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UCL preview: three key weaknesses Bayern Munich will look to exploit against PSG

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Olympique Lyon were the latest opponents to fall victim to the ruthless Bayern machine. Here’s how the Bavarians can expose PSG’s vulnerabilities to bring club football’s most coveted trophy home.

Bayern Munich vs Paris Saint-Germain: UEFA Champions League Photo by Lukas Barth/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Bayern Munich have progressed to the UEFA Champions League final for the first time since 2013. After beating Olympique Lyonnais, the Bavarians will face their final challenge of the tournament, Paris Saint Germain.

The two sides previously locked horns in the group stage of the 2017/18 campaign. Since then, both clubs have enjoyed underwhelming success in the Champions League. In 2018, individual mistakes cost Bayern the chance to progress to the final. For PSG, the players struggled to step up in big games as they were knocked out by Real Madrid and Manchester United in the following seasons.

This time, both teams are highly motivated to win the biggest competition of European football. The spectators will witness the battle between two of the best attacks in the world. For Hansi Flick’s men, the focus will be on breaking PSG’s less-than-stellar defense. Here are three weak points that Flick can exploit:


PSG’s midfield frailties

Paris Saint-Germain boasts a solid midfield on paper. Marco Verratti is incredibly press-resistant, Marquinhos is a robust defensive-midfielder, and Leandro Paredes possesses a variety of killer passes. When it comes down to their systematic play, however, PSG’s midfield is not as gelled as Bayern Munich’s.

PSG play with a three-man midfield. During buildup, one midfielder hides behind the first pressing-line and the other two form a double pivot. Without the ball, they press in 4-4-2 formation, but their midfield forms an unorganised structure. Like Barcelona’s midfield, they are prone to assuming a flat shape in which the players don’t present themselves as a robust unit.

PSG’s midfield lacks a clear structure; they also leave lots of space between the lines.

Their midfield shifts towards the side where the ball is being played, leaving lots of space in the middle of the park. If the opposition plays the ball inside, it gives them a clear opportunity to penetrate PSG’s defense from the middle.

Toni Kroos frequently recieved the ball in open space in the center of the pitch. He took shots and distributed the ball from this position; for Bayern, Thiago or Kimmich will be important in this area.

PSG opt for a narrow shape while chasing the ball. However, when the opposition plays through wide areas, a huge space is created between the fullback and his corresponding center-back. This allows their opposition to split their defense by exploiting half-spaces.

In the buildup to Real Madrid’s first goal, Marquinhos and Verratti simply slid over to the right side, creating ample space for Velverde running through right-half space.

Bayern Munich are blessed with playmakers like Thiago, Joshua Kimmich, and David Alaba. PSG’s midfield do not play with the same verticality as the Bavarians do. Per FBref, PSG averages 58 progressive passes as compared to Bayern’s 68 per 90 minutes of play. PSG are also highly dependent on their Brazilian stalwart Neymar Jr., who often drops into midfield, receives the ball from the back, and progresses it upfield himself.


The vicious cycle of counter-pressing

Bayern attackers will be up against yet another back line that has struggled to play under pressure. PSG’s back line and midfield are often dispossessed by teams playing with an effective counter-pressing system. With the exception of Verratti, PSG’s midfielders are not very press-resistant and look for back-passes.

Thomas Tuchel attempts to neutralize this problem by instructing his back line to lure pressure and use Keylor Navas to bypass the opposition’s lines of play with a long ball to an attacker, typically Neymar. However, teams in the Champions League were aware of this threat. In this case, they set up their center-backs accordingly and intercepted those balls.

Atlanta man-marks PSG players. Keylor Navas’ long ball is intercepted and Atlanta attack on the break.

As mentioned above, PSG midfield’s systematic play is not as robust and dynamic as Bayern’s. When the opposition hits PSG on the break, their midfield tracks back without keeping its shape and tries to win the ball haphazardly. If they manage to win the ball, they then struggle to find release points and are prone to losing the ball from opponents’ counter-pressing. This is due to the absence of an attacking midfielder and their midfielders’ lack of creativity to progress the ball.

After Real Madrid lose the ball, PSG look for Mbappé, but Real Madrid win the ball back through counter-pressing and attack again.

For Bayern, the key is to create a similar “cycle”. As soon as Bayern lose the ball after creating a fast attack, PSG midfielders will be looking for Neymar, Di Maria or Mbappe. Bayern attackers’ counter pressing will immediately put their midfield under pressure, and Goretzka and Alaba will be tasked to keep a track on the passes for PSG attackers. Bayern players are well aware of this strategy, as they displayed it against Barcelona. This move will force PSG players to give up the ball and Bayern can thus, hit them on the break.

Goretzka intercepts a pass meant for Griezmann; Bayern attack on a fast break.

PSG can’t take what they dish out

PSG have a frightening attacking trio of Neymar, Kylian Mbappé, and Angel Di Maria. When they launch counter-attacks, their combination of pace, positional-play, and superior ball-playing skills simply deform opposition defenses. However, time and again, PSG’s defense has been exposed by the same style of play.

PSG’s possession-oriented playing style and structure make them susceptible to counter-attacks. During buildup, the wingers drop into the midfield. This pushes their fullbacks Thilo Kehrer and Juan Bernat to occupy the wing positions. If those gaps aren’t properly covered, their wings become the primary source of free space for the opposition preparing to hit them on the break.

Leipzig’s best chance in the first half came as a result of a counter-attack. Bernat was caught out of position as Laimer dribbled the ball into the box and crossed it to Poulsen.

In addition to this, Tuchel’s team cannot last without the ball for long stretches of a match. After all, possession-oriented football is their fundamental style of play. If PSG keeps possession to an equal extent, Bayern can play the “reverse card” and focus on hitting them on the break. Apart from Serge Gnabry’s in-behind runs, Kingsley Coman and Alphonso Davies’ speedster partnership will be crucial in quickly progressing the ball through wide areas.

Coman and Davies combine their pace to attack Dortmund on the break. Gnabry narrowly misses from Coman’s cross.

Taking individual quality and tactical acumen into account, Bayern’s attackers will surely succeed in exploiting these weaknesses and creating chances against PSG. However, they will need to have an efficient outing in front of goal. Despite PSG’s defensive struggles, Bayern’s attackers will not have the luxury of wasting a plethora of chances as they did against Lyon.

On the other side of the pitch, Bayern’s defense will face their toughest challenge of the season. If the attackers are able to apply pressure on PSG from the start, Hansi Flick’s team will be in for a great game.

Back in October, the club was in a state of turmoil. To win the domestic double and reach the UCL finale in the same season is nothing short of extraordinary. Hansi Flick’s team is playing with a much-needed killer instinct, and if the players play with the level of confidence that they displayed against Barcelona, there’s no stopping this club from completing the treble.

It’s Bayern time!