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Champions League

PSG-Real Madrid could be early Champions League final tie

Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino said his team’s round-of-16 tie with Real Madrid “could be a Champions League final” given the quality of the players involved and backed Lionel Messi to play a “fundamental role.”

Tuesday’s first leg game at the Parc des Princes will see Messi and Kylian Mbappe — who Madrid tried to sign last year and hope to land this summer — go up against the LaLiga giants, although former Madrid captain Sergio Ramos misses out through injury.

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Ramos is one of a number of ex-Real Madrid players now in the PSG squad, with goalkeeper Keylor Navas, right-back Achraf Hakimi and midfielder Angel Di Maria all hoping to feature against their former team.

“It’s a tie that could be a Champions League final with these names, players and quality,” Pochettino said in a pre-match news conference on Monday. “We respect Real Madrid, they’re one of the biggest clubs in the world.

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“Their 13 Champions League titles tell you it isn’t just about players or coaches, it’s about the strength and internal structure of a club. PSG have been waiting to win this trophy for over 50 years. We’re the challengers. We’re trying to build a team to get closer to that dream.”

The two clubs have clashed off the pitch over Madrid’s pursuit of Mbappe, with PSG sporting director Leonardo admitting the club “were not happy with Madrid’s behaviour” as they attempted to agree a deal in the last week of the summer transfer market.

Both teams lead their domestic leagues, with PSG 13 points clear at the top of Ligue 1, while Madrid have a four-point advantage at the top of LaLiga.

“[Real Madrid] are a fantastic team, they always raise their level in important moments of the season,” Pochettino said on Monday. “At times they haven’t been that good in the league, but they’ve ended up winning the Champions League. They have that togetherness and ability to compete.”

The coach said Messi — who is PSG’s top scorer in the Champions League this season with five goals — can help the French club take the next step in Europe.

“In decisive games, on important nights, [Messi’s] talent and experience will play a fundamental role, both individually and collectively,” he said.

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