Real Madrid scoffed when Paris Saint-Germain swooped in to sign Neymar from Barcelona for £200million in the summer… but they’re not laughing now, writes Rik Sharma in Madrid.
Finishing second to Tottenham in the group means reigning European champions Madrid must now face the Brazilian who so regularly tore them apart in a Barca shirt, as they meet PSG in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Dani Carvajal said “there’s no recipe to stop him” — although the Madrid right-back won’t even get the chance to try in the first leg because of suspension, with the dedicated but limited Nacho set to play in his place.
Even without Neymar, Barca have charged to the top of La Liga and left their rivals in their wake.
It’s beginning to look like a crisis for Madrid and, if Neymar can inspire victory against Zinedine Zidane’s side at the Bernabeu, the French coach could be sacked before the Paris return on March 6.
“I feel no pressure,” insisted Zidane on Tuesday. “I have nothing to prove. I’m not going to think about my future.”
Neymar has been increasingly linked with a move back to Spain — and to Real Madrid.
Just as PSG signed him after he inspired Barcelona to an historic 6-1 win over them last season, Madrid may end up hiring their executioner — especially with 33-year-old talisman Cristiano Ronaldo coming towards the end of his career.
Marcelo, Neymar’s friend and team-mate for Brazil but his enemy in this tie, said he thinks the mercurial forward will play for Los Blancos one day.
“Neymar is a world star. It’s clear any fan would like to have him,” he said.
For his part, Neymar was keeping the door to a move open when he looked ahead to Wednesday’s match.
“The form of Real Madrid in La Liga means nothing – if anything it makes them more dangerous because now the Champions League is more important for them,” he said.
“They might not be where they expected to be in La Liga but there is a reason they have won the last two Champions Leagues – it’s because they have some of the best players in the world and a very good coach.
“That hasn’t changed – and we will still be respecting them like they are one of the best because that is just what they are.”
REAL MADRID Navas; Nacho, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Casemiro, Modric, Kroos; Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo.
PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN Areola; Alves, Marquinhos, Silva, Berchiche; Diarra, Verratti, Rabiot; Mbappe, Cavani, Neymar.
Which European giant will go through?
0+ VOTES SO FAR