Confident Mbappe and PSG will put Bayern Munich strength in depth to test

German side take 1-0 lead into Champions League last-16 second-leg clash but will have to manage without key players

Kylian Mbappe has overtaken Edinson Cavani to become Paris Saint-Germain's all-time top goalscorer. AFP
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A penny for the thoughts of Sadio Mane, as he rested up on Sunday and watched on television his old club Liverpool host Manchester United.

There’d be a loyal smile, certainly, as he surveyed a 7-0 hammering to trump even the last, emphatic Liverpool-United clashes – last season’s 5-0 and 4-0 – he was involved in.

There would be a poignant reflection about the two goals each for Cody Gakpo and Darwin Nunez, players who have replaced Mane in the Liverpool forward line, and about the goals from his old allies, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino.

Mane joined Bayern Munich last summer, a time he felt appropriate to close his hugely successful seven years at Anfield, and, at 30, left him young and close enough to his peak to take on a new, elite challenge. So far, it has not been entirely kind.

Mane, bought by Bayern partly to fill the large gap left by Barcelona-bound Robert Lewandowksi, has missed almost two months of the campaign with a shinbone injury that also ruled him out of Senegal’s World Cup.

The comeback is now under way, but not yet so convincingly he is guaranteed a starting place in Wednesday's stellar, high-stakes Champions League meeting with Paris Saint-Germain.

Bayern have so far in the tie shown they can manage the French champions without Mane, having gained a 1-0 lead in the French capital last month.

They held that advantage through the 33 second half minutes when Kylian Mbappe, not fit enough to start, came off the bench and they hung on to it in the tense closing seconds when Bayern were reduced to 10 men with the dismissal of Benjamin Pavard.

But a single goal lead looks that bit more precarious with Mbappe fit from the kick-off, and eager to run at a Bayern rearguard shorn of three World Cup-winners, with captain and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and France’s Lucas Hernandez long-term injured, while Frenchman Pavard is suspended.

Such is Bayern’s strength in depth that manager Julian Nagelsmann can still contemplate a bench including Mane, Leroy Sane and Serge Gnabry as support options in attack.

At centre-forward Eric Choupo-Moting’s form – a goal in each of his last three Bundesliga games – makes it harder for Nagelsmann to promise Mane more than another substitute appearance, like the second half summons through which the Senegalese has eased himself back into action in Bayern’s last two league games.

“He’s getting more and more rhythm,” said Nagelsmann of Mane, “but I don’t think he will start. He can still come off the bench and be decisive, depending on what we need.”

What Bayern will need, their German coach added, “is to have possession and set the tempo. It's important to stop the passes to Lionel Messi. We won't be able to just defend everything”.

PSG have shaken off much of the gloom that followed their first-leg loss. They have registered seven goals in their last two Ligue 1 games and did so without the most expensive footballer in the history of the sport – Neymar.

It was confirmed on Monday evening that the Brazilian, absent with an ankle problem from the victories against Marseille and Nantes, needs surgery and will miss the rest of the season.

But what ought to be a seismic announcement on the eve of a major assignment like chasing a deficit in Munich, is more than soothed by the presence of Mbappe and the smooth functioning of his partnership with Messi.

In the absence of Neymar 10 days ago at Marseille, two Messi assists took Mbappe to his 200th goal for PSG. A week later, against Nantes, Mbappe, 24, overtook Edinson Cavani as the club’s highest ever scorer with his 201st strike.

The club presented him with a special trophy for the milestone and handed him a microphone to address the crowd at the Parc des Princes. Mbappe told fans they should be confident of a comeback in Munich, and declared PSG, despite the 1-0 deficit, “the favourites” in the tie.

“He’s got a lot of self-confidence,” smiled Thomas Muller, Bayern’s acting captain when Mbappe’s claim was put to him. “At 1-0 ahead, I see us with the advantage.

“I’ll be interested to see how PSG approach things at the start. If they take early risks, we may be able to catch them out. If our plan works out, we’ll ensure Kylian enjoys himself less than usual.”

In Pavard’s absence, Josip Stanisic, the 22-year-old Croatian defender looks likely to be patrolling the Bayern right flank, the area Mbappe prefers to launch his attacks from. “Josip is brave and quick,” said Muller, “he’ll be absolutely ready for the task.”

Updated: March 08, 2023, 2:42 AM