PSG’s season could hinge on victory or defeat vs. Bayern Munich in the Champions League
Timing is everything, as the cliché goes, and there has never been a better time for PSG this season. There has never been a better time for them to finally play as a team, finally react, prove themselves and perform at their best. There has never been a better time for this team to find the cohesion and balance needed at this level. For Neymar to respond to his (many) critics. To make the fans believe again that this team can go all the way in this Champions League campaign. The list goes on.
Tuesday’s game against Bayern Munich at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday is much more than the first leg of the round of 16 of the Champions League. To begin with, there are so many Ligue 1 leaders at stake. This is a game that could save their season or bury it.
Since the start of 2023, the Parisians have already lost four games in all competitions: all four have been away, with league losses to Lens, Rennes and Monaco and a humiliating Coupe de France exit to rival Marseille. This is the same amount as for the whole of 2022!
No offense to the four, who have at one point beat PSG in the last six weeks, but Bayern have come a long way: the Bundesliga team is stronger, bigger and tougher. Lionel Messi and company will have to go all out to knock them out in two legs, something they haven’t done in a while.
It’s impossible to even remember their last full, convincing performance. Too many times this season, even ahead of the World Cup, coach Christophe Galtier has relied on the individual talents of Messi, Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and Ashraf Hakimi to win matches on his own or lead the team out of difficult moments. Now, more than ever, everything is hard.
This team doesn’t defend well. Too many players are injured, out of shape or out of shape. Collectively, the group has also lost confidence and momentum: take the argument between Neymar, Marquinhos and sporting director Luis Campos after the loss in Monaco on Saturday.
On the field, the Brazilian’s attitude towards Hugo Ekitika and Vitinha, accompanied by obvious verbal abuse throughout the game, was unacceptable. Like Messi, who will start after a recent injury scare, and Mbappe, who has recovered from injury and wants to start but should be left on the bench as a precaution, Neymar must rediscover his best form. The 31-year-old is too inefficient, too wasteful, too distracted.
Neymar said of the controversy: “Football is not just about love and friendship. There is respect, but there must be disagreement, and sometimes discussions are needed to help you get better. We are not used to losing, so of course when we lose matches it can bother us. But that’s part of the healing process.”
It’s not just about MHM or Neymar, who was positive on Monday at his press conference, explaining that his self-confidence is “high” and that he knows the team will react and “play their best”. But for Galtier this is a big test.
This match and the second leg on March 8 are the most important games of Galtier’s career. He cannot be mistaken and must find answers. Not all of it, of course. It’s a complex locker room, of course, rich in big personalities and big egos. Thomas Tuchel has struggled at times, Mauricio Pochettino always. It is not easy to implement game models with so many players who are used to playing a major role as individuals.
This speaks to a serious problem – an unbalanced squad formed with restrictions – and the blame for this lies with Campos, who is already under pressure despite having been in this position for less than a year. However, Galtier has also disappointed so far. There were positive results even before the break, but there was never any collective self-expression of the team. Before and after the World Cup, Galtier changed tactical systems many times without getting the most out of any formation or combination of players.
February and March are key months for PSG when it comes to the future of Galtier and Campos in the team, but it will also affect what could happen next season with Messi, Mbappe and Neymar. PSG will play Bayern twice, plus Marseille away and Lille at home in the league. There is so much to lose in those four games and while they still have a five-point margin in Ligue 1, things could change quickly, especially if they lose the Champions League and that frustration spills over into the rest of their campaign.
At the moment, Bayern are in the city and the history between the two clubs is a reminder that the German giants are both an example and an enemy for PSG. The French club aims to become like Bayern both domestically and in Europe when it comes to football power and financial power. PSG’s last loss to the Bavarians in Lisbon in 2020 is still in their memory; Although the first victory in the Champions League does not always come on the first try, it is true. The Parisians beat Bayern the last time they faced each other in the 2021 quarter-finals, but that tie could end anyway.
This is a huge clash and the most appetizing match in the last 16 matches. The form of the two teams could not be more different: the Bayern team that wins and scores meets the PSG team that loses and struggles. Football is often unpredictable and a team with Messi, Neymar and Mbappe can never be the underdog, but right now it’s hard to say that Bayern Munich aren’t the favourites.