Both sides love to play on the front foot, but the Senegal international’s pragmatism may give the Parisians an edge.
For the purist, the tie that probably stood out when the Champions League round of 16 fixtures were revealed was Borussia Dortmund versus Paris Saint-Germain, given the attacking nature of both sides under Lucien Favre and Thomas Tuchel respectively.
Admittedly, the German outfit netted only eight goals in the group stage, modest numbers by their lofty standards, while the Parisians netted 17 goals in the group stage.
However, their goalscoring numbers in their respective leagues gives a clearer perspective of how attack-heavy they can be: Dortmund have scored 63 times in 22 Bundesliga games, a scoring rate of 2.9 per game, while PSG have netted 67 goals in 25 games, which is 2.7 goals per game.
Both sides have the highest goals-to-game ratio in Europe’s top five leagues, a statistic which demonstrates their strength in attack as well as why neutrals are looking forward to Tuesday night’s first meeting at Signal Iduna Park.
While many viewers will be looking forward to seeing Tuchel’s Fantastic Four – Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria and Mauro Icardi, and Favre’s young guns – Jadon Sancho and Erling Haland, the importance of a blue-collar worker like Idrissa Gueye shouldn’t be diminished or understated.
The signing of the Senegal dynamo from Everton in the summer ended a run of transfer windows without the acquisition of a tried and tested holding midfielder/tough tackler for the French heavyweights.
If Tuchel sticks to the 4-2-2-2 formation he’s utilised since late 2019, the pair of Gueye and Marco Verratti will carry the midfield workload at the Westfalenstadion, which will be interesting to watch against BVB’s 3-4-3.
The Italian acts as the midfield controller for Tuchel while the former Toffee covers more ground, aiming to win back possession for his side across the pitch.
Given Dortmund’s speed and efficiency on the counter attack, that aspect of Gueye’s game will come in handy for the French side especially as they could be light in the midfield area if the German tactician opts for two in midfield.
Contrarily, the 46-year-old coach could opt for even more balance in the middle of the park by introducing Marquinhos alongside the pair of Verratti and Gueye. While this means one of the Fab Four, likely Icardi, will drop to the bench, it may be the Parisians best approach to the first meeting in Germany.
Given PSG’s tricky relationship with the Champions League in recent seasons, something Tuchel experienced in his maiden campaign last term, approaching Tuesday’s game with caution and humility would be sensible.The absence of such caution and pragmatism cost Unai Emery’s side dear in 2016/17 when they lost a 4-0 first-leg advantage against Barcelona to lose 6-1 at the Nou Camp.
What was remarkable about the collapse was how panicky the French club looked in the final 10 minutes in which they couldn’t string passes together and allowed three goals in the closing stages to lose what seemed an unassailable lead after the first game at the Parc des Princes.
Defeat by Real Madrid two years ago at this same stage was meek, and Emery, in his second and final season in charge, fell to a Spanish side in the last 16, losing 5-2 on aggregate.
Last term, however, was another damaging defeat for the Red and Blues who suffered elimination at the hands of Manchester United despite an encouraging 2-0 win at Old Trafford.
Tuchel’s men outplayed the Red Devils in Manchester and deservedly carried a two-goal advantage into the reverse fixture in France, but were let down by a combination of poor in-game management and individual errors to lose at home 3-1, thus exiting at the same stage for the third season on the trot.
In the demoralising defeats PSG have suffered in Europe’s premier club competition, they’ve been found wanting in the midfield zone, so in a sense, the purchase of the 30-year-old Gueye was timely.
While it may be too simplistic stating how the addition of one guy could suddenly change a side’s luck in Europe, the fact that they had no player of the Senegalese’s profile in their ranks over the last three years tells its own story.
The former Aston Villa man has made 3.2 tackles per game in Ligue 1 this season, as well as 1.7 interceptions per game, with none of his teammates coming close to matching those numbers.
There may be an absence of the shiny statistics, but PSG’s problem has never been incompetence in attack but a lack of protection for the defence, and an absence of pragmatism in midfield, two holes that Gueye could solve this time.
It promises to be an entertaining first game between these sides on Tuesday night; the last five games involving both sides have seen at least three goals scored, so all expectations point to another goalfest.
However, in Gueye, PSG finally have the midfield general they’ve lacked in the last three campaigns, and maybe someone who finally allows their attacking talent to thrive in Europe after feeble exits in the continent’s top showpiece in recent years.