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

Bayern’s defense will be facing one of the deadliest attacking trios in the world. Here’s what Hansi Flick needs to look out for.

RB Leipzig v Paris Saint-Germain F.C - UEFA Champions League Semi Final Photo by Manu Fernandez/Pool via Getty Images

In our previous article, we explored the possible areas Bayern Munich will look to exploit against Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League final. Now, it’s time to look at the other side of that coin.

PSG’s defense has some clear weaknesses which will play right into the Bavarians’ hands. However, on the flip side, they boast one of the best attacking quality and depth in the world. Rather than exploiting their defense, their opposition is often found overwhelmed by their attacking caliber.

PSG’s team consists of two of the best players in the world and a bench boasting of players like Mauro Icardi, Julian Draxler etc. Their attacking patterns are well suited to exploit Bayern’s defensive style of play. Here’s what coach Hansi Flick should be wary of ahead of Champions League final:

Positional plays between attacking trio

PSG’s attack operates with the same positional fluidity as Bayern’s. The three players are assigned different roles within the system. Neymar is frequently seen moving between the lines and operating in tight spaces. Kylian Mbappe’s focus remains largely on making runs in behind the defense.

Thomas Tuchel’s team uses quick positional plays and off-the-ball movements in the attack. Their attacking movements forces defenders to leave their position and as a result, creates space around the opposition backline.

PSG penetrates Atalanta defense as Neymar attracts Atalanta defender, passes to Icardi who creates space for Neymar in the middle

While defending in their half, Angel Di Maria drops back as a wide midfielder and PSG press their opponents in a 4-4-2 structure. If PSG play without Icardi, Neymar and Mbappe spearhead the team in this phase and remain in the position to hit opposition on fast break.

Neymar-Mbappe combination as PSG counter attack against Leipzig

Neymar’s threat

Compared to their last meeting, Bayern Munich will be facing a different and improved Neymar Jr. Not only is he one of PSG’s top goal contributors, he has taken up a leading role in Tuchel’s team. Neymar has been allotted a free role in PSG’s system. The Brazilian is their primary source of creativity and with teammates like Mbappe, Icardi or Di Maria ahead of him, he enjoys taking part in PSG’s buildup.

Neymar frequently drops in midfield during PSG’s buildup play. He either drops deep and picks up the ball or operates between the lines and uses positional plays with the rest of the attackers.

Neymar operating between the lines

If Neymar is given space, he becomes unstoppable with the ball and in momentum. The former Barcelona star looks to play the ball vertically and is an expert in “selling” fouls. Per FBref, Neymar carried the ball for an average of 345 yards of progressive distance and won as many as 4.25 fouls per 90 minutes in Ligue 1.

Atalanta gives Neymar space; he carries the ball to the edge of the box and shoots

However, if the defenders emphasize too much on pressing him, it backfires on their team. Neymar can effectively carry the ball under-pressure and pass the ball to his teammate(s), who can then exploit the space created by the Brazilian drawing multiple defenders.

Lyon center back moves out to press Neymar; Neymar plays a through pass for Di Maria

Closing out the space between defense and midfield is one important area Flick should focus on. Giving Neymar space in this area can prove fatal to Bayern defense. This was also shown by Luis Suarez when he scored Barcelona’s second goal against the Bavarians.

Goretzka gives plenty of space to Suarez between the lines. Boateng isn’t able to charge as he maintains shape; Suarez recieves the ball and scores

Bayern players will have to play smartly in order to neutralize Neymar. Against Messi, they defended collectively — but unlike Messi, Neymar will create space for speed demon Kylian Mbappe. Bayern cannot afford to make the same mistake as Atalanta did by discarding their team structure to stop the Brazilian.

In this case, Goretzka and Thiago/Kimmich will have to defend collectively against Neymar and Bayern full backs Alphonso Davies and Benjamin Pavard (or Joshua Kimmich) will have to keep an eye on Mbappe and Di Maria’s in-behind runs.

Thiago and Goretzka’s collective defending against Messi. Davies keeps a track on Semedo

Beware of sloppy giveaways

Olympique Lyonnais gave us a glimpse of how a team like PSG can punish Bayern on sloppy turnovers. In the semi-finals, the Bavarians allowed Lyon to register an xG (expected goals) value of 1.5. Lyon may not have managed to score from those chances, but PSG are experts at capitalizing on opposition’s mistakes.

As soon as they regain possession, PSG look to hurt opponents when they are in an unsettled state. They follow a clear strategy in setting up counter-attacks and this is where they will look to exploit Bayern’s high defensive line.

Mistake from Leipzig results in PSG exploiting Leipzig’s high line

In the first half against Lyon, Bayern Munich’s double pivot lacked the cohesiveness that they displayed against Barcelona. Due to the difference in the two midfielders positioning, Lyon forced Thiago to commit errors and as a result, Lyon attackers were able to set up dangerous counter attacks.

Thiago beats his marker with his signature turn but his pass is intercepted. As a result, Lyon hit Bayern on the break. Unlike Lyon, PSG will be having atleast two speedsters upfront

Hansi Flick doesn’t need to make major adjustments to his defensive line. One area Flick can look to adjust is Leon Goretzka’s positioning. Against Lyon, Goretzka had to play in an advanced position to help attackers have an extra man in penetrating defense through the middle. However, PSG will be playing with four-man defense and three midfielders. For opposition with this setup, Goretzka can be played in a deeper position, like against Barcelona.

Goretzka and Thiago combine to progress the ball

Players like Di Maria and Neymar should absolutely be given no space on the field. While Neymar is their main creator of attacks of all types, giving Di Maria time on the ball will only enhance PSG’s creativity. In this case, Bayern’s high block will be important in suffocating PSG attackers.

As experienced by the team and fans alike, one lapse of concentration is all it takes for a quality opposition to topple Bayern. As witnessed in their previous knockout rounds, PSG’s attack only grows confident with each chance. However, Bayern’s defense will be the best defense PSG has faced this season.

Per 538, Bayern Munich will go into the final with a 64% chance of lifting the trophy. They boast high quality players on all areas of the pitch and will have a clear attacking plan in the final third. Moreover, the Bavarians have a coach who remains well aware of the opposition’s danger. Players like Goretzka, Davies and David Alaba have enough quality to keep PSG attackers at bay.

If they overcome self doubt like they did against Barcelona and play as instructed by Flick, Bayern Munich can surely succeed in #MissionLis6on.

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