Timing is everything, as the cliché goes, and for PSG, there has never been a better time for them this season. There's never been a better time for them to finally play as a team, to finally react, turn up and perform to their expected best. There's never been a better time for this squad to find the cohesion and the balance required at this level. For Neymar to respond to his (many) critics. For the fans to believe again that this squad can go all the way in this Champions League campaign. The list goes on.
Tuesday's clash against Bayern Munich at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday is so much more than a round-of-16 first leg in the Champions League. For a start, there is so much at stake for the Ligue 1 leaders. This is a game that could save their season or keep it buried.
Since the start of 2023, the Parisians have already lost four games in all competitions: all four were away from home, with league defeats Lens, Rennes and Monaco, and a humbling French Cup exit to rivals Marseille. That's as many as in the whole of 2022!
No offence to the quartet that bested PSG at some point over the past six weeks, but Bayern are a significant step up in opponent: the Bundesliga side are stronger, bigger and tougher. Lionel Messi & Co. will have to be at their best to knock them out over two legs, something they've not been for a while.
One can't even remember their last complete, convincing performance. Too many times this season, even before the World Cup, manager Christophe Galtier has relied on the individual talents of Messi, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Achraf Hakimi to win games by themselves or to get the team out of tough moments. Now, more than ever, things are tough.
This team does not defend well. Too many players are injured, out of form or aren't fully fit. Collectively, the group has lost confidence and momentum too: take the argument between Neymar and Marquinhos and sporting director Luis Campos after the defeat at Monaco on Saturday.
On the pitch, the Brazil international's attitude towards Hugo Ekitike and Vitinha, with clear verbal abuse all game long, was unacceptable. Like Messi -- who will start after his recent injury scare -- and Mbappe, who is back from injury and wants to start but should be left on the bench as a precaution, Neymar has to rediscover his best form. The 31-year-old is too inefficient, too wasteful, too unfocused.
Said Neymar about the dispute, "Football isn't just love and friendship. There is respect, but there have to be disagreements and discussions sometimes are needed to help you improve. We are not used to losing, so of course when we lose matches, that can disturb us. But it's part of the process of getting better."
It is not just about the "MNM" or about Neymar, who was positive on Monday in his news conference, explaining that his self-confidence is "high" and that he knows the team will respond and "play at its best." But it is a big test for Galtier, too.
This and the second leg on March 8 are the biggest games of Galtier's career. He can't get it wrong and has to find answers. It is not all on him, of course. It is a difficult dressing room to manage, of course, rich with big personalities and big egos. Thomas Tuchel struggled at times, Mauricio Pochettino always did. It's not easy to put in place patterns of play in place with so many players who are used to starring as individuals.
It speaks to a major issue -- an unbalanced squad, one built with limitations -- and the blame for that rests with Campos, who's already under pressure despite being less than a year into the job. Nevertheless, Galtier has also disappointed so far. The positive results were there before the break, but the collective expression of the team was never there. Before and after the World Cup, Galtier has changed tactical systems numerous times without getting the best of any one formation or combination of players.
February and March are key months for PSG when it comes to Galtier and Campos' future with the team, but it will also have an impact on what might happen next season with Messi, Mbappe and Neymar. PSG will face Bayern twice, plus Marseille away and Lille at home in the league. There is so much to lose in these four games and while they still have a five-point cushion atop Ligue 1, things can change quickly, especially if they lose in the Champions League and that frustration spills out onto the remainder of their campaign.
For now, Bayern are in town and the history between the two clubs is a reminder that the German giants are both the example, and the nemesis, for PSG. The French club aspire to become like Bayern both domestically and in Europe when it comes to football power and financial power. PSG's final defeat to the Bavarians in Lisbon in 2020 is still in their minds; while it's true that your first Champions League victory doesn't always come on your first attempt, this one hurt. The Parisians beat Bayern the last time they faced each other, in the 2021 quarterfinals, but this tie could go either way.
It is a massive clash and the most mouth-watering tie of the last 16. The form of the two teams couldn't be more different, with a Bayern side that wins and scores facing a PSG one who loses and struggles. Football is often unpredictable and a team with Messi, Neymar and Mbappe can never be an outsider but right now, it's hard to say that Bayern Munich are not the favourites.