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UCL preview: Three areas Paris Saint-Germain can exploit against Bayern Munich

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Paris Saint-Germain’s midfield and defense may have numerous frailties, but their attacking potence could go toe-to-toe with Bayern Munich’s.

Paris Saint-Germain v Bayern Munich - UEFA Champions League Final Photo by Manu Fernandez/Pool via Getty Images

Now that we have examined the potential weaknesses of our opponents, it’s time to check on their strengths.

The elephant in the room for Bayern Munich is the absence of Robert Lewandowski. The issue seems to have a stinging effect, especially with Paris Saint-Germain arriving in Munich with fully fit offensive firepower.

Emotions will be riding high for this contest, as Neymar Jr. and co. will seek to avenge their last season’s defeat in UEFA Champions League final.

After recovering from their struggles in the first half of the season, PSG have once again become direct in their attacking approach. Under the newly appointed manager Mauricio Pochettino, the Parisians look for vertical passes and combine swiftly with positional plays. Similar to Bayern Munich, their forwards constantly interchange positions and are a consistent source of headache for opponents.

So, what are PSG’s strong points that Bayern Munich needs to be wary of? Let’s have a look:

Transition game

Excelling in the transition phase has been PSG’s specialty for quite some time now. As soon as an opportunity presents itself, Pochettino’s men set up attacks with lightening speed, carving up defenses with incisive passing and making the most of Kylian Mbappé’s pace.

The threat of Mbappe: Lyon players overcommit in search for a goal but lose possession. PSG score on the fast break with Mbappe making perfectly-timed run.

As Bayern look all but certain to keep possession for the greater part of the match, the team will need to be careful before overcommitting men forward in their quest for an opening.

Gegenpressing brings certain risks with it. This season, Bayern have leaked 1.63 through balls per game, second-highest in big five European Leagues, behind Liverpool’s 1.87 (also the advocates of the same philosophy).

To make matters worse, PSG have threaded at least 2.35 through passes, behind only Barcelona in Europe (per FBref). Having a player with Mbappé’s quickness also makes things easier, with the Frenchman getting on the end of at least 12 progressive passes in a match.

PSG win possession and immediately release the 22-year old through a long ball. The France International outmuscles his marker and goes on to score on the fast break.

Needless to say, Bayern will aim to defend collectively, like they did seven months ago. Die Roten have three accomplished players for two positions on the right side of the defense — Benjamin Pavard, Niklas Sule and Jerome Boateng. Deciding which combination will be the most effective is where coach Hansi Flick will have his work cut out.

The ‘full-back’ dilemma

As we have seen before, PSG’s full-backs don’t play a primary role when they play out from deep. They push high up the pitch, position themselves almost in the same horizontal line as attackers, who look to tuck inside. This is where things get a bit tricky for the opposing player — whether to follow the PSG full-back or keep a track of wingers Mbappé or Ángel Di María.

The situation could play out as this: If Pavard, for instance, marks Layvin Kurzawa, he would leave Boateng to deal with Mbappé and Moise Kean. If Pavard drifts inside with Mbappe, PSG will have the opportunity to create danger through their full-backs.

Notice the PSG players overcrowding the center. In the buildup to PSG’s first goal against Barca in their 4-1 win, Sergino Dest was occupied with PSG attacking-midfielder Verratti. This leaves Kurzawa open on the flank, who cuts it back for Verratti.

Moreover, if we assign a winger, like Serge Gnabry or Leroy Sané, to mark their full-back, it could leave Thomas Müller and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting as the only two players applying pressure, giving the likes of Leandro Paredes (who will return in the second-leg), ample time on the ball.

Here, Barcelona take a conservative approach, assigning wingers Griezmann and Dembele on PSG full-backs. The Barcelona defense is lured out of position by Kean. Meanwhile, Paredes isn’t pressed and conveniently picks out Florenzi with an over the top ball, which led to Mbappe’s second goal.

Niko Kovac’s Monaco countered this issue by deploying a five-man backline. While Bayern doesn’t have to alter their initial setup, they will need to be razor sharp with their pressing upfront and make sure that the passing channels leading to PSG full-backs are blocked.

Kylian Mbappé’s support staff

The 22-year-old World Cup winner has been subject of tremendous hype and to a great extent, rightly so. Mbappé is always a goal scoring threat but his artistic teammates — Di María and Neymar — are no less important. Even without Marco Verratti and Paredes, PSG are a hub of creativity, with the two South American wingers capable of causing havoc while roaming in front of the opposition defense.

1v1 are Neymar’s strong suit, with the Brazilian averaging 6 successful take-ons, dribbling past atleast 7(!) players and drawing 4.7 fouls per match.

Unlike Verratti, Neymar enjoys engaging in 1v1 duels when deployed in attacking-midfield. He uses his nifty footwork to escape pressure and progress the ball.

Di Maria’s chemistry with teammates and his eye for passing makes him just as lethal. Even when surrounded by Neymar and Mbappé, the 33-year-old Argentine never fails to come into the spotlight.

So, how does this affect Bayern?

  • Neymar will be assigned with the task of pressing Bayern #6 Joshua Kimmich, his opposing player when we overlap the two side’s formations. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to claim that everything in coach Flick’s system goes through Kimmich and hence, the 25-year-old will have a heavy task of working through Neymar’s pressure.
Di María takes on four defenders and frees up Florenzi on the right flank, who goes on to take a shot.
  • Di María and Neymar’s dribbling attracts markers from all sides, creating plenty of space for other forwards. This is particularly useful in midfield, which happens to be more congested than wings.
  • This time, PSG wingers will have an additional attacker by their side. Les Parisiens will be playing with a #9 — either Kean or Mauro Icardi, unlike in the 2019/2020 final. Both strikers have a sharp eye for goal but they impose even greater damage through indirect ways.

They keep opposing backlines occupied, stretch them by going wide or dropping deep, create opportunities for Mbappé to sneak behind, and hold the ball well.

Icardi speeds things up and unleashes Mbappe on left flank.

Apart from tactical areas, non-sporting factors will also be playing a role in this match. Doubtless to say, Neymar and Mbappé will be extra motivated against Bayern.

Whether PSG have developed or regressed since last season is a subject of debate, but they do seem to have evolved into a better attacking unit. It will be interesting to see how coach Hansi Flick prepares his team to outwit this new-look PSG side.

Although whatever trick Flick will have up his sleeves, it sure won’t be an unsuccessful one.