Paris St.-Germain and Bayern Munich are meeting Sunday in the final of the Champions League, European soccer’s richest and grandest club competition. The final is being played at Benfica’s Estádio da Luz in Lisbon. Bayern and P.S.G. both won comfortably in the semifinals.
Danger again for Bayern, and our first sub: Boateng is hurt.
Di Maria fires high from in close — the third great chance in a few minutes — but the more notable outcome of the play is that Bayern’s central defender Jerome Boateng comes up with a leg injury (it looks like he was grimacing as he held his inner thigh).
Whatever it is, it has ended his day. Niklas Süle is on to replace him, just as he was at halftime of the semifinal.
Lewandowski off the post!
A great turn at the penalty spot gives Bayern’s target man a great look. He turns and beats Navas, but didn’t catch the ball purely, and it dings off the left post and stays out. So now both teams have had a good look. Maybe that will open this up even more.
Neymar with the first real chance!
A cutting ball from Mbappé cuts open Bayern’s back line in the area and sends Neymar in past Alaba. He fires a left-footed shot at Neuer, who is lucky to catch it with his trailing arm and then block the rebound out for a corner. That’s the first real threatening chance of the match, and it shows what P.S.G. can do in an instant.
Rory Smith checks in: No surprises so far.
There’s no sign of Bayern altering its approach to acknowledge the pace P.S.G. boasts up front: Alaba and Boateng have set up camp on the halfway line and are not showing any great interest in going much further back. That is out of necessity, more than anything: If they drop back, then Bayern cannot play the intense, high-pressing game that makes it so dangerous.
How P.S.G. copes with that pressure may well be the decisive influence in the game. It’s tempting to assume that Bayern has a vast amount more experience on this sort of stage and, while that is true at an institutional level, quite whether that counts for anything is anyone’s guess.
The personal is much more relevant, and there things are more balanced. There are four survivors of the 2013 win in Bayern’s starting team (Boateng, Alaba, Manuel Neuer and Thomas Muller), but P.S.G. has three former Champions League winners in Neymar, Angel Di Maria and the restored Keylor Navas. Oh, and Kylian Mbappé has won a World Cup. Does that help?
A little switch of field: This is better from P.S.G.
Now it’s the French champions putting on some pressure in Bayern’s end, and Mbappé wins a free kick on the left. It’s a good position, but a better sign. Mbappé has had two shots blocked in quick succession. But he’s had them; that’s the more important thing if you’re Tuchel.
Bayern is on the front foot immediately.
Bayern, unsurprisingly, presses from the first minute and promptly forces a dangerous turnover as P.S.G. tries to play out of the back. Bayern wastes it but promptly wins a free kick when P.S.G. tries again.
That’s one way to shift the focus away from your own high back line.
The lineups for the final are out. One change for each team.
Bayern Munich’s Hansi Flick has made one change from the semifinals, with the French wing Kingsley Coman replacing Ivan Perisic on the left. Perisic had played very well but he also has played quite a bit, so this may simply be a search for fresher legs. Flick said he liked Coman’s “quality” and his ability to use his quickness to press P.S.G.’s defenders, but he admitted there’s some sentiment at play with this move, too.
“We’re facing Paris, his boyhood club,” Flick said in an interview before the game. “We hope he will be a bit more motivated.”
Bayern’s XI: Manuel Neuer; Alphonso Davies, David Alaba, Jérôme Boateng, Joshua Kimmich; Thiago Alcantara, Leon Goretzka; Kingsley Coman, Thomas Müller, Serge Gnabry; Robert Lewandowski.
P.S.G.’s biggest change is in goal, where the experienced Keylor Navas returns from a leg injury. But Manager Thomas Tuchel also said Saturday that Marco Verratti (who starts on the bench) is back to health. He can’t go 90 minutes, or 120, but he’s a valuable reserve if his team needs him. He had missed the quarterfinals but made a late cameo as a sub against RB Leipzig in the semifinals.
