After Paris Saint-Germain’s 2-1 loss to Borussia Dortmund this week in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, I went through a wave of emotions like many supporters. Ultimately, I landed on optimistic and have stayed there. After all, if we don’t support the club, who will?
I think there are plenty of reasons other fans should be optimistic, too, as I’ve written in this piece. The loss was deflating but PSG are by no means out of this tie.
If PSG are to advance to the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time in three seasons, a few things need to change.
First of all, they need to forget about the failures of the past. That’s easier said than done but you can’t play in this tournament scared to make a mistake.
One of Erling Haaland’s biggest advantages is his youth. He doesn’t know that he shouldn’t be this good on the biggest stage in club football yet. The Dortmund striker plays with the kind of freedom and joy that we did not see from Neymar Jr. and Kylian Mbappé on Tuesday night.
PSG players need that same child-like mentality where they go out on the pitch and just play the game they love without the weight of the world on their shoulders.
The other thing that has to change for PSG heading into the second match against Dortmund is the lineup.
In Germany, PSG manager Thomas Tuchel opted for a 3-4-3 formation to try and neutralize Dortmund’s quick attackers. Unfortunately, Dortmund manager Lucien Favre did the same and as Joseph Lowery writes in The Athletic, there was no advantage to be had for either side and that’s why the halftime score was 0-0.
According to Lowery, things only opened up in the second half when Dortmund started to move the ball from side-to-side to unbalance PSG’s shape before using their individual talent to create easy goal-scoring opportunities, which Haaland was more than willing to finish off.
For PSG, they relied too much on the individual talents of Neymar and Kylian Mbappé and failed to make the Dortmund defense work. Defending PSG was far too easy for a side that came into the game with one of the worst defenses in the Bundesliga. In fact, PSG’s only goal came from a defensive mistake. Imagine if Tuchel’s team was able to move the ball quicker laterally and open up space for their talented attackers.
Thomas Tuchel switched from his traditional 4-4-2 to play a 3-5-2 that has never worked for PSG this season. He made just 1 sub despite having a far deeper bench than BVB, and he didn't change his system despite his midfield being destroyed on the counter.
Very poor management.
— Zach Lowy (@ZachLowy) February 18, 2020
PSG will get one more opportunity to try and exploit Dortmund’s defense on March 11 at the Parc des Princes. However, it will be a much more difficult task as Marco Verratti and Thomas Meunier are both suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
There are still four matches to play before Dortmund comes to the French capital but if I were Tuchel, this is who I would be thinking about starting in that highly-anticipated match.
Goalkeeper: Keylor Navas
Defenders: Juan Bernat, Presnel Kimpembe, Thiago Silva, Thilo Kehrer
Midfielders: Marquinhos, Ander Herrera
Forwards: Angel Di Maria, Mauro Icardi, Kylian Mbappé, Neymar Jr.
PSG needs to score goals and put Dortmund under pressure. It’s important that Tuchel doesn’t overthink this decision and simply start the best players available and put them in an attack-minded formation.
Keylor Navas will start in goal. There’s no doubt about that despite giving up a screamer to Haaland that no keeper in the world would have saved.
On defense, I’m predicting Juan Bernat will be back from his calf injury and ready to contribute. If not, Layvin Kurzawa wasn’t terrible against Dortmund and is an option as well.
Presnel Kimpembe and Thiago Silva are my center-backs of choice although I am concerned about the Brazilian. His lack of pace was exposed against Dortmund and for Haaland’s second goal, he gave the teenager too much space to line up his shot.
The right-back position is a bit of a problem with the suspension to Meunier. Colin Dagba has been out weeks with a knee injury and could be back in time for the return leg but I’m not sure you can trust him in a match of this magnitude.
With that in mind, I think the only option would be Thilo Kehrer. Some supporters may not like that choice after his mistake last season against Manchester United, which led to a goal, but who else is available? Ander Herrera has filled in at times at right-back this season but that’s not his natural position.
Speaking of Herrara, I think it makes more sense for him to replace Idrissa Gueye who had a shocking performance at Signal Iduna Park. This is the most important 90 minutes in PSG’s recent history and I trust Herrera more than Gueye right now in a high-pressure situation.
Next to Herrera, I would play Marquinhos again in the midfield and those two combined will have the difficult task of trying to win and maintain possession. It’s a dangerous proposition to go into a game against Dortmund with only two midfielders (one being a natural center-back) but PSG has to score goals and I don’t think you can leave out the Fantastic Four.
Neymar, Mbappé, Mauro Icardi, and Angel Di Maria have to start against Dortmund. PSG cannot crash out of the Champions League without starting their four best attacking players. If they fail to get it done, that’s on them, but I’m convinced this is the change Tuchel has to make.
Over the next couple of weeks, Tuchel has to rebuild his squad’s confidence. They’re not out of this tie by a long shot and with the right lineup and tactics, they could be the ones to pull off the Champions League comeback.
Want more PSG? Visit the PSG Talk Podcast Network page and subscribe to PSG Talking, The 1970, and 24th & Parc.