It did not take long for Bayern Munich long to move on from its roller-coaster ride of a victory against Hannover 96 and take a peek at the monster looming on the horizon: Ligue 1 dynamo Paris Saint-Germain.
In the last Champions League fixture versus Les Rouge-et-Bleu, former Bayern manager Carlo Ancelotti rolled out a questionable lineup that led to an embarrassing 3-0 blowout loss — and ultimately his departure from the club. This time, however, the Reds will be looking to change their fortune and that will start with the backline.
Jerome Boateng said after the Hannover 96 victory: "We did not defend very well after losing possession and gave Hannover a lot of space, especially in the first half," said the center back. "In the second half, we had a better organization but, if you play like this against Paris, they will destroy you."
It’s not quite Ramsey Bolton belting out “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention” on Game of Thrones, but the intent from Boateng was clear: If you give the fearsome trio of Neymar, Edinson Calvani, and Kylian Mbappe any free space, they will likely make you pay. Worse, they seem to experience great joy from watching their opposition’s spirit deflate and thrive on it. PSG was delighted to hammer Bayern Munich in the last matchup of the heavyweights and would like nothing more than to up the ante this time around.
So how does Bayern Munich ward off such a threatening attack without experiencing the mass unravelling that occurred last time around? Start first with Boateng, himself, leveling out his play. Boateng no longer possesses the speed he had in his younger days. Too often this season, Boateng has found himself out of position and trying to rely on that last gear to make a play, but that gear appears to be stalled at best because of fitness issues or gone completely at worst because of years of wear and tear. That said, his intellect and experience more than make up for his lost step when he controls his urge to sneak too far up field.
Mats Hummels has been the anchor and stalwart of the Bayern defense since re-joining the club in 2016. His experience and uncanny knack for making the big play to cut down a threat have bailed Bayern out numerous times over the past two seasons.
Flanking the center backs should be David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich, who each play with enough pace to support both ends of the field. All of that is pretty obvious to anyone who has closely watch Bayern over the past two seasons, but the two players who may have the most impact are Arturo Vidal and Javi Martinez in their defensive midfield roles. Neither player is the most fleet of foot, but both are skilled defensive midfielders. Vidal, particularly, plays with a passion and drive that commands attention and respect on the pitch – his opponents are always well aware of his position on the field.
If Vidal and Martinez can create enough of a roadblock at midfield – and if Jupp Heynckes can pick the proper time to use Sebastian Rudy’s fresh legs for late game defensive stint for Martinez – the Reds could put up enough of a defensive battle to allow their own offense to be the attack drawing the most attention.
As evidenced this past weekend when Les Blues dropped an unexpected 2-1 decision to Strasbourg, PSG can be taken down. For as powerful as the Paris Saint-Germain offense has been, there have been rumblings of unrest between its high maintenance star players – Neymar and Calvani.
Even with any reputed unrest, the Bavarians could still execute flawlessly and may not be enough to derail PSG. To that end, it may be time to take a page from another Game of Thrones star-crossed character, Stannis Baratheon, who once said, “We march to victory, or we march to defeat. But we go forward. Only forward.”