Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg Preview: PSG vs. Bayern
“If we could wish for the game to go the same way,” said Thomas Muller in reference to the first leg, and his team were able to add a bit of cold-headedness, that would be the recipe that would still make progress possible on Tuesday night. In a freak game, Bayern lost the first leg of the quarter final against Paris Saint-Germain. Although they were in fact clearly better and had more chances, Bayern eventually had to stomach a 2-3 home defeat. The main reason? Poor chance conversion. 31 to 6 shots and 4.1 to 1.5 expected goals were not enough for a win.
In principle, the analysis ahead of the second leg is very simple: Go out and play the same football as in the first leg. But Müller is not only experienced, but also self-critical enough to know that this alone will not be enough. “But of course it’s also about maybe making the better decisions when it comes to the small things,” he says. According to him, they had looked at “a few things” that were not ideal after the match, both up front and at the back. Especially in defense, it will be important for the Champions League holders to make fewer simple mistakes.
But it is also important for Bayern to be always fully focused in possession. Immediately before the opening goal by PSG, it was Joshua Kimmich who enabled PSG’s counterattack by carelessly giving away the ball. In times of games behind closed doors, we can hear when players give commands and when they are silent. In this situation, the Bayern players were silent and did not give their tactician in chief the required warning that danger was afoot. Otherwise he might have positioned himself differently in relation to the ball.
Such moments are probably what Müller means by the “things” that were revisited after the match. But there were further mistakes. Both before the 0-1 and 2-3 Bayern lose the ball without real need, but in each case they still have more than enough opportunity to make up for the mistakes. Nevertheless, in neither case do they get any pressure on the ball and neglect to cover critical open spaces further away on the pitch which PSG were able to use. Before the 0-2, the Bayern players even briefly switch off completely. Neymar’s pass is absolutely world class, but the fact that Marquinhos’s shot can find the target through so many opponents is not worthy of a Champions League contender. Overview, coordination, collective defending, maximum concentration – these are basics that, if heeded, can and should lead to a better defensive performance in the second leg in Paris.
At least Flick can plan with Leon Goretzka, Lucas Hernández, Jérôme Boateng and Kingsley Coman, all of whom were in doubt but will be available on Tuesday evening. Thus, the absence of Robert Lewandowski is likely to be the biggest personnel problem. It is unclear whether Goretzka will be able to play from the start. There is speculation that Flick might move David Alaba into midfield and put Hernández in his position in defense. This would also clear the way for the more offensive-minded Alphonso Davies on the left.
In the first leg, Paris did not exactly inspire fear despite the result. Nevertheless, it is difficult to see how Flick is going to get a grip on the persistent defensive lapses in time for the match (sometimes individual, sometimes collective).
We are going into this game “completely normal”, says Müller. For Bayern, normal means putting a focus on attacking. And in fact, the first leg proves the Bavarians right. If the result had even remotely matched the course of the game, hardly anyone today would be discussing the fact that Bayern conceded one or two unnecessary chances to PSG’s offense. After all, this is the Champions League and it is almost impossible to completely eliminate Neymar, Mbappé and di María over 90 minutes.
PSG were also able to create so little in Munich because Bayern put in a good shift offensively. Only the decision as to which players took the shots from which positions was not always ideal. Defenders Alaba (5) and Pavard (3), for example, had 8 of the total 31 attempts all by themselves. Choupo-Moting (5 shots) is a striker, but chance conversion is not one of his great strengths. Therefore, even greater responsibility will rest on the shoulders of Müller and Goretzka in tonight’s match. Both have already scored important goals for Bayern. On a good day, both are capable of replacing Lewandowski’s finishing prowess as a duo. Leroy Sané (2 shots on target in the first leg) should also be brought into striking positions more often. Then it is not unlikely that the Flick eleven will manage a comeback.
Simply put, Bayern must score at least three goals and win the game, something they have already managed 19 times this season. Given the poor performance of PSG in the first leg, it is therefore not impossible for the Bayern team to turn the tie around.
It is also about “weighing up the risks in each situation”, says Müller, who has experienced first hand several times in the Champions League what happens when his team tries to hastily force the issue. The most prominent example is probably Bayern’s resounding defeat in the second leg to Real Madrid in 2014. Müller and Bayern know that they have a whole 90 minutes to score the three goals they likely will need. And perhaps even 30 more beyond that in which they can exploit the away goal advantage.
Bayern will therefore exert pressure from the start, but not at all cost right from the start. Champions League knockout games are always also mind games in part. It is all about the many, small “key moments” and these “key moments”, according to Müller, should act in favor of FC Bayern. “Losing something is always very bad for people. Something you think you already safely have and that’s why we want to use this moment when the PSG players’ minds get into this state.”
The first leg showed that Bayern have the superior system and that they have the quality to beat an opponent like PSG. Resoundingly so at that. The second leg, however, will be marked by many psychologically challenging moments. The many small things, the many small situations can decide the outcome. For Müller, the question of winning will ultimately come down to making more correct decisions than the opponent.
Flick’s job, therefore, is to impress upon his team that nothing is decided yet. Even if Bayern go down 0-1 or even 0-2 again, this will only marginally change the height of the mountain to climb. If Bayern do not concede a goal, two goals for them will be enough, but they should not rely on that. “Controlled offense” is a phrase that is often used in this context. Müller, however, describes the approach for Tuesday night as “quite normal”.
After the first leg, Bayern should not make the mistake of being in awe of something that was not actually such a big deal. Respect for the skills of a Neymar, Mbappé or even other Paris players is important, but nothing more. Müller is hitting the right notes.
It does not need a “small surprise”, as Flick called it during the pre-match press conference. It does not need a “sensation” or even a “miracle”. In principle, all it needs is a normal, focused performance by the Champions League holders. Then there is a realistic chance that, despite the 2-3 deficit, not PSG but Bayern will progress to the semi-finals of Europe’s major football cup competition.