Real Madrid rediscover their conviction as Neymar and PSG look to history | real Madrid

EEven on the night Real Madrid concluded La Liga, everything revolved around Europe. On Saturday, the day Paris Saint-Germain lost 1-0 to Nice, Carlo Ancelotti’s side perhaps produced their best performance of the season. Coming from a goal, they beat Real Sociedad 4-1 in a noisy Santiago Bernabéu where long after the final whistle, the players returned to greet their supporters and a chant of defiance circulated, a message of hope. “If, to puede!” he ran. “Yes we can!”

They weren’t talking about being able to win the league. Having drawn eight points clear of Sevilla – a lead never overturned at this stage of the season – it now looks likely. Instead, they were talking about being able to overturn the 1-0 first leg deficit against PSG. It is, after all, the competition that truly measures them and obsesses the 13-time European Cup winners.

It is the competition that PSG are also obsessed with, of course, the only one that really seems to matter for a club at the opposite end of the European scale in terms of trophies. “The Champions League is special, you are even more motivated and I want to produce a great game, write history and take Paris to where they should be,” Neymar said here in Madrid. “What we want the most is the Champions League. The excitement and the hope will always be there with the Champions League.

If the “contrary to Ligue 1”, let alone the Coupe de France, was self-evident, it was quite explicit there and also in the words of Mauricio Pochettino, who insisted on the fact that “the Cup, the championship and the Champions League are different challenges”. It was even more explicit when the PSG coach added: “Neymar was signed a few years ago to try to win the Champions League: it was said at every press conference and at his presentation. And that’s before moving on to Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé.

For that to happen, PSG need to progress here. Neymar is back to help and they lead, which is good news, as is the fact that they were so dominant at the Parc des Princes. And yet, the feeling has changed, that sense of superiority diminishing and something else building in its place. The conditions are met for a return. “We have to adapt and read what has changed in three weeks,” Pochettino said.

“As soon as the game ended the machinery started, those around Madrid and the club started to generate positive feelings, the idea that a comeback is possible,” he added, comparing that to the negativity and pessimism that he says surrounds his club. At one point, he noted that he answered some questions with “good manners”, the line “I’ve been patient with you” instead serving to emphasize that patience is something he lacks. “We do know that if we lose there will be no more Champions League games,” he said.

Neymar trains at the Bernabéu on Tuesday. Photography: Aurélien Meunier/PSG/Getty Images

Maybe it’s the pressure that speaks, the need to finally win this competition. For Madrid it’s the other way around: even in defeat they are not defeated, history teaching them that there is a way back and offering them a lesson to which they cling. The idea of ​​a European comeback is rooted in their identity, as much a story as a statistical reality.

Pochettino, however, may have overplayed him and there was also a negative twist when Ancelotti was asked who had more at stake if they lost – him or his players. The performance in the first leg was so poor that the initial reaction was less than optimistic, consolation found only in the fact that it was just one year – next season Mbappé would be theirs. The concern was also heightened by two key suspensions: Ferland Mendy and Casemiro. Toni Kroos is a doubt, Ancelotti saying: “If he’s 95 per cent fit, he’s not playing.”

“Casemiro is the best there is and Madrid will miss him; for us, obviously, it’s better that he doesn’t play,” admitted Neymar with a laugh. As for PSG’s key injury doubt, Pochettino and Neymar have said they expect Mbappé to play after limping out of training on Monday.

Despite everything Pochettino saw Madrid’s wheels kick in, it wasn’t until Saturday that the attitude finally changed completely. Twenty days without midweek fixtures helped, allowing for better preparation and fitness, the return of Karim Benzema helped too, and there’s a solidity about them that wasn’t there before. But it took the victory of Real Sociedad to feel really ready for this meeting.

The Fiver: Sign up and receive our daily football email.

“After that, Madridism believes more in the return than before,” Ancelotti said on Saturday. “The reception from the fans has been pleasant as their help will be vital.” A call has already been made for them to gather at 7 p.m. to welcome the team bus, with Luka Modric insisting: “The Bernabéu can play an important role.”

The Madrid manager, however, was trying to avoid falling into the trap of making an epic out of what will be a special night no matter what. For all of PSG’s dominance, it’s only 1-0: for Madrid, that was the best news of all from Paris. “There are a lot of key factors in a game like this; the mental aspect is very important,” Ancelotti said. “The team is in good shape, motivated, calm. We have to be smart. We can’t go crazy because we have to win the game, not score lots of goals. Maybe we score early or at the last minute; the important thing is to be alive.

Comments are closed.