Neymar starred as Paris Saint-Germain sent out a statement of intent with an impressive 3-0 Champions League victory over Bayern Munich.
It took PSG less than two minutes to break the deadlock in the Group B clash against Bayern, as world-record signing Neymar teed up fellow Brazilian Dani Alves to hammer home.
Bayern piled on the pressure but failed to take their chances, before Edinson Cavani finished a sweeping counter-attack with an exquisite strike into the top corner.
Unai Emery’s men finished off their visitors in the 63rd minute when Neymar pounced after Kylian Mbappe had bamboozled the Bayern defence.
Here we look at three things learned from Paris…
PSG’s breathless counter-attacking floored Bayern in Paris. Every time the Germans lost possession or were caught high up the field they were attacked with pace and purpose by a frontline that possesses a bit of everything; Kylian Mbappe is a freight train, matching acceleration with strength to hold defenders off and a rapid change of direction; Neymar all silky smooth dribbling angles, switching from side to side; and Edinson Cavani the traditional powerful No9 whose lack of speed in comparison to his team-mates means, by design, he nearly always arrives late in the penalty area.
It’s a heady cocktail for Unai Emery to blend but at the Parc des Prince he got the mixture just right. However, this is only the fourth match they’ve played together as a trio and the worry for France and the rest of Europe is that they’re only going to improve; irrespective of how many penalties Cavani may or may not give to Neymar.
Even at this formative stage of their relationship, Mbappe’s clever runs and movement (an underrated aspect of his game) saw a pass from his team-mate nestle perfectly into his stride while the support running from Neymar and Cavani was first class. Even when the communication did break down, so clinical are Mbappe and Neymar with the ball at their feet it nearly always creates an opening in some way or another.
Bayern’s sluggish play in possession and defence played perfectly into their hands, as PSG sat back recovered the ball and then pounced. While the big open spaces of the Parc des Princes are suited to this style. But providing they can keep it safe at the back (more of that later) it’s a tactic that can work at home or on their travels as team’s are expected to attack them.
This was a distinctly un-Bayern performance from a team who have problems in a number of areas, with key individuals simply not performing. Defensively they were carved open, unable to live with PSG’s raw athleticism and everything was last-ditch; a header here, a Javi Martinez lunge to block a shot there, a frantic block from a recovering defender. It was a systematic failure from a group of players who appeared shell-shocked.
Bayern’s defenders weren’t helped by a midfield unit which surrendered possession all-too easily, either, as Arturo Vidal, Thiago Alcantara and Corentin Tolisso’s passing wasn’t up to scratch when pressed or even when given a semblance of time to try and find an opening.
In the final third too many crosses failed to beat the first man and there was little interplay between Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller and James Rodriguez to truly trouble PSG. It hints at a lack of focus and concentration which, delving into the realms of speculation, lands back at the coach’s door. Individuals should be blamed but if there is a breakdown in direction from bench to pitch, unfortunately it’s the manager who must take the blame.
PSG goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, who was exceptional, did have to make a couple of key saves at 1-0 which, of course, may have resulted in a different outcome while Thiago Silva looked every ounce the best centre-back in the world, but chances weren’t taken and once it became 2-0, Bayern barely looked like getting back in the contest.
Bayern now face a tricky trip to Berlin on Sunday against Hertha and it will be intriguing to see who pays the penalty for this result, although in the long-term it’s yet another black mark on Ancelotti.
Manuel Neuer continues to be a major absence for the German champions and not just because of his prowess between the sticks. Against such a potent side in transition as PSG, the 31-year-old’s ability to sweep behind his defence would have been a vital weapon against Emery’s attacking waves.
Sven Ulreich fulfilled such a role on a few occasion but that was only in the second half when the match was all-but lost.
Neuer’s reading of the game has allowed Bayern to breed a defensive system where pace isn’t seen as a major attribute but without him in the side, they’re left brutally exposed. Admittedly, we’ve been here before with Bayern sides under Pep Guardiola with Real Madrid consistently revealing their inability to thwart direct sides but it’s even more apparent without their captain standing behind the defence.
Ulreich, of course, isn’t of the same standard – he himself would admit to that – but it’s already a theme and Bayern must play at least another 16 matches, across all competitions, without Neuer whose broken foot should be healed in time for him to return after the winter break.
It could be a cruel winter for the Bavarian giants until then.
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