Soccer

Champions League: PSG’s best defense of their lead will be attacking Bayern Munich

Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich meet again at Parc des Princes on Tuesday (you can watch that match and all the rest of the action live on Paramount+) to do battle for a place in the UEFA Champions League semifinals. The match comes less than a week on from their modern classic at Allianz Arena where the French giants emerge with a surprise 3-2 win.

The German juggernaut created plenty of opportunities and put the PSG defense under significant pressure for the majority of the match, but the Ligue 1 titleholders hit Bayern on the counter to devastating effect with Kylian Mbappe scoring twice either side of Marquinhos’ composed finish.

Hansi Flick’s German and European champions did score twice through former PSG man Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Thomas Muller, but they wasted the majority of their chances against an ever-changing away rearguard and exposed back line weaknesses of their own with their over-eager style.

Bayern may well create a bundle of openings once again on Wednesday, but the chances are significantly lower that PSG will be as chaotic as they were in Germany last week in the unexpected freezing weather conditions and with players dropping like flies.

Even so, Mauricio Pochettino’s men cannot afford to simply sit back on their first leg lead against such a dangerous opponent. There are a number of reasons why it simply will not be possible for Les Parisiens to approach this return encounter in that fashion.

First of all, and most notably, Bayern created a lot of chances in the opener. Handi Flick’s side took a remarkable 31 shots, which added up to 3.79 expected goals. Even with the magnificent Keylor Navas between the sticks, it was not enough to stop the back of the PSG net from being hit twice — once by an ex-player — and the woodwork touched as well.

As the second leg against Barcelona in the round of 16 showed, this team are incapable of sitting on a lead and killing a tie off effectively and it was only the replacement of Layvin Kurzawa with Abdou Diallo after a particularly brutal first half that changed the momentum. In that half alone Barcelona generated 16 shots and 1.82 expected goals and had Navas not stepped up and stopped a Lionel Messi penalty who knows what might have happened next. 

In attacking PSG as relentlessly as they did in Munich, Bayern laid bare their defensive deficiencies and their inability to get of the basics right at the back when faced with an attack as talented as the French capital outfit’s and that will not have been forgotten in less than a week.

With captain Marquinhos out of the game after the Brazil international failed to recover from the knock that he sustained after heroically putting his team two goals up, the chances of successfully pulling off a stubborn defensively display for a goalless draw or a narrow 1-0 loss are depleted.

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In any case, that sort of approach is not in Pochettino nor PSG’s DNA and that lends greater probability to the hosts looking to score the opening goal on Tuesday in the hope of killing the tie as Bayern will head into the kick-off knowing that at least two goals will be required.

What PSG lose with Marquinhos, they gain elsewhere with the returns of Marco Verratti and Alessandro Florenzi after they tested positive for COVID-19 and Leandro Paredes after his suspension for leg one.

Although Verratti is unlikely to be fit enough to start, being able to bring the Azzurri schemer into the encounter around the hour mark could be a crucial part of Pochettino’s game plan as the 28-year-old is an expert when it comes to ball retention.

Paredes is not of the same ilk, yet he brings greater technique and creativity to the middle of the park than the likes of Idrissa Gueye and Ander Herrera while Danilo Pereira will likely drop back into defense to help to replace Marquinhos as he did in the first leg.

There is also the wildcard option of Julian Draxler and while he was not particularly impressive against either Barca or Bayern, he had a goal ruled out in the first half in Germany that could have changed the course of the match and his overall display.

“I do not think that it is about the players,” said Pochettino in Monday’s pre-match press conference. “Against Barca, it was difficult to keep the ball even with Marco and Leandro. It is not a question of the players. It is a question of the collective attitude and of being able to defend, keeping the ball and hurting the opponent. The challenge will be to perform well.”

Adding to the intrigue around the midfield battle is the fact that Leon Goretzka has had to fight to even be fit enough to travel for the visitors and this suggests that he could struggle to reach his usual high standards and perhaps will aid PSG in the fight for midfield supremacy.

One of the key reasons Bayern were able to create so much last week was their ability to control the middle of the pitch as Pochettino and his players never really looked to compete on that front and instead preferred to concentrate on getting it from the back to the front as quickly as possible.

With better-equipped players to retain the ball, PSG should naturally see more of it and could perhaps open themselves up to Flick’s side trying to emulate what they themselves did in the opening leg and countering at blistering pace.

It promises to be a fascinating second act in what could turn into one of the most memorable two-legged encounters we have seen in the Champions League latter stages for some time.



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