloris
The defence on paper is one of the most stacked positions that manager Didier Deschamps has to choose from. The likes of Aymeric Laporte, Jules Kounde, Wesley Fofana are yet to be capped fully at senior level, while Real Madrid’s starting full-back Ferland Mendy is only recently breaking into the team.
Despite naturally being a left-back, Mendy would be my pick on the right-hand side of the defence. He is both footed, excellent in both directions, quick and great on the ball so would provide plenty of balance to the team. That would also allow Theo Hernandez to continue in the left-back role, where he has been impressive for AC Milan this season and the national team. Lucas Digne is another option, but Hernandez is that bit more dynamic and for me just edges it in their personal battle.
In the centre, Deschamps has so many options. Aside from the three previously mentioned players the likes of Raphael Varane, Presnel Kimpembe, Dayot Upamecano, Kurt Zouma, Clement Lenglet, Ibrahima Konate and even Samuel Umtiti are all candidates for the starting berths. Despite such a plethora of talent, Deschamps is likely to go with the experience and quality of Varane and Kimpembe. They both possess great pace, great positioning, are good aerially and with the ball at their feet while also having leadership qualities.
Starters: Ferland Mendy, Raphael Varane, Presnel Kimpembe, Theo Hernandez
Deschamps tends to play in a 4-2-3-1 formation because of the plethora of attacking options he has, but I think a fluid 4-3-3 formation could be the best way forward. There is already so much depth involved in the position with players such as Adrian Rabiot, Eduardo Camavinga, Moussa Sissoko, Houssem Aouar all in and out of squads.
Without a doubt, if fit, Ngolo Kante and Paul Pogba will be starters in the heart of the pitch with their attributes balancing perfectly to help at both ends of the pitch. Rather than use Antoine Griezmann as the number ten option though, Tanguy Ndombele should come into the team.
The Spurs midfielder has had an excellent season on an individual basis and deserves to start in a slightly more advanced role. For Spurs he has played as both an eight or a ten and has the creative abilities to help the attack. He also allows for familiarity to switch to a more defensive 4-3-3 shape if necessary as he can naturally play in that position also. It would allow Deschamps to use the same players regardless of opposition but slightly alter the setup if necessary.
Starters: Ngolo Kante, Paul Pogba, Tanguy Ndombele
When everyone is fit, the forward department is likely the one easiest to pick from for Deschamps such is the quality of his options.
Olivier Giroud has been a staple of the French national team in recent years as the centre forward and sits just seven goals behind Thierry Henry at the top of the all-time scoring charts for the national team. Despite that, the way he plays means that France’s attacks become a little bit one dimensional. He’s shown an ability in the past for his club that he is able to come off the bench and make a difference and at 34-years-old he’s unlikely to be too picky about it being a starting role or not.
Out wide, Kylian Mbappe is the golden boy of French and potentially world football and is a guaranteed starter. His pace, explosiveness, skill and phenomenal output when it comes to scoring and assisting. On the opposite flank, whether it be on the left or right, Ousmane Dembele is the man that should get the spot. When fit he possesses all the skill and quality to be one of the best in the world and with both men’s ability to play on both flanks it allows plenty of freedom and interchanging throughout a game.
Up front, Antoine Griezmann deserves the spot. His appearance in the 2-0 win over Kazakhstan made it 45 international games in a row that he has featured in, more than anyone else in the post-war era for the French national team. He has a great international record and despite going on bursts of form this season for Barcelona, he currently has 14 goals in all competitions for Los Cules. He’d be able to drop deeper to link the midfield to the attack of play on the shoulder of the defence to run in behind.
Starters: Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele
Kylian Mbappe ensured that there is a new era upon us in the UEFA Champions League as he scored again against Barcelona to ensure Paris Saint-Germain’s progression into the quarter-finals with a 5-2 aggregate win.
After scoring a hat-trick in the first leg at the Camp Nou, Mbappe opened the scoring on the night converting a controversial penalty after Clement Lenglet alleged to have fouled Mauro Icardi in the box. Lionel Messi pulled one back six minutes later with a thunderbolt from outside the area, before he missed a penalty in first-half injury time.
Barcelona were unable to break the French champions down in the second half, with Mbappe a constant threat on the counter-attack as the Parisians settled for their first leg advantage to take them through.
