Bayern Munich hosts Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday with the stage set for star turns from the club's 2022-23 additions Sadio Mane and Matthijs de Ligt.
With Bayern having won 10 straight league titles, the two big-name summer recruits were brought to Munich mainly with European nights in mind. Bayern return to the Allianz Arena with a 1-0 advantage after former PSG forward Kingsley Coman's second-half goal at the Parc des Princes in the first leg, the same score and goal scorer of its 2019-20 Champions League final win against the same opponent.
Bayern needs only to avoid defeat to ensure passage to the quarterfinals. But just as it is for PSG boss Christophe Galtier, Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann is well aware that elimination will leave a burn that domestic results will not be able to cleanse. Nagelsmann said as much after his team's tighter-than-hoped win at Stuttgart on Saturday, saying he hoped it was not the "result," but "the manner and style of our game [against PSG] is how the season will be seen."
Early European exit is not tolerated in the Bavarian capital, regardless of the quality of Bayern's opposition. Only once has the German giant been knocked out before reaching the quarterfinals in the past ten years, a decade in which the club has won the European Cup twice. That elimination came against eventual champion Liverpool in 2018-19 and despite winning the league and cup double that same season, the Champions League loss ultimately resulted in the firing of then-coach Niko Kovac.
Mane's midweek pedigree. After Bayern's 2-1 win at Stuttgart on Saturday, Nagelsmann locked the dressing room door to give a speech reminding his team of the task ahead of them against PSG.
"I told them that on Wednesday, we have a very important game and that we need to bring our intensity," the 35-year-old manager told Germany's Sky. "They're a difficult team to beat and is one of the best teams in Europe."
Key to that intensity and focus will be Mane, who has a habit of performing on the European stage, including scoring a go-ahead goal for Liverpool at the Allianz Arena that helped secure Bayern's elimination. Mane made the move from Liverpool to Munich in the summer of 2022, having appeared in three of the past five Champions League finals, winning one and scoring in another. The forward is in line for his first start in four months as he continues his return from a leg injury that ruled him out of Senegal's World Cup campaign. Mane has made two league appearances from the bench since recovering from the injury. Despite looking sharp, he has not yet recaptured his best form.
"It's normal that he needs a bit more rhythm" Nagelsmann said on Saturday after Mane's 30-minute cameo from the bench. "We'll wait and see on Wednesday whether he will start."
De Ligt focused. Behind Mane in the center of defense is de Ligt, the man tasked with shutting down PSG's dynamic attacking duo of Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe. Since transferring from Juventus, de Ligt took a little longer than Mane to establish himself in Munich, initially coming off the bench. French defender Lucas Hernandez's ACL injury at the Qatar World Cup in November gave de Ligt an opportunity which he grabbed with both hands. De Ligt played perhaps his best game for Bayern against Stuttgart, clearing a goal off the line before scoring one of his own at the other end of the field in a furious two-minute period.
Even with news emerging that Neymar will miss the game, the Dutch defender said on Saturday that Bayern has its hands full with Paris' "dangerous" duo of Mbappe and Messi.
"They are two very good strikers. It will be very difficult," de Ligt told Germany's SID news agency. "We have to play a top game and be extra focused."
© Agence France-Presse