Have you heard that FC Bayern München will play in the Champions League final against Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday? If you have, you may want to know what’s the optimal lineup to finish the season with a treble.
Here is the starting XI that I suggest for Hansi Flick:
My assumption, based on comments made by Flick in Saturday afternoon’s press conference, is that Benjamin Pavard is already 100% fit and that his ability to respond to elite-level effort was tested in a final training session. The same could be the case for Jérôme Boateng, although he seemed less reassuring in that regard.
I therefore advocate the return of Pavard to the right-back position. If Boateng is fit, he should start, but the Bavarians have the luxury of having another top-notch defender in Niklas Süle if he can’t make it.
Why should Pavard be at RB for this match? To help deal with the deadly trident of Angel Di Maria, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé up front. Their blistering pace, explosiveness and creativity up front are the most potent weapons of the French team. Let’s be realistic: Pavard is a better defender than Joshua Kimmich, who makes for an excellent makeshift but not a natural right-back.
The other pillar of my reasoning is that Kimmich’s talents ans generalship are needed in central midfield for that match. Most Bayern fans rightfully see Thiago Alcântara as a high-level central midfielder, but I consider him as more of a wild card because he can misfire many passes in a big match.
As I have said on Twitter in recent weeks, there is no reason to put Kingsley Coman in for Ivan Perisic on the left wing. The Croat earned his stripes and he is an impact player.
The game plan
Should we deep-dive into the PSG tactics and weaknesses ahead of this final? We could in order to suggest a highly detailed tactical game plan and sound smart, but it would be committing the same mistake than Pep “King of the Champions League” Guardiola. That’s overthinking.
Hansi Flick’s Bayern needs to accomplish three things in this final.
1. Midfield pilots
Controlling the match and building up plays from the midfield instead of the back, by using Leon Goretzka’s strength and Kimmich’s direction. PSG’s front three is highly talented offensively, but it’s not a trio of the hardest defensive workers.
Should FCB’s central midfield pull the strings, it could “take them out of the game” more often and help protect the back four against frequent invasions and fast transitions. This point is essential since Tuchel sometimes likes to overload the attacking half of the pitch with six players. Prevent that from happening and catch them off-guard and you may be able to punish the remaining players at the back.
2. Starve them
Make PSG see less of the ball than their average of 54% in this campaign. Although it would be unfair to call them untested, it’s not a regular occurence for them to keep fighting without the ball, as underdogs always do.
The “downside” to this is obvious: Tuchel isn’t stupid. He knows how potent Bayern’s attack is. He is completely aware that possession may go down rapidly. He might set his team up to defend actively to set up counterattacks. If they are motivated enough, talented players can always find a way to execute a plan.
3. Don’t pander
Bayern need to play their own game. Should a lesson be learned from past Champions League campaigns and from Manchester City’s debacle, it is that thinking and adapting too much to an opponent can backfire. It makes you forget using your own strengths.
By all means, Flick must prepare his guys to neutralise PSG’s best players, but the team cannot live in fear. It ultimately has to dominate the match with a mix of ball control and decisiveness, which I like to call possession with purpose. That’s what makes Bayern so successful these days, and it should continue.
PSG are the right opponents for Bayern on Sunday. It’s a cliché but it remains true that if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. The French side has poise, quality and experience and there’s no other way to test yourself than playing against them.
All in all, I believe that Bayern are better collectively. Should overall quality be the most decisive factor, we will clinch that second treble.
Mia San Mia.