“Neymar dropped to the midfield again and received the ball – whenever the defence pushed up they created spaces in behind them and Neymar pulled the strings from the midfield by releasing Mbappe to exploit those spaces. Angel Di Maria followed the runs of Mbappe down the right flank – the counters were orchestrated by Neymar”

 

The photo of Neymar holding the Man of the Match award after the match might not have impressed his critics because at present the performance of a player is judged more on the basis of how many goals he scored and assists provided, but one of the best performances can come even without those and when a player does such, you have to realize the greatness of that player.

Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) may have lost the second leg but ultimately triumphed from a thrilling duel thanks to the three goals they had scored in the first leg and a second leg display which possessed a lot of character.

Neymar was the leader of the men once again!

Both Mauricio Pochetttino and Hansi Flick opted to stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation and Bayern Munich started to build from the back and when they were progressing after the first phase, PSG pressed higher.

Now, what did Neymar do during this press?

Neymar was tracking down the dangerous Joshua Kimmich and sat on him – this is not his job, but he decided to track him with the intention to lessen his versatility at the centre of the park.

But Bayern Munich are a smarter unit and when Gortezka witnessed Neymar tracking down Kimmich, he progressed further and at one point formed the double pivot with David Alaba operating deeper – at this point, Neymar positioned himself in between Gortezka and Kimmich.

It was a 2 vs 1 situation and Neymar swapped his position and joined Kylian Mbappe to press with Bayern centre-backs and the PSG midfielders stayed narrower to cut off the passing lane – the change of Neymar’s position led to a 4-4-2 formation and PSG stayed compact.

To break the compactness, Bayern centre-backs stayed disciplined and tried to outnumber the press of Neymar and Mbappe by forming a 3-men backline with Alphonso Davis moving to the wider of the left-flank.

Bayern witnessed the advancement of Davis and Thomas Muller – whose role was as an attacking midfielder, moved high up, joined Eric Maxim Choupo-Mouting as the second forward to create a 2 vs2 situation in the midfield and 4 vs 4 in the final third – the shape of Bayern changed to 4-2-4 against PSG’s compact 4-4-2.

PSG were forced to drop deeper and the space created in the midfield helped Muller to move in between the forward and midfield region – in the midfield, he often created a 3 vs 2 situations, which allowed Kimmich to receive the ball in between the lines.

Muller’s movement could have encouraged a more centrally oriented attack, but Bayern chose the flanks, especially the left flank with Davis being more proactive.

Alaba moved wider with Kingsley Coman and created 2 vs 2 situations and allowed Coman with a 1 vs 1 situation against Dagba. The crosses came in the central zone and it proved worthy.

Bayern Munich attacked and created a lot of chances, but credit goes to the discipline and grit exhibited by the hosts.

PSG were positive from the start – Kylian Mbappe nearly extended it after less than three minutes. But after being released down the right by Neymar, rifled a low shot wide of the far post.

PSG proved to be tighter than expected, regularly preventing Coman and Leroy Sane from finding teammates despite frequent raids down the wings.

For all Bayern’s pressure, PSG looked far more menacing on the counter. Mbappé bamboozled Benjamin Pavard in the area and cut the ball back for Neymar, whose shot was blocked by Manuel Neuer.

Bayern had a clear plan to subdue Neymar by ambushing him in numbers every time he had the ball at his feet – found ingenious ways to wriggle free whenever PSG broke.

Neuer had to rush out to deny him in the 27th minute after another counterattack led by Mbappe. Then Neymar struck the frame of the goal twice in three minutes – at first, he curled an outrageous shot against the crossbar from over 20 yards after duping Coman skillfully; then he nudged a shot against a post from eight yards after being set up by Mbappe at the end of a lovely move.

It was from that first effort against the post that Bayern broke down the other end and got themselves ahead.

Keylor Navas’ initial stop looped into the path of Choupo-Moting who converted from close range – a change in shape to 4-2-4 did the trick.

But it was time for Neymar to lead from the front.

Bayern were desperately searching for a goal and in turn, this attacking intent led their defence to be on a highline – Neymar and Mbappe were in 2 vs 2 situations.

Neymar dropped to the midfield again and received the ball – whenever the defence pushed up they created spaces in behind them and Neymar pulled the strings from the midfield by releasing Mbappe to exploit those spaces. Angel Di Maria followed the runs of Mbappe down the right flank – the counters were orchestrated by Neymar.

Neymar knew that among the pivots of PSG – Idrissa Gueye was not as brilliant as Leandro Paredes and thus, he stayed deeper and in front of the pivots because the Bayern players always tried to win the ball back from Gueye whenever he received it – that required protection and for which Neymar more often tried to connect with Paredes aided by Di Maria staying closer to them in the midfield.

Neymar contributed to another marvellous attack in the 53rd minute but, after sumptuous skill from Di María, came millimetres short of prodding the ball over the line.

Bayern attacked, PSG counterattacked led by Neymar, while Navas and the defenders remained disciplined.

It was a blistering game from start to finish at the Parc des Princes with multiple chances at either end.

PSG advance to the semifinals, courtesy of the discipline by the shot-stopper, backline, Paredes as a pivot and the leadership qualities of Neymar.

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