The top clubs in Europe return to Champions League action in a few weeks, and we’ll be previewing a lot of the matches over the next month. The Round of 16 kicks off with leg one action, beginning on 18 February.
Up first in our series of previews is French club Paris Saint-Germain traveling to Germany to face off against Borussia Dortmund. PSG has been in blistering form in both the domestic league and the Champions League, and Dortmund has been exceptional at home. Dortmund is seemingly a little more battle-tested because of their path in the Champions League, but they will need to keep their home form going to find success against the likely French champion looking to improve on last season’s lackluster Champions League performance.
Here’s a look at the clubs:
Paris Saint-Germain (France)
PSG come into this match on a very successful run of form. They’ve managed a phenomenal league record, and as a result, they enter the knockout stage as one of the top four favorites to win the competition, not just favorites in the first leg against Dortmund. Their current run consists of nine games unbeaten, eight of those being wins. During this stretch, they are averaging 2.67 goals scored compared to 1 goal conceded. This is slightly better than their season average of 2.5 goals scored per game, although their concessions are higher than the season average of 0.7 goals against per game. They have a monstrous goal differential (+36) and have an eight-point lead on second-placed Marseille.
Their Champions League form has been equally impressive; they dominated Group A securing 16 of the 18 possible points. They also recorded five wins, and their only draw came against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu. Perhaps even more impressive than their points haul was that in those six games, they allowed only two goals (again, both at the Santiago Bernabeu) while scoring 17. PSG will definitely be favored in this match because of their blistering form in both the Ligue 1 and the Champions League, but they will have to make sure they come to play. Dortmund will be trying to get out ahead, which should provide PSG with some opportunities on the counter, and they’ll need to respond to take the wind out of the Dortmund sails and dampen their home form.
Players to Watch
Neymar: Neymar has been hit with the injury bug this year and has suffered new injuries along with missing matches from older ones keeping him off the training ground. Despite that, Neymar has still made 12 appearances for PSG and has dominated the competition to the tune of 11 goals and five assists. He has been limited to 135 total minutes across two appearances in the Champions League, despite that he’s added a goal and a pair of assists. He returned to fitness in December and has not only appeared in their last few league games, but he’s gone the full 90 minutes. Other PSG players have done a great job of trying to fill in for him, but I expect that he’ll return with a vengeance in the Champions League. I expect him to score goals, lots of goals.
Kylian Mbappe: Mbappe has stepped in as the club’s leading scorer in the face of all the Neymar injuries. Despite the increased attention from Neymar’s absence from the pitch, Mbappe has done very well, providing almost a goal per game, amounting to 13 goals in 14 appearances. He’s also added four assists to his tally in the domestic league. He’s been particularly influential in their Champions League campaign so far after providing five goals in five appearances while also adding three more assists. Mbappe has been one of the best players on the pitch in every appearance he’s made in the Champions League. Keylor Navas might be leading in terms of the number of Man of the Match awards, but Mbappe is close behind. Although Mbappe has thrived under pressure, I think that Neymar’s return will only help with his numbers. If the last Champions League game played is any indication, Dortmund will be in trouble. His last outing saw him finish with three assists and a goal in a 5-0 rout of Galatasaray.
Angel Di Maria: Di Maria has appeared in almost every game for PSG and is the team’s leading assist generator in the Ligue 1. He’s maintained that role in the Champions League, although he does share the title of most assists at three, with the prior player to watch (Kylian Mbappe). Although he has been most utilized in the build-up play, he’s also provided six goals in the domestic league and two more in the Champions League. With Neymar’s return to full fitness, I think he will probably increase his goal and assist tally because of the immense focus that has to be placed on a healthy Neymar. In addition, Di Maria has split his playing time between attacking midfield and forward roles, which I expect will change to him being more involved in the attacking midfield. When he’s played in the attacking central midfield role, he’s scored two goals and two assists in five appearances. The only place he’s been better is at forward, where he’s provided four goals and eight assists in 13 appearances, but I expect those positions to be taken by Mbappe and Neymar going forward.
Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
Dortmund has been performing alright in the Bundesliga, though they are far from the form PSG has exhibited. Dortmund currently resides in fourth place in the Bundesliga behind their near rivals, Gladbach, along with Munich, and RB Leipzig. However, despite occupying fourth-place, there are only seven points that separate them from the top of the league. Dortmund has a nice goal differential (+19) on the season, although they trail league-leading RB Leipzig’s +30. They have a somewhat mixed recent record, recording a win over struggling Augsburg, but losing to Hoffenheim, although the third game back was a draw with the Bundesliga leaders. Dortmund has been markedly better at home, where they have a +17 goal difference as opposed to the +2 goal difference (in two additional games) away from home. At home, they are scoring 3.25 goals per game and allowing just above one goal against; however, away from home, they are averaging two goals scored and 1.8 conceded.
Dortmund had a more challenging group than PSG, but they were also much less decisive in their path to the round of 16. Dortmund was able to secure three wins, and a total of ten points to earn the second position in Group F. Dortmund recorded a 3-1 loss at Camp Nou, a 2-0 loss at Inter Milan’s San Siro and a home draw with Barcelona. Dortmund was even on goal difference after scoring and allowing a little more than a goal per game. Dortmund will start at home, where they have outscored opponents by four goals and secured seven of their ten points. At home, they are averaging 2.3 goals scored per game and only a single concession. With how their away form has been, if Dortmund wants to continue in the competition, they will need to play a phenomenal first leg.
Players to Watch
Erling Haaland: Haaland just joined up with Dortmund in the winter transfer window. It’s important to note that the Champions League does not follow English cup-tied restrictions (since 2019), meaning that although Haaland appeared for RB Salzburg, he will be eligible to appear in the knockout rounds for Dortmund. Haaland was in blistering for Salzburg, recording eight goals and an assist in 374 minutes. His time with Dortmund has only provided him a single opportunity to appear in the Bundesliga, and his 34 debut minutes led him to a hat-trick. Haaland should be involved in absolutely everything going forward for the club, and he should pay dividends with his talents. I think they picked up Haaland for an astonishingly cheap price (~$23M) for what he provided to Salzburg.
Jadon Sancho: Sancho has appeared in sixteen of the eighteen possible matches for Dortmund and has added ten goals and ten more assists during that time averaging about 80 minutes per appearance. Although he maintains similar playing time in the Champions League, he hasn’t been as prolific, though he’s still provided two assists and two goals. With the addition of Haaland, I expect Sancho’s statistics to get even better. Both are lethal shooters, and Sancho has already proved that he’s willing and able to pass. His pairing with Haaland should open up some space, and I think Sancho will add to his goal tally. I expect that Sancho will remain in his most played role for Dortmund as a right-winger, but I think there is the possibility for similar successes with a two striker approach. Assuming the lineup remains similar to what has been fielded, there’s a genuine possibility that Sancho, Haaland, and Reus could all see the pitch together.
Achraf Hakimi: Hakimi might be a bit of a surprise inclusion on this list, but I have been very impressed with his play, especially given that 13 of his 24 appearances in the Bundesliga or Champions League have been in a defense or defensive midfielder role. Despite that, he’s actually the leading scorer in the Champions League with four goals in six games. In the Bundesliga, he’s earned a reputation from being solid defensively and then working his way into a position where he can provide assists in for others. He’s contributed to their team’s Bundesliga placement with six assists and two more goals. Hakimi is an interesting player because he is very well rounded, he provides solid defensive contributions, but then he gets forward and aides in the attack. The only thing I worry about against PSG is that if he is caught out of position, they have the quality to make Dortmund pay.
What to Expect
As I discussed already, Dortmund really needs to start with a win (at home) if they want to have any chance of winning this tie. This means they will probably have to resort to sending some numbers forward; I’m not sure that a one, maybe even a two-goal victory, can protect them from PSG at Parc des Princes in Paris. However, the flip side of this is that they could also be welcoming counter-attacks from PSG, so it’ll have to be very structured and somewhat balanced. If Dortmund is sloppy or misses any opportunities, I think that PSG will punish them severely.
Last Updated: January 28, 2020