Whether Bayern Munich will reach the Champions League final for the first time since 2013 is yet unclear. Tomorrow, Bayern will play their 7th Champions League semi-final since the 2011/12 season, this time against Olympique Lyonnais.
Paris Saint-Germain will play their first Champions League final in history. Tonight, they crushed RB Leipzig, who showed their inexperience at this international level. Here are three observations from Paris Saint-Germain’s win against RB Leipzig.
Marco Veratti makes the team better
Marco Veratti came on in the 83rd minute when the game was more or less decided. Suffering from a calf injury after a collision in practice with teammate Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Veratti missed the quarterfinal and was in heavy doubt before tonight’s game against Leipzig. The fact that Veratti played seven minutes means that he will be present in the Champions League final, at least as a substitute. The question is how match-fit the Italian will be.
This is an observation that wasn’t displayed today during the seven minutes Veratti played, though I would argue that the little playmaker makes PSG a much more complete team. Today, Thomas Tuchel decided to play with a defensively solid three-man midfield consisting of Ander Herrera, Leandro Paredes, and Marquinhos — defensively solid, but not a midfield with a true central playmaker such as Veratti.
Against Leipzig, PSG relied on Neymar and Di Maria to serve as their creative outlet, playing as inverted wingers. Neymar especially often found himself between Leipzig’s defensive midfield and back line, mostly trying to set up a brilliant Kylian Mbappé. The lack of a true playmaker was obvious when Neymar was sometimes pushed back to the center of the pitch to make offensive passes or runs, something he often did against Atalanta as well.
This is not saying that PSG’s midfield had a poor game. Defensively they were solid and often won back the ball in the center of the pitch. Due to Leipzig’s defensive approach, the midfield trio had time and space to find short and more creative options.
Veratti would improve PSG’s attack even further and it will be interesting to see whether he starts on Sunday.
Angel Di Maria, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe make a dangerous trio
Julian Nagelsmann set out his team to play very defensive football with a low back line. The reason for this was obvious: give time or space to PSG’s trio and they will punish you. Whether Nagelsmann made the right choice can be debated, but it was an approach that Gian Piero Gasperini made in the quarterfinal as well.
A high-press line can be extremely risky against the very skilled PSG trio: all three players link up extremely well with each other. It is interesting to observe that both Nagelsmann and Gasperini, two normally offensive coaches, decided to play defensively in their respective games against PSG.
Lack of offensive threat outside of the trio
Lastly, PSG is a good team but not a complete one. I am not convinced that their wingbacks have the quality to pose a consistent threat against the very best teams. Yes, Juan Bernat scored tonight, but he and Thilo Kehrer both seem to lack offensive quality, despite being positioned highly up the pitch. Due to a foot injury, Kehrer managed to play only 19 games in all competitions this year, and he so far has not made a single assist. Bernat is the more dangerous fullback of the two and has made so far seven assists this year in thirty games, two coming in the Champions League.
On the bench, PSG has a more “classical” striker option than Kylian Mbappé: Mauro Icardi. Although success at the French capital has been limited for Icardi, who did not play at all against Leipzig. He was also benched in both games against Borussia Dortmund and had a really poor game against Atalanta. Choupo-Moting was the game-winner against Atalanta, but that strike was one out of six for him this season. Julian Draxler and Pablo Sarabia could become jokers that Tuchel decides to put in the game, but it is clear that PSG relies heavily on their star trio.
Then again, that could very well be enough.
Ángel Di María's game by numbers vs. RB Leipzig:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 18, 2020
100% shot accuracy (2/2)
100% take-ons completed (4/4)
8 penalty area entries
6 ball recoveries
5 chances created
3 Big Chances created
2 fouls won
Fantastique. #UCL pic.twitter.com/AeZwqVOrW6