At the last minute, Paris Saint-Germain travelled to Munich on Monday, 24 hours ahead of their originally scheduled trip. Why? Because their original plans to fly to Germany on Tuesday, the eve of their Champions League last-16, second leg, against Bayern, was dwarfed by the sizeable industrial action happening in France that day, in opposition to the government’s new pensions reform.
However inconvenient, it’s probably not a bad thing for the Parisians to get to Bavaria earlier than they might under usual circumstances. At the end of the day, Wednesday’s clash at the Allianz Arena is the biggest game of PSG’s season so far. This is the defining moment of their campaign and the more time they have to prepare for it and get in the zone, the better.
– Galtier: Neymar a loss, but PSG more balanced without him
This week, PSG officials are hoping for no repeat of the disastrous preparations before their last-16, second leg, at the Parc des Princes against Manchester United back in 2019, a game that saw them endure another heartbreaking “remontada” and exit the tournament early. This time, they have had time to acclimate themselves, put their plan together and get be ready to climb the Bayern mountain.
How high is the mountain? The German champions are not as dominant or impressive this year as they have been in recent seasons, but they do hold a 1-0 lead after the first leg — thanks to former PSG forward Kingsley Coman volleying home Alphonso Davies‘ deep cross — and that edge is significant enough. Nevertheless, there is still clearly a sense of fear in Bayern’s ranks before facing Kylian Mbappe & Co. at home, especially without Benjamin Pavard, who was sent off in injury time.
Mbappe’s name has been on everyone’s lips in both Paris and Munich since the first leg three weeks ago. His cameo appearance off the bench in the final half-hour changed the dynamic of the whole game. Without him, Bayern were in control and PSG seemed unable to generate any attacking threat. With their star on the pitch, the French side quickly flipped the game in their favor, threatening with every attack, and Bayern lost shape and confidence.
Mbappe will start on Wednesday and should play all 90 minutes or more, if needed. What’s more, Wednesday’s second leg will naturally be very different to what we saw in Paris.
The French prodigy, fresh from breaking the club’s all-time scorer record, has the talent to turn the tie around by himself. Expect Bayern to play a defensive high line, like they always do at home, and if so, Mbappe should find a lot of space ahead of him that he can run into and exploit.
In Lionel Messi, also in great form at the moment, he will have a teammate playing just behind him who will be ready to feed him through ball after ball. Behind them, without Neymar, who is out for the season with an ankle injury, it will be a more balanced and solid team with a back three and five players across midfield.
Now the key question: will all of this be enough?
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)
For all the focus on Mbappe and Messi, PSG will need an outstanding performance from front to back if they’re to eliminate Bayern. They will also need Gianluigi Donnarumma to be perfect in goal. They will need Marco Verratti to boss the midfield again, like he’s capable of on his best days. They will need Achraf Hakimi, who has not played since the first leg, to play a flawless game on the right flank against Davies. (He’s also facing preliminary charges in Paris for rape, though his lawyer said the accusations are false. While the case is investigated further, the Morocco international has travelled with the PSG squad and is expected to start on Wednesday.)
Inevitably, the hope for the 3,600 PSG fans heading to Munich as well as those watching on TV relies on Mbappe doing what he has been amazing at his whole career so far: being decisive when it matters the most. It was the case at the World Cup in Qatar with France, scoring a hat trick in the final defeat against Argentina, and it’s been the case with Paris all through the season. It has to be the case again on Wednesday, of course, though Mbappe thrives in these moments.
On Saturday, as soon as he beat Edinson Cavani‘s goal record scoring his 201st one in 246 appearances, his mind switched straight away to the Bayern game. From one objective to another, from one achievement to another, Mbappe is focused on individual accomplishments and the collective ambitions. He is always hungry for more.
Straight after the first leg, he spoke to the whole squad in the Parc des Princes dressing room and told them that they’d shown enough evidence in the final 30 minutes that night to believe in their ability to win in Munich and qualify. He is certain they will do it.
Mbappe will even wear new black and orange football boots for it, specially made for his last record with the No. 1 and the No. 201 on them. He will hope they bring goals and success on Wednesday night at the Allianz Arena where, it must be said, he scored twice in the same fixture two years ago.