This is it. The biggest game of the club football season is almost upon as as Bayern Munich take on Paris Saint-Germain in the 2020 Champions League final.
The champions of Germany take on the champions of France in a game that takes on extra significance as it comes amid the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The outbreak of coronavirus earlier this year saw all football postponed for a good three months in most countries, while PSG even saw the Ligue 1 season put to an early halt, with their title delivered on the basis of their points per game average.
It’s also seen changes to the Champions League as well, with the quarter-finals and semi-finals instead played as one-off knockout matches this season, as opposed to the usual two-legged ties, and it’s made for intriguing viewing.
Read on for our preview of tonight’s big game…
Run to the final
PSG – Thomas Tuchel’s side had a pretty easy group really, but as serial under-achievers in this competition, they got off to a dream start with a convincing 3-0 at home to Real Madrid. They went on to win their group comfortably, drawing 2-2 at the Bernabeu to once again show a growing confidence that they belong at this level, whilst also enjoying 5-0 thrashings of Galatasaray and Club Brugge.
Their last 16 tie with Borussia Dortmund was another big opportunity to make a statement, with this young side containing the likes of Jadon Sancho and an in-form Erling Haaland looking more than capable of an upset, and winning the first leg 2-1. PSG turned things around in the second leg, however, winning 2-0 thanks to goals from Neymar and Juan Bernat on the 11th of March – one of the last games played before lockdown put football to a halt, and an early match that was played behind closed doors as the pandemic took off.
It was a full five months before PSG’s next competitive game, and they avoided embarrassment with a stunning late comeback against Atalanta. The Serie A side again showed their banana-skin potential by taking a 1-0 lead and looking worthy of their place in the semi-finals, but PSG showed again that they’re developing more of a winning mentality at this level with two goals in the final two minutes from Marquinhos and Eric Choupo-Moting to send them through to the semis.
RB Leipzig represented another plucky and impressive young side who could dent PSG’s hopes, but once again Tuchel’s men came out on top, this time with a fairly comfortable 3-0 win to book their place in the final against their third Bundesliga opponent of this year’s tournament – will they once again put a German top flight side to the sword in the biggest game of all?
Bayern Munich – It’s been a quite stunning Champions League campaign from Bayern, who are perhaps the slight favourites for tonight’s game. The Bavarian giants have won every single one of their games so far, and have been scoring for fun at every stage.
First up, they dominated their group with a 100% record, which notably included a scintillating performance to thrash Tottenham 7-2 away from home. Serge Gnabry stole the show, as he so often has this season, with four goals and one assist in that game on what was a very memorable return to north London for the former Arsenal man. Bayern also thrashed Red Star Belgrade 6-0 in another away performance full of quality as they finished with a remarkable 24 goals scored over six group games.
In the last 16, they took Chelsea to pieces home and away with a 7-1 aggregate victory. Gnabry was again unplayable in London as he scored twice in a 3-0 win at Stamford Bridge, before a 4-1 win in the second leg five months later.
The highlight of their campaign so far, however, must surely have been the absolute demolition of Barcelona in the quarter-finals. Gnabry was once again one of the stars of the show, but Bayern were utterly brilliant in pretty much every area as they recorded a memorable 8-2 win, with the salt in Barca’s wounds coming as loan flop Philippe Coutinho came off the bench to score two and set up another.
Lyon looked tricky opponents in the semi-finals after they surprisingly knocked out Manchester City, but Bayern made no mistake with a convincing 3-0 victory to book their place in the final.
Players to watch
With so many superstars in both squads, there is a long list of names who could have a meaningful contribution in this game, but we’ve done our best to narrow it down to two from each side.
For Bayern, the truly world class game-changing potential comes from Gnabry and Robert Lewandowski, who have been on another level this season.
Gnabry’s pace, skill and incredible shooting range have seen him become a real star this season, and on recent form you’d almost put him above even Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in that PSG team.
Lewandowski, meanwhile, has long been one of the best strikers in the world, but even he has taken his game to another level this term, with the Poland international sure to have been a strong contender for the Ballon d’Or if the award hadn’t been cancelled.
With 56 goals in 46 games in all competitions this season, Lewandowski is the runaway top scorer in this year’s Champions League, and if anyone deserves to go home with a winners’ medal tonight, it’s him.
For PSG, there’s just no escaping that all eyes will be on Neymar tonight as everyone wonders if the Brazilian superstar can right some wrongs in what might be the biggest game of his career.
A Champions League winner with Barcelona, Neymar never quite escaped from the shadow of Lionel Messi at the Nou Camp, but his quest to become the main man at the Parc des Princes hasn’t exactly gone to plan either, with the player often making the headlines for all the wrong reasons rather than for what he’s contributed on the pitch.
