“Mbappe bagged a brace, Marquinhos scored one, but the man who led from the back and front was Neymar”

 

It was a night in Munich where one would wish to sleep at home because the condition was cold and chilling and the snowstorm was having its moment. For the players from Bayern Munich, the hosts, and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) there was no time to enjoy the moment, rather, go out there and fight it out at the Allianz Arena to take the upper hand in the first leg of the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

It was the repeat of the final of the last season, where Bayern Munich triumphed by a solitary goal and the kind of form Bayern have been in since Hasi Flick took over – obviously at the Allianz Arena – they had been the ultimate favourites. Well, the night ended in favour of the visitors. The PSG of Mauricio Pochettino became the first team to beat the German Giants under Flick for the first time and that too at their own backyard.

Then there was a player from Brazil named Neymar whose impact was evident once again.

Bayern were without their goal machine Robert Lewandowski and charismatic winger Serge Gnabry while PSG missed the services of Marco Verratti and Alessandro Florenzi. Danilo started in place of the suspended Leandro Paredes, Dagba replaced Kehrer in the full-back position while Julian Drexler was on the wide left instead of Moise Kean.

Both the managers opted to play in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

For PSG, Neymar was given the role in that central position.

Bayern started the match at a brisk pace.

Lucas Hernandez broke down the left flank and linked up with Thomas Muller and surged into the inside channel – Hernandez blasted a shot, but Keylor Navas saved it for the corner. Choupo-Mouting rose above the rest to head the ball – it clipped the top of the bar.

Such a start from Bayern was nothing unknown and for which PSG remained disciplined enough while Bayern advanced. Neymar covered the dangerous Joshua Kimmich by dropping deep into the midfield. Goretzka had to push higher up the pitch, thus, there was no alternative for progression.

PSG switched to 4-4-2 when on possession and Neymar swapped positions with Angel Di Maria – who dropped deeper and Neymar would become the supportive striker along with Kylian Mbappe – both of them exploited the space between the Bayern pivots and two centre-backs.

Neymar and Mbappe pressed the centre-backs, while Di Maria remained on that channel where the progression of the ball between Hernandez and the pivots and player on the wide right became tough.

But Neymar and Mbappe not being natural defenders – the Bayern centre-backs were able to reduce the pressure and overloaded the left side channel with the intention to outnumber Di Maria – Alaba advanced and passed the ball to Coman who fed Hernandez on the left flank to create a 1 vs 1 situation. In the 1 vs 1 situation Coman completed more dribbles – 5 in total – than any other players on the pitch.

Kimmich found space and more often attempted to dictate the game and break the passing lanes. He attempted more passes down the left than his other teammates as for example – Alphonso Davies and Hernandez.

Kimmich was very good at attempting the long balls as well because the PSG midfield stayed deep to counter the pressure.

Leroy Sane moved right and Muller exploited the half-space – connected with Kimmich via long balls.

Despite the overload on the left, Muller and Sane swapped positions quickly to orchestrate attacks that made the German Giants extremely dangerous and Navas had to come in action.

The pressure and more control over the ball meant, PSG would have to exploit the chances to the maximum and Neymar was leading the way.

With Bayern in an attacking mood, the Brazilian superstar – pressurizing the spaces in between the pivots and centre-backs – led a charge through the middle of the Bayern defence, offloaded to Mbappe in space in the right inside channel, who hammered a strike towards goal that was straight at Neuer as the ball travelled through the keeper and into the bottom-right corner.

The pass in between the defenders of Bayern to Mbappe by Neymar was a pure class – it seemed that with delicate footwork he ripped through the heart of the Bayern defence and it was that last-minute composure that created the moment.

Ten minutes later Neymar was seen in action again – Draxler converted from close range after being teed up by Mbappe. However, the goal was ruled offside against  Mbappe earlier in the move as he latched on to Neymar’s through ball.

In the twenty-eighth minute, Neymar went deeper and positioned himself on the right side of the channel as Bayern cleared a PSG threat from the corner. Neymar received the ball, watched the view from deep – witnessed that among the sea of red shirts, Marquinhos was making a run. Immediately, the long ball master class of Neymar showed up who bypassed the Bayern defence and floated the ball to Marquinhos who controlled the ball and finished like a striker.

Two Neymar moments – two goals talk about impact, vision, precision and playmaking – for PSG Neymar was all about class at Munich!

Bayern struck back and the pressure led to two goals by Mouting and Muller before and after the break respectively and the game turned out to be a classic one.

It was between the aggression of Bayern and the composure of the PSG backline and the leadership qualities of Neymar.

Bayern’s over-attacking intent left spaces between that pivot and centre-back position, where Neymar and Mbappe waited.

Neymar dropped deep and received the first pass from the back and remained more central allowing Mabppe, Di maria and Drexler to move high.

Neymar occupied the middle of the pitch and after picking up the ball he rolled the ball to the centre and on either flank and during the break he was always alert to utilize the moments.

Eight minutes after the Muller equalizer, Neymar was running decoy that released Di Maria who released Mbappe into space down the left flank on the counter. He ran at Boateng to break into the box before hammering a right-footed effort into the bottom-left corner giving Neuer no chance.

PSG restored the lead and despite the Bayern attacking intent, PSG left the pitch smiling with an important away win.

Mbappe bagged a brace, Marquinhos scored one, but the man who led from the back and front was Neymar.

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