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Preview: Bayern Munich faces its hardest test yet in Paris

PSG and Bayern have much more at stake than mere points.

Nasser Al Khelaifi, president of PSG, and Uli Hoeness at the Women's Champions League match between PSG and Bayern Munich at the Parc des Princes, March 29, 2017. Bayern lost 4-0.
Photo by Andre Ferreira / Icon Sport

The first big game of the season has come: on Wednesday Bayern Munich will play Paris Saint-Germain in the Parc des Princes. The match pits polar opposites of elite European soccer against one another: Bayern Munich spent all of €103.5 million on five players, while PSG spent €238 million on Neymar and Yuri Berchiche (who cost €16 million).

Bayern back to full strength - almost

With the devastating exception of the loss of Manuel Neuer, Bayern may be at full strength for the first time this season, allowing Carlo Ancelotti to choose his ideal lineup for this highly symbolic game. The opportunity is simultaneously the first major test of the quality of Bayern's squad against the newly crowned biggest spender in European soccer.

The biggest question mark in terms of fitness is whether David Alaba is ready to make his comeback at left-back against PSG. Alaba returned to full team training on Monday and may start on Wednesday. A fit Alaba would relieve Rafinha of the need to play out of position on the left and potentially give Bayern’s left flank more bite, but the circumstances leave Alaba with no margin for error after missing over two weeks of play.

Ancelotti also will be able to call upon Thiago. The midfielder had suffered a knock to the pelvis in training and missed Bayern's 2-2 draw against Wolfsburg. Since he is not recovering from a serious injury, it is all but certain that he will start.

Jerome Boateng may also be poised to rejoin Mats Hummels in the starting lineup. Boateng played all 90 minutes of Bayern’s game against Wolfsburg, so his endurance is not under question. If, however, Ancelotti holds to the rotation pattern we have seen thus far, Boateng would be the candidate to make way for Javi Martinez or Niklas Süle. The question then becomes whether Javi or Süle are ready to face Paris’s monstrous offense. Wolfsburg’s second goal this past weekend was a rude awakening for Boateng in a moment of weakness, but he remains Bayern’s best center-back alongside Hummels.

The dilemma in midfield and offense: who starts?

A few factors suggest how Ancelotti may line up the team. Ancelotti played both Robben and Ribery for almost the entire 90 minutes of Bayern's draw against Wolfsburg. Robben was largely shut down by an 18-year-old making his Bundesliga debut (Gian-Luca Itter), while Ribery opposite him proved unable to spark Bayern's offense. In my opinion, both aging wingers should embrace the role of supersub for this match.

The two players Ancelotti reluctantly used to sub out Robben and Ribery on Friday may be the designated starters: Kingsley Coman and James Rodriguez. James was electric in Bayern's demolition of Schalke, and his shape-shifting chemistry with Thomas Müller could be a valuable asset in prying apart PSG's defense. Coman meanwhile has the blazing pace and dribbling to take on PSG’s Dani Alves.

But will Ancelotti start Müller in this match? Thiago will play either as center midfielder or take Müller's position as CAM, allowing Corentin Tolisso to start with Vidal. Unless Müller then plays out wide on the right, benching James, he will have to make way. If and when, however, Ancelotti plays James over Müller, that is not necessarily a final verdict of their respective statuses in the club: circumstance and injury have kept James out of the lineup, while Müller has started a series of games.

PSG flex their muscles

If you are not familiar with PSG, take the time to read Ineednoname’s outstanding breakdown of their 2-0 victory over Lyon. The most significant change to expect is the return of Marco Verratti, pushing a struggling Julian Draxler to the bench. PSG have the offensive firepower to strike fear into any opponent. Here is what Bayern should expect:

Areola – Kurzawa, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Dani Alves – Rabiot, Thiago Motta, Verrati – Neymar, Cavani, Mbappé

PSG has been more balanced and defensively stable with a 4-3-3, and they will hope to use their trio of midfielders to stifle Bayern's offensive creativity.

Neymar missed PSG's last fixture, against Montpellier, which ended in a scoreless draw, but he is fully fit to play against Bayern Munich. Angel Di Maria, who picked up a thigh injury in early September, has also returned to team training and is anticipated to be fit to play, although he will surely not be in the starting lineup.

Marco Verratti, who joined PSG while it was coached by Carlo Ancelotti, spoke about how important Ancelotti was to his development both on and off the pitch. Verratti described the feeling at PSG as it faces the German champions on an equal footing, but also cautioned against exaggerating the importance of the match:

I think it is one of the first times that I feel like we are like Bayern. We have been working toward this for five years; now I think we have credibility in the Champions League. . . You know that you are playing against a great team; it's an important match but not a decisive match, it's only the second matchday [of the group stage]. To win against Bayern, to win by playing well, that gives you confidence, but if you win this match you still haven't won anything this season, and if you lose you still have much to do.

Supporters of PSG are also keen to put Bayern Munich in its place because club leaders Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge have been outspoken in their criticism of PSG's use of virtually unlimited funds to secure a series of blockbuster transfers, throwing the transfer market into inflationary chaos.

Bayern and PSG thus are set for a clash of soccer philosophies tomorrow at the Parc des Princes, as each seeks a positive result that holds far more symbolic power than merely points in the Champions League group stage.

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