That can all change tonight if Neymar puts in the kind of match-winning performance he’s capable of, but it’s all a question over which Neymar shows up. If he turns it on, he will have delivered the prize PSG signed him for, and be an eternal legend in the French capital to deliver their first European Cup; if he once again freezes in the spotlight of this big stage, he will surely go down, rightly or wrongly, as one of the bottlers of his generation – a player of far more style than substance who has never justified the huge hype.
Away from Neymar, it’s also a huge game for Kylian Mbappe, who can add a Champions League medal to his World Cup medal by the age of 21 with a win tonight, but you could argue a big game from Angel Di Maria could be what makes the difference.
The Argentine flopped at Manchester United but has been immense for PSG, and he’s so often dazzled under the Champions League lights, rightly being named Man of the Match for Real Madrid in their 2014 final win. If he’s on his game, he’ll give the likes of Neymar and Mbappe a far easier time tonight and could be the difference between victory and defeat.
In the dugout
Hansi Flick is not the biggest name in management, but that won’t be true for much longer, even if he doesn’t get his hands on the trophy tonight.
The 55-year-old, who has previously only managed in the lower leagues in Germany, or held assistant roles at RB Leipzig and the German national team, was thrust into the spotlight this season after stepping up from being Niko Kovac’s assistant to replacing the departing Croatian tactician.
Since then, Flick has won won the Bundesliga title and the domestic cup in Germany, with his side now on an incredible 21-game winning run in all competitions and closing in on the treble.
Whatever you might say about the quality of the players he’s inherited, that’s some CV he’s built up for himself already, and he has the quality of the performances to back up the results.
In the opposite dugout, it’s another German manager as Thomas Tuchel hopes to show what he’s all about by winning the biggest prize in club football – and one that, despite all his other success at PSG, that he will ultimately be judged on.
From the outside, it might not seem all that impressive to take charge of this expensively-assembled squad of global superstars, but our friends at PSGtalk recently told us what makes their manager more than just a man in a suit standing by as Neymar and Mbappe do their thing.
“Thomas Tuchel has the most difficult job in football. He’s literally only judged on his performance in the most difficult competition in club football,” PSG blogger Ed told CaughtOffside ahead of the semi-final clash with RB Leipzig. “He has to manage all of the personalities and media attention, too. Mbappe, who is as professional as it gets, got into two altercations with Tuchel on the sideline because he had the audacity to sub him out early in matches that were already put away.
“That said, Tuchel is a tactician in every sense of the word. He doesn’t necessarily have a single method like Diego Simeone who is ultra-defensive. Tuchel can adapt to the team he’s playing and the players he has available. This season, we saw Mbappe, Neymar, Mauro Icardi, and Di Maria all play upfront at the same time.”
Champions League history
In terms of history in this competition, these two teams couldn’t be more far apart.
Bayern have won the trophy five times, with only Real Madrid, AC Milan and Liverpool winning it more, though at the same time, they’ve lost as many finals as they’ve won, with only Juventus more prolific runners-up in the tournament’s history.
Most recently, Bayern won this trophy in 2012/13, with a late Arjen Robben goal giving them a 2-1 win over fellow Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund at Wembley, completing the treble. Before that, however, they also had recent heartache on this stage, losing on penalties to Chelsea in their own stadium in 2012, and 2-0 to Inter Milan back in 2009/10.
For PSG, it’s their first ever final and a chance to make history. The haters will no doubt say they benefited from the change in the competition’s format this season, but to get past some tough opponents in the manner they have after not kicking a ball for five months deserves huge credit.
They may be relative newbies on this stage, but it could be the start of something big for PSG if they get the win tonight.
Head to head
Somewhat surprisingly, these two haven’t actually met very many times, playing just eight competitive matches.
Here’s their head-to-head record in full…
PSG 2-0 Bayern Munich – 1994/95
Bayern Munich 0-1 PSG – 1994/95
Bayern Munich 5-1 PSG – 1997/98
PSG 3-1 Bayern Munich – 1997/98
PSG 1-0 Bayern Munich – 2000/01
Bayern Munich 2-0 PSG – 2000/01
PSG 3-0 Bayern Munich – 2017/18
Bayern Munich 3-1 PSG – 2017/18
Not easy, but it feels fairly safe to assume that this will be a high-scoring encounter. There is so much world class attacking talent on display, and Bayern in particular have been scoring for fun this season.
Overall, it feels like it’s their season and they have just enough to edge it, but we think it’ll be close.
Prediction: Bayern Munich 3-2 PSG