Neil Humphreys: PSG may punish Bayern Munich’s high line
German side's risky approach leaves them vulnerable at the back
Well, the Champions League final will not be boring. Goals are practically a given, as Bayern Munich refuse to close their back door.
This isn't a criticism of the German juggernauts, quite the opposite in fact.
|PARIS ST GERMAIN||BAYERN MUNICH|
Bayern's imperious march towards the Treble, sweeping Lyon aside 3-0 in the Champions League semi-finals yesterday morning (Singapore time) with ruthless efficiency, has been a treat to behold.
In this instance, the usual cliche involving the sleek engineering of German cars actually plays. When the engine at the front is so calibrated, reliable and effective, who cares what the back looks like?
Paris Saint-Germain will.
In fact, in the coming days, the Parisians should obsess over what's going on at the back of Bayern. The Germans' high defensive line is an offer that PSG cannot refuse.
Like a window left open for a burglar, Bayern's set-up entices Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Angel di Maria to break in. It's a fascinating risk for all parties, ensuring that the final on Monday morning (Singapore time) will not be goalless.
Against Lyon, coach Hansi Flick favoured an extraordinarily high line. Maybe he trusted his wing-backs to track back. Maybe he expected his forwards to outscore Lyon.
He surely could not have anticipated Lyon's strikers being so profligate in front of goal.
For an hour, the wayward French squandered one opportunity after another as Bayern's wing-backs Alphonso Davies and Joshua Kimmich took off like startled gazelles while their centre-backs hovered around the halfway line.
If nothing else, Flick's formation is a testament to his defenders' speed.
At just 19, Davies gives the impression that he should be crouching on a running track and waiting for a starter's pistol. The Canadian left-back is frighteningly fast.
In the final, however, he'll stare across at di Maria, a masterful veteran of the European stage. If PSG's Artful Dodger finds a pocket of space, he'll pinch it. Davies' galloping strides may not keep up with di Maria's speed of thought.
At centre-back, David Alaba urged his colleagues forward against Lyon, knowing that he was equally blessed with enough pace to retreat in an emergency.
But Lyon's Karl Toko Ekambi struck the post after sneaking in behind both Alaba and Davies.
On the left flank, Maxwel Cornet took flight on more than one occasion, as Kimmich struggled to recapture lost ground.
As for the elder statesman of the group, Jerome Boateng initially looked like he was engaged in a game of whack-a-mole with Lyon attackers, trying to reach each forward that popped up.
He was substituted at half-time.
But Bayern's back four were not sub-standard. On the contrary, they made several key interventions, which must make the formation a reflection of Flick's confidence in his defenders.
Unlike Manchester City's Pep Guardiola, Flick hasn't overthought his tactics in the knockout stages. He has simplified. Familiar faces repeated similar roles.
The spine of Bayern's side maintains the experience of Boateng, Thiago Alcantara, Thomas Mueller and Robert Lewandowski. The width maintains the speed of Davies, Kimmich and Serge Gnabry.
And the familiarity has bred consistency.
Since taking over in November, Flick has won 32 of 35 games, carrying the club to a domestic double. He is now three days from a possible Treble.
But his opponents devour defensive high lines as a matter of routine.
Mbappe, Neymar and di Maria have peaked for the final, playing with a real collective, artistic unity and dominating the knockout stages.
They have picked pockets for fun. Unlike Lyon, they will not miss against Bayern.
So a final between one of Europe's most inventive forward lines and one of the highest defensive lines presents Flick with an intriguing dilemma.
Does he stick with a tried-and-tested approach that has picked up 32 victories in 35 games? Or does he twist with a Pep talk?
He can tweak like Guardiola and pull back. He can work on the assumption that PSG will not suffer a Barcelona-like identity crisis and concede eight times. Nor are the Parisians expected to display less co-ordination than blindfolded donkeys in a dark alley, a la Lyon.
But Flick won't flinch. Bayern's sudden success has come from careful transitions of play. They push high. They wait. They press.
Flick is well aware of the risks involved. Even the hapless Catalans scored twice.
But he won't turn his back on a winning formula, which leaves Bayern's back door open, just enough to tempt PSG's burglars.
It'll be a question of who steals the most in what promises to be the great Champions League robbery.