At his pre-match press conference, Paris Saint-Germain manager Thomas Tuchel expressed the importance of the return of Neymar Jr. to the squad that will go up against Borussia Dortmund in the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League.
“Neymar is there and he is fine,” Tuchel said, via Le Parisien. “If nothing happens during training, he will play tomorrow [Tuesday]. It changes almost everything if he plays.”
When asked how Neymar changes everything, Tuchel explained why the Brazilian is so vital to what PSG does on the pitch.
“When Ney is in the field, he brings confidence, quality and the ability to be decisive. It changes everything for his teammates, for Kylian, for all of us. He gives confidence to the whole team, as to me. We don’t have other players with the same qualities.”
I think it’s safe to say that Neymar will be in the starting lineup against Dortmund. But, who will walk out of the tunnel at Signal Iduna Park with him? That’s where it gets interesting.
Last month, I predicted how PSG could set up against Dortmund in the first leg of their Champions League tie and I stand by that prediction…for the most part.
Goalkeeper: Keylor Navas
Defenders: Juan Bernat, Presnel Kimpembe, Thiago Silva, Thomas Meunier
Midfielders: Marquinhos, Marco Verratti, Idrissa Gueye
Forwards: Neymar Jr., Kylian Mbappé, Pablo Sarabia
The only change I would make from my previous prediction is to remove Mauro Icardi from the starting lineup, move Kylian Mbappé to the striker role, and slot Pablo Sarabia in on the right-wing.
Icardi has really struggled to recapture his form from the start of the season and I’m not sure Tuchel will trust him enough to shake off the rust in such a massive match.
The opposite is true for Sarabia. The Spaniard has scored more goals in 2020 than Icardi (8 to 2) and if you remember back to the group stage of the Champions League, it was Sarabia who scored the game-tying goal against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.
During the press conference, Tuchel was asked about the possibility of starting Sarabia and remained coy on the possibility.
“I will not answer the second question [will Sarabia start on Tuesday?]. But his best position is close to the surface in order to make aggressive races and assists. He is very strong in this area.”
Mbappé leading the attack is exactly what the Frenchman would have wanted when he said that he wanted “more responsibility” at the end of last season. With Neymar on the flank and a shaky Dortmund defense in front of him, there’s no reason for the 21-year-old to not be a constant threat throughout the 90 minutes.
I love the midfield trio of Marquinhos, Marco Verratti, and Idrissa Gueye. I think they’re the perfect blend of everything you need to control the middle of the park, which will be vital against Dortmund’s attack. Verratti is more offensive-minded, Marquinhos is more defensive-minded, and Gueye is a little bit of both.
With Marquinhos moving up into the midfield, that leaves an open center-back position. Moving into that role, I believe, will be Presnel Kimpembe who also attended the pre-match press conference with Tuchel. The Frenchman has recovered from his hamstring injury and appears to be healthy enough to be in the squad where I believe he will line up next to Thiago Silva.
The full-back positions will be absolutely vital for PSG. Dortmund possesses the kind of speed that can cause a lot of headaches for Juan Bernat and Thomas Meunier who are not the most fleet-footed. With no other viable options available to him, Tuchel has likely been drilling into them for weeks that they are not to cross the halfway line unless absolutely sure they can get back and cover the space behind them.
Keylor Navas will be PSG’s rock if all else fails. If the match starts to swing Dortmund’s way, I expect the three-time Champions League winner to make one or two world-class saves to breathe life back into PSG. The club has never had a goalkeeper of his quality and now is the time for him to show why he was brought to the French capital last summer.
With nearly every player available, the bench will be stacked with quality should Tuchel need to make an in-game tactical change. If PSG goes a couple of goals early, he could bring on Angel Di Maria and Icardi to join Mbappé and Neymar to mount a comeback. Or, if PSG leads late in the match, Ander Herrera, Tanguy Kouassi, or Thilo Kehrer could be brought on to help hold onto the lead and see the game through.
A lot is riding on PSG’s performance in the knockout phase of the Champions League and it all begins at 3:00 PM EST on Tuesday.
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