Real Madrid must beat PSG this evening at the Bernabeu to avoid a runners-up spot in Group A and a potentially tougher last-16 tie come February.
Madrid are currently on seven points from four games following a 3-0 defeat by the Ligue 1 champions on matchday one, as well as a 2-2 draw at home to Club Brugge two weeks later.
Although likely to qualify given closest rivals Brugge are only on two points, 13-time winners Real are likely to have to settle for second best, meaning potential knockout ties against current table-toppers Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Juventus or defending champions Liverpool.
In order to finish top, Real need an unlikely chain of events. They need to beat PSG tonight to get within two points of Thomas Tuchel’s side, and then need to hope PSG drop points at home to bottom side Galatasaray on matchday six.
Unlikely as it is, if PSG lose to the Turkish side, Real can go top with a win in Belgium against Brugge.
If PSG draw and Real Madrid win, the teams would be level on 13 points, by which point it would go to head-to-head and stretching that, the goal-difference within those two games – Real would need to beat PSG by at least three goals tonight, should it come down to that.
However, everything does point towards Real Madrid finishing second in Group A.
As things currently stand, Madrid team could be drawn against Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Manchester City, last year’s semi-finalists Ajax, or Red Bull Leipzig.
They could not be drawn against Barcelona or any other Spanish club as teams from the same country cannot be drawn together until the quarter-final stage.
All that being said, the last time Madrid finished second in their group they won the competition, in 2018.
In fact, PSG were the unlucky recipients of a tough knockout-stage draw on that occasion, as a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Real won 5-2 on aggregate in the last 16.
They went on to beat Liverpool in the final to win the competition for the third time in a row – it was also Zinedine Zidane’s last match in charge before resigning.
Now in his second stint as manager, a trickier last-16 tie certainly won’t faze Zidane, but it would be the result of what has been a topsy-turvy start to the season.