Champions League Tactical Preview: Man Utd could win in Paris

PSG's Neymar
Neymar's PSG could lose to counter-attacking Man Utd

Alex Keble takes a look at the first round of Champions League group stage fixtures, predicting that Man Utd have the chance to cause an upset at Paris Saint-Germain...

"United will look to repeat that famous 3-1 win in Paris by sitting deep and denying space to Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, before launching quick breaks into the channels behind full-backs Mitchel Bakker and Alessandro Florenzi."

United's counters could repeat famous night

PSG v Man Utd
Tuesday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport 2

This is a good time for Manchester United to travel to Paris. Thomas Tuchel's side have not reacted particularly well to reaching the final of the Champions League, it seems, having lost twice in Ligue Un already this season and now looking at a long injury list including Marco Verratti, Marquinhos, and Julian Draxler.

PSG's form might have stabilised domestically but they are yet to play a counter-attacking team of Manchester United's quality, which, following a tumultuous start to 2020/21, suggests PSG may get caught flat-footed. United will, of course, look to repeat that famous 3-1 win in Paris by sitting deep and denying space to Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, before launching quick breaks into the channels behind full-backs Mitchel Bakker and Alessandro Florenzi.

Having scored 14 goals in their last five games, United will feel confident using Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial to break into those spaces. What's more, Harry Maguire's improved performance at the weekend suggests United can hold firm for long periods of PSG possession. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs a big win in Europe. He might just get it on Tuesday.

Entertaining game should bring goals

Lazio v Dortmund
Tuesday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport Extra 2

This is the most interesting and exciting game of the round, and tactical hipsters around Europe will be shunning the action in Paris to see Simone Inzaghi and Lucien Favre battle it out in Rome. Borussia Dortmund are likely to hold the majority of possession while Lazio will counter-attack into the flanks, committing plenty of bodies forward when they do - to leave them vulnerable to the counter-counter.

In a 3-5-2, Lazio have a solid defence thanks to their ability to sit off and squeeze space in central areas with a narrow midfield formation. When they get the ball, they either look to evade the opposition press by playing incisive vertical balls out from their technically proficient defenders, or by launching longer passes to number ten and target man Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.

That should allow Lazio to get down the flanks, where their strikers will split to seek the space vacated by Dortmund's very attacking wing-backs. But the quality Favre possesses should mean Lazio's commitment to attack leaves them open to the pace and intelligence of the Dortmund forwards, particularly given Lazio have been beaten 4-1 and 3-0 in Serie A already this season. Their form is waning, handing the Germans the advantage.

Lucien Favre 1280.jpg

Liverpool's possession dominance to suffocate Ajax

Ajax v Liverpool
Wednesday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport 2

The biggest concern for Ajax, who failed to qualify through the group stage last season, is that they were not forced onto the back foot by Valencia or Chelsea in those key games. By contrast, this possession-centric side will only hold around 35% of the ball when they welcome Liverpool on Wednesday night. Jurgen Klopp's side should be able to grind them into submission.

Ajax have never really recovered from losing so many of their star players following their run to the Champions League semi-final, and the biggest loss of all was Matthijs de Ligt to Juventus. Ajax's defence has proven shaky domestically, where they have failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their last three games. But Eredivisie form means almost nothing when it comes to facing a team of Liverpool's strength.

The Premier League champions will pen Ajax in, using the high-tempo interchanges of their narrow front three to pull Jurrien Timber and Daley Blind around the pitch. In Dusan Tadic and Nicolas Tagliafico Ajax are relatively strong down their left, but on the other side Andrew Robertson will expect to find joy against right-back Noussair Mazaraoui, who is unlikely to be helped much by Ajax's new 20-year-old right winger Antony.

Atletico's compression could stump Bayern

Bayern Munich v Atletico Madrid
Wednesday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport ESPN

Despite Bayern's total dominance of the Champions League last season they never had to face a tightly compressed and defensively organised side like Atletico Madrid. The likes of Chelsea and Barcelona were thrashed by Hans-Dieter Flick's side precisely because they left so much room between the lines for Serge Gnabry to dominate. Atletico will not be so naïve.

Diego Simeone's side are back to their best from a defensive standpoint, conceding just once in four La Liga games so far this season. They certainly know how to hold their own in a compressed midblock, pressing in waves as the ball enters their half of the pitch and clamping down on creative players. While Gnabry will be denied space in which to run, Thomas Muller will be swarmed.

That should mean a low-scoring game defined by a single moment of quality, at most. With Luis Suarez making a good start and Joao Felix raising his game, Atletico could provide that moment on the counter-attack, emulating how Hoffenheim beat Bayern 4-1 earlier this season.

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