At long last it’s here: Bayern Munich will host Paris Saint-Germain in the second of their two meetings in the Champions League group stage. Both teams have long since qualified for the knockout round, but the stakes remain high. A lopsided victory by Bayern could steal away the group victory, while Paris intend to prove their dominance.
James’s biggest game yet
Heynckes revealed one name that will be starting tomorrow: James Rodríguez. A succession of injuries to Thomas Müller and Thiago Alcantara has given the Colombian ample opportunity to shine for his new club, and James has seized those chances to exceed all expectations. Coming off of yet another exhilarating performance against Hannover, James is a lock to start.
#Heynckes: "You can see how good @jamesdrodriguez is feeling right now. He is getting better and better. He's a great footballer, and he covers a lot of ground, too. He will start tomorrow." #FCBPSG pic.twitter.com/HpC9ka6gJe— FC Bayern English (@FCBayernEN) December 4, 2017
With James playing behind Lewandowski, Thomas Müller will likely play again on the right. Just as James has free rein to roam across the pitch, Müller will also have license to drift inside to wreak havoc on PSG’s defenders.
The main question going into this match is whether Heynckes modifies the midfield pivot of Javi Martínez and Arturo Vidal. Javi’s role in this team is irreplaceable, but Heynckes may opt to rest Vidal in favor of Sebastian Rudy, who offers more composure on the ball and defensive agility against a fast-paced pressing team like PSG.
Also, if Müller drifts inside and Joshua Kimmich plays high up the field, Rudy may also help maintain defensive stability on the right side, a role he has occasionally performed for the German national team.
Otherwise, Bayern’s lineup is unlikely to change unless fitness issues rule out one of the four primary defenders (Heynckes will exercise caution especially with Jerome Boateng).
PSG: What better way to clinch the group than in Munich?
PSG's undefeated streak came to a surprising end on Saturday after a 1:2 loss to RC Strasbourg Alsace. Head coach Unai Emery has no intention of allowing a second consecutive loss. He respectfully described Bayern Munich as “one of the clubs that can win the Champions League,” despite the 0:3 result in their first encounter with PSG, but he and his players still want to “make a statement” with a follow-up win in Munich, clinching the group.
Emery also has nearly his club's entire roster at his disposal. Given the players rested in Strasbourg - Cavani, Verrati, Thaigo Silva, and Kurzawa - Emery undoubtedly will throw his best lineup against Munich. Of the players who beat Bayern in September, only defensive midfielder Thiago Motta has been lost to a knee injury.
Rabiot very probably will move to the central midfield to replace Motta, making room in the lineup for German international Julian Draxler to contribute behind Neymar on the left.
This is an extremely dangerous team: for all the scoffing at the level of competition in Ligue 1, PSG have demolished the Champions League group stage and with it Borussia Dortmund's record for goals scored. Neymar and friends have raised the bar to 24 goals - and counting.
The contest may come down to success in the midfield: can Javi Martinez withstand the waves of attack that will surely come his way, and can his partner (Rudy? Vidal?Tolisso?) provide the right balance of pressure, protection, and creativity to drive Bayern's offense forward without exposing the team to counterattacks?
The offense around James must deliver, and Bayern’s defenders collectively must remain disciplined and compact as they go up against PSG's profligate dribblers. This will be the team's and Heynckes's greatest challenge yet and indicative of the drift of the season.