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Bayern Munich – key player Josip Stanisic



FC Bayern Munich, Champions League, Joao Cancelo, Josip Stanisic, Julian Nagelsmann, Paris Saint-Germain, PSG, tactics, analysis

Ahead of FC Bayern Munich’s second leg against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, Julian Nagelsmann has to make some tough decisions. João Cancelo is likely to be on the bench while Josip Stanisic starts. What are the tactical reasons behind it and how FCB wants to stop PSG’s offensive around Kylian Mbappé.

The 53rd minute of the first leg between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich was to have a decisive impact on João Cancelo’s current situation. The Portuguese was in the starting XI but had a poor day in the first half. At the break he was replaced by the hitherto rather weak Alphonso Davies.

“If Phonzie breaks through on the left, then we’ll have more of a man,” said Julian Nagelsmann, explaining the decision: “João didn’t get that deep. We wanted to bring a little more speed.” So Kingsley Coman switched to the right wing and Canadian Davies worked the left flank.

The tactical adjustment paid off in the said 53rd minute: Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting attracted two opponents, the free Davies got the ball and crossed it exemplary to the back post, where Coman netted for the lead. It should be the golden goal for Bayern – and ensure early on that Cancelo will not have such an easy time in Munich after all?

Before the second leg, Nagelsmann has to think about how he can get the offensive line around Kylian Mbappé under control. Benjamin Pavard’s suspension means he has to rebuild his defense accordingly. The favorite for the position in the starting XI is not Cancelo, but Josip Stanisic. “I’m assuming that he will play. Stani had a bit of a thigh problem, but was able to train,” said Nagelsmann at the press conference on Tuesday.

Why the Bayern coach chooses the inexperienced 22-year-old and how he wants to stop Mbappé’s move.

FC Bayern Munich: That’s why the right defensive side is so important

When Mbappé came on, Bayern went swimming several times. The Frenchman scored two offside goals – once his colleague Nuno Mendes was just a toe too fast. The 2018 World Champion prefers to attack down the left flank, where he can make a splash both up the attack and down the wing if he chooses. Pavard mostly had this side well under control, but switched to the other wing because of his yellow card and still saw the traffic light card shortly before the end.

Nagelsmann must now replace him. The supposed PSG equalizer in the 82nd minute shows the task ahead of FC Bayern.

The pace of Paris is huge. In the creation of this scene, the French managed to free Neymar between the lines and let him pick up pace. Despite having Leon Goretzka with him, the Brazilian is in fact too fast, creating a two-on-one situation that Dayot Upamecano can barely resolve. Neymar plays the ball deep, Mendes is faster than the Bayern defense.

In the center, however, Matthijs de Ligt and Benjamin Pavard lose track of things at the same time. Mbappé starts low at first but just right to pick up momentum and eventually push past De Ligt to score the goal. It is precisely these situations that can decide Bayern’s progress in the second leg. Neymar doesn’t play. But with Lionel Messi they have another player who can create these spaces and superiority situations.

FC Bayern Munich: How Josip Stanisic and Co. should stop the Mbappé train

Precisely because the defense is so crucial, Nagelsmann opted for Stanisic and thus against Cancelo. The Croatian simply gives the team more flexibility in the tactical area – because he can play both right-back and centre-back. Nagelsmann will probably also want to play with a three-way protection against Paris in the second leg. That does not necessarily mean that his team acts with a back three in every situation. But if Bayern start with a nominal back four, a full-back will probably play deeper – and that was Stanisic most recently.

With the role of the former campus player, which oscillates between outside and further inside, Nagelsmann can react to different scenarios. For example, this gives his team the opportunity, at least on paper, to double up on the fast wingers by supporting a player from the center without opening up too much space inside. A scene from the 76th minute of the first leg shows that this can work well.

Again PSG managed to break through on the left wing but this time De Ligt is closer to the action. Together with Upamecano he manages to clear a corner. The remaining defense was better here than with the later offside goal. The key will also be in the second leg that breakthroughs like this are anticipated in good time.

But there is a downside to Stanisic: he is not as stable defensively as Pavard and he is also not as fast as Upamecano. He would clearly lose such running duels against Mbappé – and there were a few of them in the final phase. When looking for alternatives, there is not much better in the squad. In principle, there are the following options: Set up Cancelo instead of Stanisic and then switch to a back four. Or mobilize a player from outside the position in the back three, which coaches tend to avoid in crucial games. Another option would be to move Stanisic to the inside left flank and have Upamecano defend against Mbappé and Mendes.

Crediting Cancelo with a hybrid role would also be possible, but the Portuguese is not the strongest defensive player. In his previous appearances, he only won 33.3 percent of his duels. Stanisic comes to a remarkable 75 percent – although he always has situations in which he is overrun because of his weaker start.

The basic stability at a good level will have convinced Nagelsmann to choose Stanisic at least for this game. Perhaps he also remembers his protégé’s performance for Croatia in the summer of 2022. Back then, Stanisic impressed with a strong performance against Mbappé. In order for that to succeed again, however, he will need the support of his teammates.

FC Bayern Munich: Jamal Musiala and Thomas Müller instead of being forced to make decisions

Another factor for this system is that Leroy Sané and Serge Gnabry have not really been able to convince since the World Cup. That brought Thomas Müller, who ended up on the bench in winter, back into the starting XI. In the past there has been a lot of discussion about whether Nagelsmann should bet on him or Jamal Musiala.

The hybrid system of a three- and four-chain gives both a starting place in positions where they feel very comfortable – namely in very central areas. They showed in Stuttgart that the two harmonize well with each other. A good side effect for Nagelsmann is that he has a superior number in midfield against PSG’s row of three.

With Messi and Mbappé not exactly known as pressing players, one man more there could pay off. If necessary, Nagelsmann can switch to a 4-2-3-1 with Musiala as the left winger without major adjustments. In response to a PSG change, for example.

FC Bayern Munich: What’s next for João Cancelo?

But what’s going on with Cancelo now – and how threatening is the situation for him? After all, he seemed to immediately rise to become an important part of the team in the first few games. But after that he found it difficult to radiate danger on offense.

His competitor is also less Stanisic, who should soon be ousted by Pavard again. As long as Nagelsmann does not deviate from this system, Coman and Davies will be the players with whom Cancelo competes.

Maybe Nagelsmann will change his direction again as soon as the PSG game is over. No other team in Europe has an offensive with so much speed and technical quality. In this respect, the current phase could be the exception rather than the rule. In any case, Cancelo will have more chances to prove himself.

With his combination strength and dangerous crosses, he can still add a lot to the Bayern game. So the situation is far from threatening for him. But Paris’ 53rd minute slightly shifted his squad position.

For Nagelsmann, this is both a luxury situation and a great risk. On the one hand, he can add famous names from the bank. On the other hand, he has to do some compensatory work on the defensive. You have to be able to afford situations like Cancelo’s. An indicator that Bayern are doing much better now than before the first leg.