Why Real Madrid vs. PSG is the biggest draw of the Champions League knockouts

Sergio Ramos in his Real Madrid days next to his future PSG teammate Kylian Mbappe (Photo by ANP Sport via Getty Images)
Sergio Ramos in his Real Madrid days next to his future PSG teammate Kylian Mbappe (Photo by ANP Sport via Getty Images) /

You know how some fixtures feel even bigger than the game itself? Well, Real Madrid vs. PSG in the Champions League knockout stages is going to be one of those Champions League draws that makes the football world quake.

Think about everything that has led to these two teams facing off. Immediately beforehand, Real Madrid thought they would be facing Benfica, arguably the weakest team in the Round of 16. But because of an obvious mistake in the draw for another fixture, the whole thing had to be redone.

Florentino Perez and Real felt wronged, but UEFA stuck to their decision of a complete redraw for every fixture, even the ones that were not changed by the snafu. Real Madrid already came into the season with reason to believe UEFA would be out against them due to Perez’s European Super League plan. And now they are going up against the most powerful team in UEFA, as PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi is the leader of the ECA.

There is so much more, though. Kylian Mbappe could be a Real Madrid player on a pre-contract agreement by the time the first leg takes place at the Parc des Princes – of all places – in mid-February. And not only that, but the drama of his failed transfer to Madrid has not died down. PSG made it clear they did not appreciate Real’s recruitment of Mbappe, while Madrid have been careful not to have any young players poached by the Parisians in retaliation.

Real Madrid do not have fond memories of their last two encounters with PSG

Aside from the Mbappe factor, which is huge, there are four former Real Madrid players on PSG. The first is top goalkeeper Keylor Navas. One of them is club legend, former captain, and Champions League icon Sergio Ramos. Another is Achraf Hakimi, who still loves Los Blancos and may even return one day. But while those stars still have love for Madrid, Angel Di Maria has made it abundantly clear that he has little respect for Perez or the club he once won a Champions League with. That is yet another layer to what is perhaps Europe’s biggest emerging rivalry.

It is Real Madrid, the leaders of the Super League project and the traditional biggest power of European football, against PSG, who are the current powers of football due to Qatar’s money. Yet despite this shift in the power paradigm, it is Real who have stolen the heart of the world’s most valuable player. A player who is currently PSG’s biggest star.

As if all of this were not enough, there is one final twist. Remember the last two times Real Madrid faced PSG? It was in the group stages of the 2019-2020 Champions League. Real were blown out at the Parc des Princes in the first match. And in the second match, they blew a 2-0 lead and lost Eden Hazard to injury, just when he was showing his best form for the club. Hazard has never truly recovered since. PSG would go on to lose in the final of that season’s competition, while Los Blancos would embarrass themselves against Manchester City in the Round of 16.

If you are a neutral, you could not ask for a bigger tie. These are two superstar-filled teams and Champions League title contenders with so many reasons to dislike each other institutionally. And the animosity will have been boiling for a good six months by the time this marquee matchup takes place on Feb. 15.

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And if you are a fan of either of these clubs, winning this tie is an obsession. Not just because the title at the end of the road is the one thing these fanbases covet more than anything else, but also because it would be a massive personal blow to lose to the other side. This is about more than football for Real Madrid and PSG. And for as beautifully as these two teams can play when they are at their best, things might get truly ugly by the time the final whistle blows in the second leg.