(Update 1: Adds remarks by Benzema)
Paris/Madrid, Feb 14 (EFE).- Real Madrid are set to take on a star-packed Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of the Champions League last-16 in a stiff test on Tuesday.
PSG, led by Kylian Mbappé and Lionel Messi, will be a barometer to see whether or not the Spanish powerhouse is ready to fight for the continental crown.
Last season, Real Madrid were knocked out of the semifinals by Chelsea, who went on to clinch the title, but Carlo Ancelotti’s second term at the helm gave the team the consistency they lacked.
As well as leading the LaLiga table, four points clear of their closest rival, Real Madrid won their Champions League group, claiming five wins and losing once.
Madrid’s top scorer Karim Benzema is doubtful for the game as the Frenchman is racing against the clock to recover from left hamstring issues that have recently kept him out of action.
With him on the sidelines, Real Madrid managed to score just one goal in their last three games and were knocked out of the Copa del Rey.
“It has been many hours of work and I feel much better,” the Frenchman said during a presser on the eve of the game.
“We have a training session to see how I feel and if I can play the game tomorrow. I hope to feel good on the pitch. I’m going to train and then we’ll make a decision.
“When you’re away it’s difficult. I spent the morning, afternoon and night doing work at Valdebebas (Real Madrid’s training center) and at home to get there.
“I’m ready, now we have to see on the pitch, but I’m here to help my team in a great game. If I have to play tomorrow I’ll give it my all on the pitch,” he added.
If he eventually does not make the cut, there are a number of replacement options for Ancelotti to choose from, albeit not as decisive as the Frenchman.
The Italian coach could opt to play Gareth Bale or a false nine with Isco. He could also choose Luka Jovic or Mariano Díaz, although he has not shown confidence in either so far.
PSG have all the stars ready for battle although Neymar is expected to start on the bench having been on the sidelines for over two months with an ankle injury.
The only exception will be Sergio Ramos, the former Real Madrid captain, whose PSG spell has been marred by recurrent injuries.
Despite not playing at their highest level in recent matches, PSG have managed to muddle through, mainly thanks to Mbappé, whose future at the club remains in the air.
Fans are also still waiting for Messi to return to his legendary form but in the meantime the club has strengthened its defense, conceding as little as two goals in the seven games they have played in 2022.
Idrissa Gueye and Abdou Diallo, recent African champions with Senegal, will be available for the Real Madrid clash, as will Ángel di María and Leandro Paredes.
The tie seems crucial for PSG, who hope to clinch the Champions League before the expected departure of Mbappé, reportedly to the Santiago Bernabeu.
The only time that both teams faced off in this round, Real Madrid ended up making history by winning the Champions League for the third time in a row. EFE