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Will The PSG-Real Madrid Clash Result In A Changing Of The Guard Or The Continuation Of The Old European Regime?

Neymar and PSG have a chance to upend a sustained period of Real Madrid-Ronaldo dominance.

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The Champions League fortunes of Real Madrid and Paris St-Germain have differed greatly in recent reasons. The All Whites have taken on the form of an unstoppable colossus, rampaging its way to three Champions League titles in the past four seasons and seven consecutive semifinal appearances since 2011. They are the undoubted kings of Europe and the team with nothing to left to prove. PSG are the exact opposite; a team still looking to stake their place with the elite of the elite.

PSG’s quest began with the Qatari takeover in 2011, when the French outfit spent a scarcely believable £841.51 million in transfer fees over the next six years. They acquired the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Javier Pastore, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Edinson Cavani, Neymar Jr., and Kylian Mbappe. Yet, despite this massive outlay, PSG have stumbled at every Champions League roadblock since their ambitious project began. They have fallen to Barcelona three times since 2012/13 and have never managed to make it past the quarterfinals. In almost symbolic fashion, the old European guard has worked relentlessly to keep the rising star in France from achieving its full potential.

Now, in the round of 16 of the 2017/18 edition of the Champions League, the ultimate of the old European footballing powers stands in the way of the persistent outsiders. While there would still be much work to be done following a victory, a defeat of the back-to-back, twelve-time defending Champions, could provide PSG with enough momentum to create a power shift and spark a new dynasty in Europe.

On an individual level, this potential power shift is reflected in the upcoming duel between Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo and the similarities between the former and the older version of the latter. Like the Ronnie of old, Neymar hangs about in the left half space, is flashy, agile, fast, cocky, and lethal in front of goal. Just recently, the Brazilian superstar remarked, “Ronaldo is the mirror in which I view myself.”

But it’s clear that Neymar is talking about a version of CR7 that no longer really exists, creating a perfect narrative opening for Ronaldo to pass the torch to a younger version of himself, thus representing the passage from old to young. Such a victory for Neymar, when combined with Champions League glory, should be enough to finally break the Cristiano-Lionel duopoly over the Ballon d’Or and usher in a new age for European football on that front.

Of course, none of the above will be easy. Despite Ronaldo’s evident statistical decline in La Liga, he has managed to warp into a dimension where time has stalled and his peak remains intact when playing in the UCL. Since 2012/13, CR7 has accumulated 67 goals in the competition, has broken basically every single Champions League scoring record possible, and has accrued so many knockout goals that the gap between him and the rest has become embarrassing.

Top Scorers in the Champions League Knockout Rounds

Player Goals in UCL knockout rounds
Player Goals in UCL knockout rounds
Ronaldo 54
Messi 37
Thomas Müller 19
Shevchenko 18
Raúl 18
Lewandowski 17
Inzaghi 16
Robben 16

Even his creativity and dribbling stats have avoided the steady drop-off that is so clearly present in La Liga, demonstrating his relentless battle against father time in his favorite competition.

Ronaldo shows a clear & steady statistical decline in La Liga.
Ronaldo’s statistical output has been more consistent & resistant to decline across UCL seasons when compared to his league seasons.

These statistical representations of Ronaldo’s stubborn greatness, combined with Real’s star quality, pedigree, and the desperation that comes from losing the league in November, means that Neymar and PSG’s task will not be easy. Both Real Madrid and Ronaldo have continually demonstrated an ability to stave off bad form, age-induced decline, and world class opponents to produce magical Champions League moments. But, if there ever was a time when the stage was perfectly set for regime change... that moment would be now...

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