Bayern Munich host Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday with the stage set for star turns from their 2022-23 additions Sadio Mane and Matthijs de Ligt.
With Bayern having won ten league titles in succession, 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 scoreline and goalscorer of their 2019-20 Champions League final win.
Bayern need only to avoid defeat to ensure passage to the quarter finals.
But just as it is for PSG boss Christophe Galtier, Bayern manager 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 side’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 exits are not to be tolerated in the Bavarian capital, regardless of the quality of their opposition.
Only once have Bayern been knocked out before reaching the quarter finals in the past ten years, a decade in which they have lifted the European Cup twice.
That elimination came against eventual champions Liverpool in 2018-19 and despite winning the league and cup double that same season, the sting ultimately proved fatal for then manager 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 side of the task ahead of them against Paris.
“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 are 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 which 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 line for his first start in four months on Wednesday as he continues his return from a leg injury which ruled him out of Senegal’s World Cup campaign.
Mane has made two appearances from the bench in the league since recovering from the injury and despite looking sharp has not yet recaptured his best form.
“It’s normal that he needs a bit more rhythm” said Nagelsmann on Saturday after Mane’s 30-minute cameo from the bench on Saturday.
“We’ll wait and see on Wednesday whether he will start.”
De Ligt focused
Behind Mane in the centre of defence is de Ligt, the man tasked with shutting down PSG’s strike duo of Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe.
Since moving from Juventus, de Ligt took a little longer than Mane to establish himself in Munich, initially coming off the bench.
France star Lucas Hernandez’s ACL injury in Qatar in November however gave de Ligt an opportunity which he grabbed with both hands.
De Ligt played perhaps his best game for Bayern against Stuttgart on Saturday, clearing a goal off the line before scoring one of his own at the other end of the pitch in a furious two-minute period.
Even with news emerging that Neymar will miss the tie, the Dutch defender said on Saturday Bayern will have their 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.”