P.S.G. XI: Keylor Navas, Thilo Kehrer, Thiago Silva, Presnel Kimpembe, Juan Bernat, Marquinhos, Ander Herrera, Leandro Paredes, Angel Di Maria, Neymar, Kylian Mbappé.
Italy’s Daniele Orsato is today’s match referee.
Rory Smith’s matchday preview.
There is no such thing as a bad Champions League final. This is the culmination of the European season, after all, the single biggest club game of the year (and possibly the biggest annual sporting event on the planet, Super Bowl included). When the stakes are that high, the drama and the tension is inherent.
But that doesn’t mean all Champions League finals are good. Some are overwhelmed by their own significance, and the game itself is dour and cautious and inhibited: think 2003, when A.C. Milan and Juventus produced 120 minutes of soccer so bad that both teams should have been disqualified, or even last year’s effort between Liverpool and Tottenham.
Many turn into exhibitions, where one team is so obviously superior to the other that the outcome starts to feel preordained: Barcelona, say, in 2009, 2011 and 2015, or Real Madrid in 2017 and 2018.
The true classics are the exceptions: In recent years, perhaps only Liverpool’s extraordinary win in 2005, Chelsea’s remarkable resistance in 2012 and Bayern’s most recent victory, in 2013, could justify that description.
Despite the eeriness of an empty stadium and the fact that it is August, there are reasons to believe that 2020 might earn a place in the canon. Both Bayern and P.S.G. have star quality: Robert Lewandowski and Alphonso Davies, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé. And the two teams share many other similarities: Both are national champions who play on the front foot, and both are as happy in possession as they are dangerous on the counterpunch. Also, both have very little recent experience of losing, boast fearsome attacks and, certainly in Bayern’s case, have slightly questionable defenses. P.S.G. has been built to win this tournament; Bayern is on the cusp of a domestic and European treble.
Bayern’s imperious form — particularly that dismantling of Barcelona — has been enough for most to assume the German team is the favorite, but P.S.G. will have seen the chances created by Lyon in the semifinals (and even by Barcelona before its collapse) and will have taken heart. Neither team is without its flaws. Both teams have an abundance of strengths. That is precisely how a Champions League final should be poised. There is never a bad one. This should clear that bar with ease.
The final in a few numbers.
The only numbers that matters are those on the scoreboard, of course, but here are a couple more to keep in mind today.
425: That’s the number of days it has been since the first game of this season’s Champions League. The pandemic’s five-month delay has made it the longest in the competition’s history.
-1: That’s the number of days until the start of the new European season opens. (France was first, on Saturday.) England, Spain, Germany and Italy will kick off their new seasons in September.
15: Goals scored by Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski in this season’s Champions League. He needs two more to match Cristiano Ronaldo’s record for a single campaign.
5: Bayern’s total of Champions League titles. Only Real Madrid (13), A.C. Milan (7) and Liverpool (6) have more.
1: Champions League titles won by French clubs. Monaco, in 2004, was the last French team to make the final. Marseille, in 1993, was the only French club to win it.
How did the teams get here?
Sunday’s game is a throwback of sorts: the first meeting in the final since 1998 of teams who entered the tournament as domestic champions.
That is, of course, how it used to be in the days of the old European Cup, when you had to win your home league just to gain entry to the competition. The creation of the Champions League in 1992 changed all of that, opening the door to extra teams (from the big leagues, mostly) and extra revenues but also setting the stage for all-Italian, all-German, all-Spanish and all-English finals.
Tradition is still a powerful force — P.S.G. has won seven straight French titles, and Bayern Munich eight in a row in Germany — but you take your nostalgia where you can.
Bayern Munich emerged from the group stage an easy winner over Tottenham, Olympiakos and Red Star Belgrade. In the knockouts, it easily dispatched Chelsea (7-1 on aggregate), Barcelona (8-2 — ouch!) and Lyon (3-0). Bayern is 10-0 in this year’s competition, and has scored at least three goals in nine of those games. At 4.2 goal per game, in fact, it is the highest-scoring side in Champions League history.
