Real Madrid hope fans can see them home against PSG in Champions League

Carlo Ancelotti of Real Madrid and Karim Benzema of Real Madrid talks during the UEFA Champions League Round Of Sixteen Leg One match between Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid at Parc des Princes on February 15, 2022 in Paris, France.

Following Saturday convincing 4-1 home win against Real Sociedad, Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti and his players thanked their fans in the most animated section behind the Bernabeu goal.

Then they returned to the dressing room before coming out to the fans one more time. This is unheard of, but it was with good reason and with an eye on what’s to follow.

Madrid host Paris St Germain in the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday, their biggest game of the season.

PSG won the first leg 1-0 in a game they completely dominated. Madrid need everything for the second leg if they’re to stand a chance of progressing and now, more than ever, they need the fans and players and have said so in post-match interviews.

The timing is right since the Bernabeu will host a crowd of more than 60,000 for the first time in two years. Covid lockdown, a massive stadium reconstruction and capacities being slashed by the government kept crowds down and while there’s still another year to go before the building work is fully completed, 60,000 will be sufficient to create an almighty din.

Zinedine Zidane’s side were 10 minutes from winning La Liga last season and one goal from reaching the Champions League final, despite not playing well in two semi-finals against eventual winners Chelsea – the first leg in a rain-soaked, empty, windy, reserve-team stadium which was their home last season. The difference on Wednesday is hoped to be huge.

Despite having the same players, Madrid have improved this season under new boss Ancelotti. They score more goals, play better football and win more games. The Italian fixed the problems in their defence at the start of the season, which were understandable after losing defensive mainstays Sergio Ramos and Varane.

Other pillars of great Madrid sides have stayed and remain hugely important. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and La Liga’s leading scorer Karim Benzema have been their best performers this season, along with Brazilian forward Vinicius Junior and his compatriot, central defender, Eder Militao.

At the other end of the scale, Eden Hazard, whose Madrid career has been frustrated by injury, retains a peripheral role while Madrid fans think Gareth Bale simply does care what they think about him and will leave at the end of the season.

In mitigation, Bale has been injured and ill but getting his salary off the Bernabéu books will pay the wages of three world-class players.

Bale will become Madrid’s past when his contract is up, while Madrid look to PSG’s Killian Mbappe for their future.

He’ll see the Bernabeu for himself and he’s Madrid’s number one target for this summer. The Spaniards hope they can fund it in part by what the new Bernabeu will bring in. While the capacity will stay at 81,000, the club is anticipating another €150 million in revenue a year from the rebuilt stadium that they hope will be used 300 days a year rather than the current 30.

The stadium, which enjoys a prime city centre location, will have a roof and stage concerts, american football, basketball and have more space for museums (Real Madrid’s club museum is the second most popular in the city after the Prado), sponsors, restaurants and VIP spaces. Madrid will be able to say with confidence that they play in the best football stadium on the planet and football will be the main concern.

Madrid were outclassed in the first leg in France, the only surprise being that it took until the 94th minute for PSG – and Mbappe – to score. They’ll return with former Madrid players Angel Di Maria, who is liked by his former fans, Keylor Navas, who is loved, and Lionel Messi, who is not. The Argentine is feared since he played some of his greatest Barcelona games in the Bernabeu.

It’s Madrid who need a great game. Ancelotti has said publicly that his side need to press higher after being too defensive in the Parc de Princes. Madrid, who usually play a 4-3-3, started this season pressing higher before changing.

Ancelotti is popular but it will be a huge task for his side, who’ll be without Casemiro and Mendy, while there are doubts about Toni Kroos. Luca Modric, 36, remains a key player.

Madrid used to think they could come back against any team at home and, aided by Cristiano Ronaldo, they often did.

They’re no longer the pre-eminent force of European football, nor are one of the three biggest clubs in the world ready to be sidelined. And this time, home really should give them an advantage.

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