Paris Saint-Germain vs Bayern Munich: UCL Final Tactical Preview

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photo: UEFA.com

Paris and Bayern will meet in the most prominent European club game tonight in Lisbon. Both had a fantastic run this year achieved with attacking football and attractive style of play. On the paper, this final offering us a possibility of an extraordinary encounter.

Paris, who has been one of the most ambitious teams in Europe since Qatar takeover in 2011, will play their first CL final tonight. Meanwhile, Bayern had long historical ties with this competition. The German side is one of the most successful teams with five titles to their name. Tonight is also will be their 11th finals.

Besides the ‘old vs new forces’ narratives, both Paris and Bayern had an amazing run in this competition this season. Both also very dominant in their domestic competitions by winning all of the possible trophies on their homeland. Now they are seeking a continental cup to legitimate their dominance.

Statistically, both teams are also coming to final as the two of the most productive sides in Top Five European Leagues.

Bayern have an average of 2,9 goals scored/match in Bundesliga. They also involved at several demolitions in CL, 7–2 against Spurs, 7–1 (on aggregate) against Chelsea, and a monumental 8–2 win against Barcelona. Their main man upfront, Robert Lewandowski, is having the best season of his career with 55 goals and 10 assists on his name.

Paris, on the other side have scored 2,7 goals on per match average in Ligue 1. Their attacking trio, Kylian Mbappe-Neymar-Angel Di Maria collectively responsible for 62 goals and 47 assists for Paris in all competitions this season.

Line-up

With the critical nature of the final itself, both teams will be unlikely to make major changes to their set-up. Recent reports said that both Thomas Tuchel and Hansi Flick would rely mostly upon their winning team in semifinal.

Squawka reported that despite the possible availability of Marco Verratti, Tuchel’s decision remains unclear. However, the availability of the Italian, who missed the last two games, will be a massive boost for Paris midfield. The main goalkeeper, Keylor Navas, Idrissa Gueye, and Layvin Kurzawa are still in doubt.

On the other side, questions are pointed on Jerome Boateng who only played a half on the semifinal clash against Lyon because of his muscle problems. But, Bavarian Football Works reported that on the latest Bayern training, Hansi Flick fielded the same team who beat Lyon 3–0 at the semi.

Looking at those recent developments, both teams will likely use their main formations.

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Paris with their usual 4–3–3. Sergio Rico at the goal behind the back-four; Thilo Kehrer, Thiago Silva, Presnel Kimpembe, and Juan Bernat. Marquinhos at #6 positions to provide extra cover for the backline, behind two central midfielders, (probably) Ander Herrera and Leandro Paredes (or Verratti). Neymar will be at #9 position, with authority to be a more fluid and flexible movement to accommodate his flair. Neymar will be flanked by Paris top goalscorer, Mbappe, on the left and top assist provider, Di Maria on the right.

Bayern with their 4–2–3–1. Experienced Manuel Neuer between the posts. Joshua Kimmich, Jerome Boateng, David Alaba, and Alphonso Davies at the back-four. Thiago and Leon Goretzka at the base of the midfield. Serge Gnabry, Thomas Muller, and Ivan Perisic will support Lewandowski up front.

Paris have the capability to exploit Bayern’s high defensive line, but they have to escape Bayern’s high press first.

Bayern high defensive line will be the main issue here. It could be their strength but also their weakness.

This is probably the most discussed subject in ‘How to Beat Bayern 101’ discourse. Without the ball, The German champion always set their defensive line higher up the pitch. This mainly because they regularly want to reduce the opponent playing area.

When they press higher, their last defensive line have to follow to maintain compactness and reduce space between the lines. Otherwise, the opponent will have a playing area in vacated space and make your pressing line upfront becomes ineffective.

Of course, it also has side effects. Maintaining your last line higher means there will be plenty of spaces behind your backline. That space could be the spot that the opponents aspire to attack.

On Bayern’s case, that’s what happened in previous stages against Barcelona and Lyon. Barcelona scored two goals from such situations, while Lyon nearly cost Bayern a place in the final with three clear-cut-chances in the first seventeen minutes.

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Paris in their squad have better attacking resources than Bayern’s previous opponents. Paredes and Neymar are good at making line-breaking passes while Mbappe and Di Maria are excellent runners.

Barcelona, for example, gave less threat to Bayern because players who consistently made run-in-behind in their 4–3–1–2 system are mostly their fullbacks. They gave less threat because of their starting positions usually deeper than natural wingers, so they have to run for a longer distance and require more times that Bayern can use to re-organize their lines.

Lyon with 3–5–2 set-up have two forwards who are good at making those runs. And they proved it with some high-quality chances where they were clean through the goal. But their finishing let them down.

However, there are little possibilities that Bayern will be lowering their backline as it has already proven to be essential to their whole game model. Their previous games have shown that despite their openness at the back, they have the capabilities to outscore their opponent. They probably had expected to concede two, but they are capable of scoring eight in return (at least that was what happened at the Barcelona game).

So, it’s up to Paris now for reaching that promised land. The main task now is how they beat Bayern high press at first.

