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Champions League final preview

by Joshua Doering

Over 14 months after the qualification round of the 2019-20 Champions League began, only Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich remain. The reigning French and German champions each advanced to the final with a 3-0 victory in the semis at the expense of a domestic rival of the other (Bayern over Lyon, PSG over RB Leipzig). 

While this is not exactly the matchup soccer traditionalists had in mind, the stage is set for a captivating contest. The star power is there: Newmar. Lewandowski. Mbappé. Neuer. Both teams have multiple World Cup winners and multiple Champions League winners in their squad. 

Here’s what you need to know before these two “superclubs” square off in Lisbon on Aug. 23 for the right to be called champions of Europe. 

By the numbers:

5 – Bayern’s five European Cups are tied with Barcelona for the fourth-most in history. A sixth would move them into a tie for third with Liverpool. Meanwhile, PSG is making their first appearance in a European Cup final.  

15 – Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski has 15 goals in the Champions League, five more than any other player. The 32-year-old has found the back of the net in all nine of his appearances in the competition so far. 

6 – Lewandowski and PSG winger Ángel Di María are tied for the most assists in the Champions League with six. The duo directly contributed to four of the six goals scored in the semifinals. Lewandowski got Bayern’s third while Di María netted one himself and set up the other two. 

714 – No player has completed more passes in the Champions League than the 714 of Bayern midfielder Thiago. Teammate Joshua Kimmich is fifth on that list with 634 followed by PSG’s Marquinhos (615) and Presnel Kimpembe (588) in sixth and seventh. 

29 – Bayern enter the game on a 29-match unbeaten streak. Hansi Flick’s team has not lost since suffering a 2-1 defeat to Borussia Mönchengladbach on Dec. 7, 2019. 

Matchup to watch: Bayern’s fullbacks vs. Neymar and Kylian Mbappé

The two biggest changes that have occurred at Bayern since Flick took over in November are the re-insertion of Thomas Müller into the starting lineup and the emergence of 19-year-old left back Alphonso Davies. The blistering pace and remarkable technical ability Davies provides has taken an already dangerous attack to another level. Flick wants his fullbacks getting up the field and thinking aggressively. Davies, Kimmich and Benjamin Pavard are more than happy to oblige. 

Regardless of whether it’s Kimmich or Pavard playing right back, the question remains the same: Can Bayern control possession and pin the likes of Neymar and Mbappé in their half of the field or will PSG force Bayern’s fullbacks to play more conservatively due to the ever-present threat of a counter-attack? The tone of the game is going to be determined by whoever wins this battle. Bayern are nowhere near as effective going forward when its fullbacks — particularly Davies — are not involved in the attack. 

X-Factor: Ángel Di María

It is not a coincidence that PSG converted their chances at a much higher rate when Di María returned from his suspension in the semifinals. Neymar and Mbappé are going to steal the headlines, but Di María is the one who balances out that front three. His quality on set pieces and ability to create chances for others means Neymar and Mbappé don’t have to do all the playmaking themselves. Di María was arguably the best player on the field against Leipzig and reminded everyone just how gifted he is. 

Bayern win if: The high defensive line doesn’t get exposed

Unless Flick decides to tweak his tactical philosophy and orders his defenders to stay back farther, there is going to be space for Neymar, Mbappé and Di María to run into. It happened against Barcelona and it happened again against Lyon. The difference this time around is that PSG has the skill of Barcelona combined with the pace of Lyon. There might not be a team in the world better suited to exploit this flaw than PSG. Bayern win comfortably if PSG is unable to get in behind and stretch their defense. 

PSG win if: They win the battle of the superstar attackers

As well as Neymar has performed in Portugal, he’s failed to capitalize on a stunning amount of excellent scoring chances. Bayern, on the other hand, can create a goal like the one Serge Gnabry scored against Lyon at any given moment. PSG have the more talented attackers but not by much. They have to play like it with the form Bayern are in right now (see “By the Numbers” factoid No. 5). This matchup suits PSG nicely from a tactical perspective, but that won’t mean a thing if they continue to squander clear-cut chances. They paid all that money for Neymar and Mbappé for them to deliver in this exact situation. 

Photo courtesy of the UEFA Champions League / Wikimedia Commons

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