UEFA Champions League Magazine - Episode 21Mar 24
"This game is season defining" - Owen Hargreaves assesses Bayern Munich's chances in 'huge' Champions League clash with PSG
Owen Hargreaves looks ahead to the first leg of Bayern Munich's Champions League last 16 tie with PSG.
Few clubs are as expectant as PSG and Bayern Munich. The European giants face each other in the Champions League last 16 this week and the tension leading up to the game is palpable.
Defeat at this early stage is unacceptable for both teams, but the inevitable outcome is that one of the competition’s favourites will exit prematurely.
And BT Sport’s Owen Hargreaves has highlighted the significance of the tie, with both clubs prioritising success in the Champions League.
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“I think they’re both on the same level,” he tells BTSport.com. “It’s a shame this game’s happening in the last 16 because they could both be finalists with their personnel - I know Bayern are minus Robert Lewandowski and Sadio Mane but player for player I’d take their squad over PSG’s.
“But any team with Neymar, Messi and Mbappe you have to respect. Argentina won the World Cup and Lionel Scaloni built the whole team around Messi. We’ve never seen a team win the Champions League with three absolute world stars. And that’s the problem PSG have had, they’ve never won the Champions League.
“The way Messi won the World Cup almost shows the blueprint, so it’ll be interesting to see how PSG do against Bayern. You can’t carry three players who won’t work out of possession. Messi and Mbappe don’t really track back full stop. Neymar does a little bit but the others don’t do anything. Against Bayern that can’t be a good recipe.”
Bayern sit top of the Bundesliga but only a point clear of Union Berlin in second. Manager Julian Nagelsmann insisted his side “need to improve” on recent performances for the trip to Paris.
“The biggest problem for Bayern is that they have so many key injuries: Lucas Hernandez and Mane and Neuer, basically the spine of the team,” says Hargreaves. “They’ve done an amazing job getting temporary replacements with Cancelo and Daley Blind and Choupo-Moting’s filled in at the top of the pitch.
“The league isn’t really that competitive, so both of these teams are probably going to win their domestic leagues and might win the cups as well. Whoever goes out at this stage, their manager will be under pressure. Bayern and PSG both need to improve but they’re not as tested in their league as they would be in England. Their seasons almost hinge on this - whoever loses might have a new manager next year.”
Nagelsmann has faced criticism this season and now faces potential disruption after Manuel Neuer spoke publicly about the sacking of former Bayern goalkeeper coach Toni Tapalovic.
“Nagelsmann’s a great coach but with the Neuer injury and the goalkeeper coach situation, politically there’s a lot of pressure on him and he needs a big result,” Hargreaves adds. “This game is huge because it can change the course of both teams’ seasons. If Bayern have another early knockout like they did against Villarreal last season everyone’s going to be upset. In a way it’s season defining.
“Everyone in Munich realises that Naglesmann is a super coach tactically. The fact of the matter is that it’s all about results. He did well with RB Leipzig and Hoffenheim but the expectations are different at Bayern.
"The knockout to Villarreal last year was a huge shock and if they lose to PSG that could be the difference between a good manager and a top one. He has to win a game like this and with some of PSG’s injuries Bayern are probably the slight favourites.
“You can lose to PSG and everyone at Bayern understands that. The biggest problem is going out early two years on the bounce with a young manager. The expectations at Bayern are just different. There’ll be a lot of pressure because they don’t accept mediocrity. The Champions League is the main priority for Bayern - winning the league and the cup isn’t enough.”
You can watch all the action as PSG host Bayern at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday night exclusively live on BT Sport 2.