Bayern usually press with a high block and man-oriented press. Their wingers will be oriented toward the opposition centre backs while maintaining cover shadow to the fullbacks. Their #9 will be oriented to the opposition #6. At the middle at the park, they will go man-to-man to their opposition midfielders.

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Bayern high-press with the man-oriented approach in the middle. Notice how Barcelona fullbacks failed to provide width and Bayern successfully forced the goalkeeper to play a long ball

Paris are similar to Barcelona and Lyon in terms of build-up. They usually set-up with a diamond (goalkeeper + 2 centre backs + 1 defensive midfielder) at the back, while other two central midfielders positioned higher. With their typical set-up, it won’t be easy to find reliable and safe progression through central areas.

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Possibility of Paris build-up against Bayern pressing shape

To make a progression, they could play the ball around to their fullbacks. The fullbacks need to come a slightly deeper and keep the width at maximum. Deep fullbacks could be a solution to get out of the cover shadow of the narrow opposition pressing while the width of the fullbacks is needed to stretch the opposition and create a larger playing area.

Structure at the midfield could be crucial for the next step. Neymar and PSG structural flexibility as they had shown at the game against Leipzig and Atalanta will be important.

At Leipzig game they made 4v3 overload against opposition midfield with Neymar and Herrera moved to each half-space to give progression access to Paredes and Marquinhos who played at deeper areas. Against Atalanta who employed a man-to-man press, Neymar positional freedom often provides access for them to overcome the opponent pressure.

Also it worth to be noted that Bayern man-oriented press at some point will leave a gap between the lines due to their orientation. This could be a sweet spot for Neymar to gained space he needed for exploiting Bayern high defensive line.

However, Neymar will be likely to have a face-to-face with Thiago. The Spaniard often occupy Bayern #6 position. During the defensive phase, Thiago has a responsibility to protect spaces between the lines. This duel in this area will be crucial for both teams.

Option for Paris can be illustrated below. Deep fullbacks allowed central defenders to have a reliable option. As they progressed forward, wingers should remain wide to prevent Bayern fullback from having access to press. At the midfield rotation from Paris central midfielders could make Bayern pressing block adjusted and create space.

At this point, Neymar positioning between the lines could have resulted in 2v1 or 3v2 situation at flanks. Those numerical superiorities would give Paris advantage, with one-two or wall pass combination, they could have a promising progression.

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Paris possible ‘escape plan’

Threats from Bayern’s attacking side are lethal. How Paris supposed to contain them?

As mentioned earlier, despite their issue at the back, Bayern seem to have the ability to outscore their opponents. Their main strength, besides their world-class players, is their various ways to attack. They can be dangerous either when they play a direct play or a more constructive build-up from the back, as well as with their high-intensity press.

The structure usually lined-up with 2–4–4 or 3–3–4 (or whatever it is). The main point is Bayern applied the principles of attacking, such as keeping width, depth, and connections, very well. That’s why they also have options to make attacking progression. Bayern forwards (Lewandowski, Muller, Perisic, Gnabry) consistently occupying spaces between the lines to provide dangerous progressive options. Those movements made the opposition backline task to protect their areas more difficult. Even sometimes they got outnumbered by the Bayern attackers.

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Bayern attackers occupying space between the lines

However, the main task for Paris is how they can reduce Bayern options. They 4–3–3 press worked brilliantly at semifinal against Leipzig. Not only successfully limited Leipzig options to advance forward, but Paris also forced the opponent to make mistakes. At this point, Paris could use a similar pattern to prevent Bayern to have clean access through central areas. They could force Bayern to play wide and limiting progressive options.

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Paris defensive shape

On the other side, Bayern could make some adjustment on their build-up. Unlike their previous three opponents who pressed with two forwards, Paris usually will employ their forward three higher. This followed by their flat three midfielders.

Bayern could use their whole structure to manipulate Paris high-press. Four Bayern attackers could consistently drop to space between the lines, or to the ‘pockets’ between Paris flat midfielder at the half-space. This could make Paris midfield trio reluctant to press higher with the risk of getting exposed. At the back, Bayern could use their fullbacks and central midfielders to make circulation while searching for more progressive options.

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Possibility of Bayern build-up against Paris pressing block

The best thing Paris can do is to maintain their shape remains compact and reduce space between the lines. Bayern forwards have an exceptional ability to find and create spaces within the opponent’s defensive blocks. Probably forcing Bayern out wide is not the best idea as they have quality players there, but at least it will make Bayern more limited and easier to press than letting them to access central areas.

Conclusion

With two of the most productive sides in Europe meet, we could expect an open and entertaining game. On paper, that seems possible when we look at both teams attacking style of play that relies on their offensive qualities to produce results. However, the nature of the final game could make every side play with a more cautious approach. But for a Paris and Bayern case, I don’t think their cautious approach will prevent them from performing their usual attacking football.

Bayern for me are still slightly favourite. But Paris have the quality to exploit Bayern’s weaknesses. At that point that will add more appealing aspects to this match.

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