It was the third time that Mbappe and Messi have been on the pitch together and the third time that the 22-year-old has come out on top, scoring six goals in those games.
With conversations circling about a potential passing of the torch from Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi to Erling Haaland and Mbappe, the truth is that Mbappe hasn’t been passed anything – he’s taken it.
In the same game that he became the youngest player to score 25 Champions League goals, Mbappe showed a maturity to his game that meant that while he was a constant threat he was also able to ensure that he did his job defensively at all times too.
It could potentially be the final game Messi plays in the Champions League as a Barcelona player, but it will be the tie more remembered for Mbappe’s level of performance in the first leg in particular.
After bursting onto the scene at AS Monaco, Mbappe has continued to develop at a rapid rate and at 22 years of age is already one of the best players in the world. There is almost certainly a Ballon d’Or or several waiting in his future and the world is genuinely at his feet.
While the likelihood of Mbappe reaching the heights and levels that Ronaldo and Messi reached are slim to none, there is no doubt in the mind of many that he is the heir to the throne and this tie only moved to further prove that football is in good hands going forward.
He is the best of his generation by a distance and it will go down in history as Mbappe took the crown, rather than had it passed down to him.
Inclusive in those ties is a clash between two super-teams as Paris Saint-Germain take on Barcelona, as Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman go head to head for the first time since their Premier League days.
Barcelona hired former captain Koeman back in the summer and after a rocky start, the Catalan side seem to have finally found their way under him as they sit in third place in La Liga between the two Madrid sides. They came through a tough group with Juventus in the group stages, missing out on top spot thanks to a final match day defeat to the Turin giants.
Both sides have recently found some really good form, with the Paris side winning eight of ten games under Pochettino. Koeman on the other hand has seen his side win ten of their last 13 fixtures, but they were beaten when they took on Athletic Club in the Super Cup final and then lost to Sevilla in the Copa Del Rey semi-final first leg recently too.
Their cup form hasn’t been good, failing to win any of their last three inside 90 minutes and defensively they are shaken by injuries right now.
Gerard Pique has returned to training after being out with injury since November, while the likes of Samuel Umtiti, Sergino Dest and Sergio Roberto continue to be sidelined. It means academy prospects Oscar Mingueza and Ronald Araujo have stepped in for large parts of the season and become regulars in the side, for better or worse.
PSG have had their own injury problems, with star man Neymar ruled out for a month and likely to miss both legs of the tie with a groin issue. Angel Di Maria and Juan Bernat are both struggling with injury too, although Presnel Kimpembe has recovered from injury and picked up where he left off in good form in defence.
With Neymar and Di Maria’s injuries, it means the burden falls on 22-year-old Kylian Mbappe. The French sensation is PSG’s top scorer this season with 16 goals and has found himself played in all three roles across the attack since Pochettino’s arrival at the club. Mauro Icardi has returned from injury and found his goalscoring touch too, but the game runs through Mbappe.
For Barcelona, it may be a new manager and a young team but the objective remains the same – give the ball to Lionel Messi. The Argentine had a slow start to the season but seems to have found a new relationship with Antoine Griezmann who has seven goals and four assists in his last ten appearances, while young midfielder Pedri has adapted well to his role in Koeman’s system.
The tie really does depend on whether or not Lionel Messi turns up. On his day, he is still by far and away the best footballer in the world and can essentially win games such as this on his own. The absence of Neymar makes PSG more obvious in their approach which means that Barcelona can prepare much better for it, although an obvious problem for them will be whether their defensive issues halt their ability to stop him.
The way the two teams are playing right now, it should be one hell of a tie. Both teams have retained their home advantage in a round that has seen plenty of fixtures rescheduled for neutral venues, which will be a positive. But with PSG at home in the second leg, it makes me believe that the French side will go through.
Koeman will have his way of playing and will stick to it no matter what, like a true Barcelona coach does. He has his and the club’s ideals in mind at all times and it means PSG will be able to get through it quickly and efficiently and their attackers are in great nick.
The pace of the attack, with the steel and technical quality of the midfield should see PSG able to get a relatively convincing win in the end and despite Messi’s magic, his teammates just won’t be able to rise to the level required.
Barcelona 1-2 Paris SG Paris SG 3-1 Barcelona (Paris SG progress 5-2 on aggregate)