P.S.G. also cruised out of the group stage, producing five wins and a draw in a group that included Real Madrid, Club Brugge and Galatasaray. It overcame a first-leg deficit to oust Dortmund in the round of 16, and then rallied — with two goals after the 90th minute — to beat Atalanta, 2-1, in its quarterfinal in Lisbon. RB Leipzig went much easier (3-0) in the semifinals on Tuesday.
Unlike Bayern, which can field a handful of players who were present when it won the competition in 2013, P.S.G. has never played in the Champions League final before this season.
Who has the momentum?
What’s strange is that the two finalists were the two teams that some predicted would struggle the most in Lisbon.
Because the French league shut down in the middle of the pandemic and never resumed its season, Paris St.-Germain arrived having played only two competitive games since March. Bayern Munich had a monthlong break between the German Cup final and its resumption of play in the Champions League, a layoff that Oliver Kahn, the club’s new chief executive, worried might be a disadvantage.
It turns out neither rust nor rest was an issue. Bayern has scored 15 goals in its three Champions League games this month, and P.S.G. seems to be peaking at the perfect time.
The Qatar connection.
Much has been written about Qatar’s use of soccer in general, and Paris St.-Germain in particular, as a platform to burnish its national image. About the country’s influence in the soccer games that fans watch. About its hand in the way the sport is governed (both in Europe and globally). About whether that money has blurred a discussion about Qatar that the Gulf country prefers not to have. About whether all those hundreds of millions of dollars that have poured in from Qatari accounts have been good for the game, or not.
That discussion won’t end today, either, whether the trophy flies off to Paris or Munich after the game. Qatar surely prefers the former. (“They will be the most important 90 minutes of our lives as footballers and in the history of the club,” said Marco Verratti, who has been at P.S.G. for eight years.)
But know this: Qatari interests are now so deeply invested in European soccer that the country may be able to shine in the reflected glow of victory regardless of who wins.
Here’s some pregame reading.
On P.S.G.: Sunday’s game is the pinnacle of the season for both teams, but for a few others — especially at P.S.G. — the match is the culmination of years of spending, planning, preparing and positioning. Qatar, of course, built this entire club for this single moment, with an investment in both money and national pride that is probably incalculable. Kylian Mbappé, still only 21, can bring the world’s biggest club title to his hometown two years he brought the World Cup title home to France. Thomas Tuchel can pull off what so many other big-name coaches could not, and mold P.S.G.’s wealth of talent into Europe’s best club. And then there’s Neymar. Let Rory Smith take you through what this game, and this season, could mean for him, for his image and for his legacy.
On Bayern Munich: Hansi Flick was supposed to be a temporary solution as Bayern’s manager when he was installed last fall, a trusted hand there to gently guide an aging and faltering team away from the precipice of decline. Instead, he has turned into the perfect man for the job. But he hasn’t turned Bayern round with tactical wizardry or some madcap system or a revolutionary approach, Rory found in dozens of interviews with those who know him best. His biggest trick, it turned out, is that he’s not a jerk.
On life in Lisbon this month: Pulling off the Champions League’s reboot in Portugal over the past two weeks was a herculean affair for UEFA, the event’s organizer. Usually it has months to put together its plan, and a host city in place more than a year out. This year was, um, different in almost every respect. Earlier this month, Rory and Tariq Panja went through the rules and found that there was a plan and a policy in place for everything: who stayed where, how much water and sports drinks would be provided, the parts of the fields where teams could warm up and (perhaps more important) where they could not. Two weeks later, the most draconian lines in the book — those drawn up to deal with how to eject a coronavirus-stricken side — remain, thankfully, unused.
And something special from the archives: If you want a real treat, here’s a piece from 2018 about a previous experiment that hoped to merge big money and star power to create a Paris superclub. The club was Matra Racing de Paris, and it’s quite a tale.
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