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regular-article-logo Monday, 24 June 2024

Champions League: Mbappe 'available' for Sociedad clash; Pressure is on Bayern players to deliver against Lazio

The French forward has played the full 90 minutes in all six Champions League games this season for PSG and that doesn’t look like changing when they host the Spanish side in Wednesday’s first leg

Reuters, AP/PTI Paris Published 14.02.24, 06:36 AM
Kylian Mbappe

Kylian Mbappe File image

Kylian Mbappe sat out Paris Saint-Germain’s Ligue 1 game at the weekend, but their top scorer is set to return for the Champions League last 16 tie with Real Sociedad, manager Luis Enrique said on Tuesday.

Mbappe, who has scored 30 goals in 29 games this season, was an unused substitute in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Lille, a precaution taken after he took a knock to his ankle three days previously in another 3-1 win, over Brest in the Coup de France.

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The French forward has played the full 90 minutes in all six Champions League games this season for PSG and that doesn’t look like changing when they host the Spanish side in Wednesday’s first leg.

“When a team has a player like Kylian Mbappe, of course we know that the more he plays the better, because we all benefit from that,” Luis Enrique told a press conference.

“There is no doubt about it. He could have played (on Saturday) if it had been a final, but it wasn’t, it was not worth the risk. Kylian Mbappe is available, just like the other players.”

The manager could afford to rest Mbappe in the league, where PSG now have an 11 point advantage at the top over Nice, and have gone 16 games unbeaten, but in the Champions League it hasn’t all been plain sailing.

PSG finished second in their group behind Borussia Dortmund and lost to Newcastle United and AC Milan. They are also without a win in their last three games in the competition, a sharp contrast to Real Sociedad.

Sociedad may be struggling domestically, seventh in La Liga, but they topped their Champions League group, which included Inter Milan, and are undefeated in Europe this season.

“Real Sociedad have a tight defence in the Champions League, they don’t give the ball away easily. We have to press them aggressively,” Luis Enrique said.

“They are certainly one of the best teams in the competition, that is why they qualified as group winners. They
were in a group with last year’s finalists.”

Kane’s chance

This was meant to be the year that Harry Kane finally won a trophy. The Champions League might be his best chance now.

Bayern Munich head to Lazio on Wednesday needing to bounce back after a 3-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen left it five points off the Bundesliga lead.

Kane is on track to be a member of the first Bayern team since the 2011-12 season not to win the league.

Injuries are weighing Bayern down, coach Thomas Tuchel’s tactics are in question and forward Thomas Mueller questioned his teammates’ mentality in the “nightmare” Leverkusen loss.

Kane has 24 Bundesliga goals already but never came close to a 25th on Saturday. He was shut out of the game as Bayern fell further behind the league leader. Bayern’s attack was neutralised by Leverkusen and the entire team had just one shot on goal.

There are 13 games left and much can still happen, but Bayern’s title hopes now rest on Leverkusen slipping up. Not so easy when Leverkusen is unbeaten in 31 games.

That makes Wednesday’s game at Lazio all the more important.

The Italian team, eighth in Serie A, may not be the hardest opponent Bayern could have faced in the round of 16, but the pressure is on the players and coach to improve.

Left back Alphonso Davies, midfielder Konrad Laimer and forwards Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman all remain injured, while goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and right back Noussair Mazraoui were rested on Monday before returning to training on Tuesday ahead of traveling to Italy.

Tuchel defended his tactics after the decision to switch from a back four to a back three for the first time this season backfired. Leverkusen exploited space on Bayern’s left flank, where Tuchel had deployed Sacha Boey, usually a right back.

Bayern’s transfer strategy is also in question after Josip Stanišic, a Bayern right back on loan at Leverkusen, scored the first goal.

Kane reeled off a list of Bayern’s attacking faults after the Leverkusen loss.

“In the final third we weren’t good in one-on-one battles, we weren’t good in duels. The final delivery wasn’t there today. So a really disappointing day with the ball,” Kane said.

Against Lazio, Kane and his teammates are under pressure to do better.

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