Where this season’s Champions League last-16 ties will be won and lost, according to Jesse Marsch

Jesse Marsch Feb 14, 2022 78
We’ve had the fun of the group stages, but now the battle for the Champions League will really begin. Mastering the knock-out stage is what becoming the best team in Europe is all about, and there is very little margin for error from here on in.

American coach Jesse Marsch is respected in the game for his tactical knowledge and has managed both Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig in the competition in the last three seasons, facing several of the sides involved in this round. Here is his guide to where the matches will be won and lost.

Paris Saint-Germain v Real Madrid

This is the match-up that everyone can’t wait to see. PSG and Real Madrid have been heavily criticised for how they’ve been playing this season, but are still top of their respective leagues. With both having a reasonable gap to the teams below them in Ligue 1 and La Liga, this Champions League tie will be everything for them right now.

I faced PSG in the group stage as coach of RB Leipzig this season (lost 3-2 away, drew 2-2 at home) and what we found is that the front three are not the hardest workers. You want to be brave with the ball against them, be good in possession, be patient, see if you can exploit spaces in their midfield and backline.

But you have to be very careful, especially with Real Madrid preferring to play with only four at the back. You need to have balance with the full-backs because if the three forwards are left alone or they’re man-to-man, they can punish you.

I expect Real Madrid to keep possession for a lot of this game, but PSG will be very good on the counter, so Real Madrid will have to have good balance when on the ball.

I think Neymar’s return is key for PSG. For me, Neymar is the heart of the team. You can see he is the most influential, the most liked player. He is the one they look to in every moment.