It is not often that a marquee football match, billed as a potential blockbuster before a ball is kicked, lives up to the expectations. Last week in the Uefa Champions League, that certainly wasn’t the case when the finalists of last season went up against each other.
Now, Paris Saint-Germain go into Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final second leg at home to Bayern Munich with a 3-2 advantage from the first leg having ended the defending champions’ 19-game unbeaten streak in the competition.
Kylian Mbappe was the star of the show for the Parisians as his brace has put them in pole position to reach the semi-finals for a second straight season.
However, despite the win and three away goals, PSG’s job is far from done after the way the first leg panned out. Bayern dominated the game and had 31 attempts 12 of which were on target. PSG on the other hand scored with each of their shot on goal.
While PSG may hope to reproduce a similar level of efficiency with Neymar and Mbappe in their ranks, it is quite unlikely that the Bavarians will have another off day in front of goal.
For the German giants, the task has got harder as they have nine players sidelined by injury, suspension or, in the case of Germany winger Serge Gnabry, quarantined by Covid-19.
However, PSG too don’t have a clean bill of health. Captain Marquinhos who scored one of the three away goals in Bavaria, will miss the return leg with a thigh injury. Midfielder Marco Verratti faces a late fitness test, the club confirmed on Monday.
Coach Mauricio Pochettino appeared to claim earlier that Marquinhos faced a fitness test, but later the club cleared up any confusion.
“The coach was talking about Verratti and not Marquinhos when he spoke about a late test,” PSG said.
“Marquinhos will not be in the squad.”
Verratti missed the first leg after testing positive for Covid-19 following his return from Italy duty alongside Alessandro Florenzi. He has missed PSG’s last three matches.
“It will be difficult for Marco to start, Alessandro too although we are waiting to decide,” added Pochettino.
Central defender Presnel Kimpembe said the Brazil centre-back’s absence was bad news for the team.
“He’s the leader of the defence and the captain of the team. We have other great players to replace him though,” Kimpembe said, with Danilo Pereira a possible solution.
PSG are hoping to avoid a repeat of what happened against Barcelona in the last round, when they won 4-1 away in the first leg but wobbled in the return at the Parc des Princes before drawing 1-1 and progressing.
“In the first half at home to Barcelona we struggled to hold onto the ball,” Pochettino said.
“The approach needs to be different to the Barcelona game. We need to defend well but also try to cause problems to our opponents. That is the challenge facing us.”
‘We’re the better team’
Bayern Munich midfielder Joshua Kimmich is convinced the holders can beat Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday to reach the last four and the keep their title defence alive.
“I believe that we will progress, because we’re the better team,” Kimmich told the club’s website.
“We were the better team in the first leg, but unfortunately the result didn’t correspond to the performance,” added Kimmich.
“Nevertheless, I’m confident that we can still turn it around in the second leg.”
Kimmich said the team had the right mentality in the first leg but didn’t have the right efficiency.
“In the first leg, they threatened three times and scored three times,” said Kimmich.
“Apart from that, I don’t remember Paris having that many chances. Overall, our attack had more possession and more chances. Now we have to take these chances.”
A crucial part of the equation (and the German team’s lack of impact in front of goal) is that they are without injured top-scorer Robert Lewandowski.
However, Bayern coach Hansi Flick says Leon Goretzka, Lucas Hernandez, Jerome Boateng and Kingsley Coman have shaken off knocks and should be fit.
“We have to do our job, force them to make mistakes,” Flick told a press conference on Monday. “It’s a tough task, but we want to create a little surprise.”
Kimmich added: “A lot will come down to mentality, but also efficiency.
“We already showed a good mentality in the first game but we weren’t efficient enough. This time we need both. It’s down to every individual in our team, not just me. Every player must become a leader in this game.
“Everyone must show their character on the day and have total belief in themselves.
“And then we have to strike when the chance comes.”
Bayern need to win by two clear goals or score three times and win by one to have a chance of going through, but forward Thomas Muller said the German champions would not be reckless.
“Despite our attack-minded philosophy, we’ll avoid playing with five strikers and one midfielder,” Muller told reporters Monday.
“We want to push for our first goal very quickly, but not use the crowbar from the start.”
Muller highlighted the importance of not allowing Mbappe to attack the space behind Bayern’s defence.
“Mbappe in particular is very dangerous. The way we play creates space, so it is important that he cannot be left to run on his own in space,” added Muller.
Off-field problems affecting Bayern?
Meanwhile, tensions at Bayern Munich between coach Flick and sports director Hasan Salihamidzic are providing an unwelcome distraction that threatens to derail their bid to retain the Champions League title.
Bayern’s star-studded squad support Flick, but Salihamidzic holds the power due to his promotion to the club’s executive board last year.
As the team’s spokesman, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has publicly voiced his backing for Flick.
“He is the right coach for us, we saw that in our results last year and we would be happy if he keeps going”, said the Bayern captain, before calling for “a bit calmer”.
Bayern fans are also behind Flick. In a poll by Munich-based paper TZ, 89% want the treble-winning coach to stay on.
However, despite winning all six available titles over the last 12 months Flick, whose contract runs until 2023, seems to be on rocky ground with Salihamidzic, his immediate boss.
Tensions flared when Salihamidzic confirmed last week that Jerome Boateng will not be offered a contract extension at the end of the season, while Flick implied he wants to keep the veteran defender.
In a thinly-veiled dig at Salihamidzic’s recruitment policy, Flick said last year’s squad “was better”.
Flick has not helped his cause by refusing to rule out replacing Joachim Loew as Germany coach after the Euro 2020 finals. He is also running out of time.
Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, a firm supporter of Flick within the Bayern hierarchy, will step down at the end of the year.
Rummenigge’s replacement Oliver Kahn, like Salihamidzic, has ducked giving a direct answer about whether Flick will coach Bayern next season.
Bayern legend Lothar Matthaeus has even claimed in his Bild column that things have become so bad between Flick and Salihamidzic that their working relationship is no longer “fixable”.
All off-field issues will take a back seat if Bayern make a comeback and reach the semi-finals, but if they don’t it could also impact their league campaign.
But with both teams knowing only one way of playing their football, another mouth-watering contest is on its cards.
The winners will face Manchester City or Borussia Dortmund in the semi-finals, but the team that comes out on top in this epic duel will not care much who they face. They’ll be favourites in their own right.
With AFP inputs
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