Sunday’s Champions League final between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich has all the makings of a classic.
Two attack-minded sides, packed full of world-class stars and led by innovative
managers, are set to lock horns in Lisbon. But in a game of such magnitude, even the smallest of margins could decide the outcome, and the approaches of Thomas Tuchel and Hansi Flick will be endlessly scrutinised during the post-match
We will look at seven key tactical factors that could ultimately be pivotal in determining which club lift the most-coveted prize in European football.
Space in behind
Despite Bayern’s excellent performances in the last two rounds, the Germans’ high defensive line ceded plenty of chances to Barcelona and Lyon. However, playing against the raw pace and trickery of Neymar, Angel Di Maria and Kylian
Mbappe is an entirely different matter.
If the PSG trio are given the same sort of opportunities, the Ligue 1 outfit will almost certainly find the back of the net, probably on several occasions. This leaves Flick with an awkward dilemma: tinker with the system that has seen Bayern win 20 consecutive games in all competitions? Or accept the risks posed by PSG’s attackers and attempt
to outscore them?
In the one-legged Champions League games, Bayern’s midfield have tended to dictate proceedings. When Thiago, Leon Goretzka and Thomas Muller get on the ball, it can spell trouble for the opposition, who often struggle to retrieve it.
Therefore, when PSG do win the ball in the centre of the park, they’ll need to hold on to it. Should they achieve that, Bayern are susceptible on the counter-attack, as Lyon’s Maxence Caqueret displayed on Wednesday when one pass cut through the Bavarian’s backline and slipped Memphis Depay in on goal.
The same will be required of Marquinhos, Ander Herrera and Leandro Paredes (or Marco Verratti, if he is fit to play) this weekend on what could be an exhausting night’s work.
Both Alphonso Davies and Juan Bernat love to advance down the left flank for Bayern and PSG respectively, yet on Sunday they’ll come up against two particularly problematic customers in Angel Di Maria and Serge Gnabry.
Giving either winger space and time on the ball could, and almost certainly will, prove to be a problem and Davies and Bernat could be advised to exercise a tad more caution at the Estadio da Luz.
On the other hand, both sides’ offensive patterns would be seriously impacted without an adequate out ball on the left flank. For the two full-backs, picking the right moments to attack, and ensuring the hole created by their absence is filled, will be a crucial part of Sunday’s encounter.
While Neymar’s finishing has left much to be desired since the Champions League’s return, his creativity and movement have been sensational.
Thee Brazilian’s ability to ghost in from the left flank and find pockets of space in the No. 10 position gave Atalanta and RB Leipzig repeated problems.
Neymar also has a habit of dropping the shoulder, nutmegging an opponent and slipping the ball into a team-mate within a matter of seconds. The role of stopping him will most likely be shared by Joshua Kimmich and Goretzka, and
silencing the former Barcelona man may be easier said than done for the pair.
Beating the Press
Bayern profited from opposition lapses in defence during their victories over Barcelona and Lyon, yet that was certainly no fluke. The Germans’ ability to collectively hunt and press their opponent is exceptional and is proving to
be, as Jurgen Klopp would say, ‘the best playmaker in football’.
To beat it, PSG must either flawlessly and rapidly play their way out from the back, or ensure they have sufficient avenues further up the pitch.
Muller v Marquinhos
If one man is the beating heart of this seamlessly efficient Bayern machine, it’s Muller. The 30-year-old’s capacity to link midfield and attack is excellent, while he is often the man providing the final pass for a goal. Stop him and you might be able to stop Flick’s side.
That’s where Marquinhos comes in. Yet, even with his range of defensive skills and physicality, the Brazilian will need to be at the top of his game if he’s to slow Muller down.
If there’s one game you want to be able to call on your first-choice goalkeeper, it’s the Champions League final. Sadly for PSG, that’s a luxury they may not have on Sunday, with Keylor Navas suffering from a hamstring problem. Should the Costa Rican miss out, PSG will instead turn to Sergio Rico.
Either way, Bayern would be wise to test whichever goalkeeper starts in the Portuguese capital and pounce on any weakness or apprehension.