“It’s important to prevent passes from coming to Messi,” said Julian Nagelsmann. Smiling. The messy hair. The untouched picture of a teenager fresh from the park. Unchanging in his joviality before the whirlwind that awaits him and his team: Bayern-PSG (9:00 p.m., Movistar) in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16, after a 0-1 loss in the first leg that left all open to all possibilities. Very few games will move more tectonic plates in the football industry in the next few years. The sports directors and the owners of the Premier clubs say it behind the scenes, attentive to what Bayern and PSG are doing, considered —the Super League of which Madrid and Barça are a part now defunct— the two most dangerous projects that it has produced the continental front to English hegemony. Business will be one thing if Bayern win and another if PSG win. But Nagelsmann, who this Tuesday only imagined what would happen on the grass, the only thing that seemed to worry him was that Messi did not receive the ball. The knot of the tie.
It is the most momentous match in the most secret game there is. But the two coaches and all the players involved know that the key will be in the crossroads between Messi and the two German pivots, Kimmich and Goretzka. The sources consulted in both clubs recognized it this week: Paris Saint-Germain had been training for days to put pressure on Kimmich and Goretzka, the weakest point of Bayern’s battleship; while Nagelsmann has been working since the summer to ensure that his pivots do not short-circuit circulation, because otherwise his equipment will crack in the most delicate area. The area that Messi will frequent.
Last summer, Bayern made one of the most ambitious renewals in their squad in memory. The tension with which Oliver Kahn’s board has conducted the previous days has been maximum, even though the team has a goal advantage. Or precisely because of that. “A goal is an advantage that can change in an instant,” says Müller. The debate at the Bavarian club has centered on whether they can speculate on the result and wait for PSG to hit back, or they can be faithful to their model and take advantage of organization, constant pressure and solidarity as an aggressive force. The only one who did not hesitate was Nagelsmann. “We want to defend offensively,” he said yesterday. “We want to create chances. That is our defense.”
Nagelsmann plays the position. Bayern leaders have activated a contingency plan, in case of elimination. They have contacted the representatives of Tuchel and Klopp to warn them that the most coveted bench in central Europe could be at their disposal shortly. But the young German technical prodigy lives up to his subversive character. Far from being intimidated, Nagelsmann seems determined to take risks. But giving speed to the game, both in the opponent’s field and when the ball is released in their own territory, implies exposing their pivots to inaccuracies at a time when they are not seen as safe. Kimmich and Goretzka, all the analysts point it out, are handsome when they have space to turn, but they shrink if they are squeezed. Neither gave the impression that they wanted the ball very much when Stuttgart pressured them in the last Bundesliga game. It is observed by Christophe Galtier, the PSG coach, who has been rehearsing ambushes for weeks.
Galtier observes that the straightest path to qualifying is to cause an error in the opposing pivots, a situation that would easily enable Messi and that would also automatically enable Mbappé. “The higher up we steal the ball, the better,” he proclaimed at the conference this Tuesday. The problem, as indicated by the Paris club, is that the pressure exercises they have tried in training have not been satisfactory. This is dangerous. If the machinery fails with the advanced defense and they let the first passes filter, Bayern is lethal. Galtier must decide. Before doing so, he says that he will consult with Marquinhos, captain and head of the defense. It is unlikely that Marquinhos willingly agrees to carry out his line to the opposite field. The Brazilian seems to be careless.
Neymar broken and sold
The feeling of irrevocability contagious to all levels of PSG. Club employees fear that the Qatari owners will decide to divest in the event of elimination. It is public that they are studying to buy Manchester United and move to the Premier. The state of panic is explained by the gap between Neymar’s injury, on February 19, and the recognition that he could be operated on and that he would be out for at least four months due to a torn ligament in his right ankle, news made public. by the club this Monday.
Never has such a serious injury to a top-level player taken longer to be recognized. The reasons offered by the French press, confirmed by people close to the club, are equally outrageous: the sheikhs of Qatar and Galtier entertained the possibility of applying a compression bandage to Neymar so that he would play broken against Bayern. “It’s false that Neymar’s loss makes us better,” lamented the coach. “It just allows us to be more balanced in midfield.”
Vertigo will precede this Bayern-PSG. All roads led to Kimmich and Messi, and then to a devastating crisis. In Munich or Paris. The Premier carefully observes the clash of its great strategic rivals.
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