Last ones in Lisbon: Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain clash for Champions League trophy

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Semifinal recaps

Paris Saint-Germain 3, RB Leipzig 0

Jasper Kenzo Sundeen: Paris Saint-Germain has qualified for the Champions League for the better part of a decade. Hell-bent on becoming one of Europe’s elite, the French club invested an obscene amount of money into a series of disappointing exits. After four quarterfinal and three round-of-16 finishes, that money finally paid off when Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and company calmly, quietly and collectively disposed of RB Leipzig to earn its first-ever finals appearance. 

Welcome to the big stage, PSG. Was it worth an arm and a leg?

After years of blowing leads, bottling easy wins and nearly doing the same in this season’s quarterfinals, the French champions showed some mettle. Marquinhos scored his second goal in as many games, tucking in a picture-perfect free kick from Ángel Di María into the side netting after just 13 minutes of play. Leipzig barely sniffed the ball in the first half, as PSG played the ball comfortably around back.

Star man Neymar played a role in that easygoing control; the Brazilian hit the post twice in the first half and gave an impossible flick of a backheel assist on the second goal, but it was Di María who played hero for PSG, grabbing a goal and, eventually, two assists.

The third and final goal initially seemed unlikely. Leipzig manager Julian Nagelsmann brought on Emil Forsberg and Patrik Schick in a bid to turn the plot back in his side’s favor, and, for a moment, it all appeared to work. The German side was pressing forward, causing mistakes and leaning into the attack. 

But a slip in the back from Nordi Mukiele snowballed into a death blow. Di María picked up the ball deep in the Leipzig half and slipped a cross into Juan Bernat, who scored his second goal of the season with a decisive header.

There was no way back for Leipzig. A handful of half opportunities came from the German outfit, but it was far from enough. After putting the game on ice and waiting for seven heartbreaking seasons, PSG is in the final. Was it worth the wait? We’ll know after Sunday’s final.

Bayern Munich 3, Lyon 0 

JKS: Bayern and Lyon played out what was perhaps the world’s closest 3-0 match. A day after Leipzig was thoroughly outclassed by the same scoreline, Lyon elected to hit the ground running, even as Serge Gnabry’s brace and Robert Lewandowski’s header put the game out of reach.

Memphis Depay took a perfect through ball and nearly turned German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer in the game’s early stages, but the Dutchman was unable to give Lyon a perfect start, as his shot hit the wrong side of the side netting.

The French underdogs continued to find holes in their opponents’ formation. As Bayern Munich’s vaunted wingbacks Joshua Kimmich and Alphonso Davies pushed up the pitch, Depay, Maxwel Cornet and Karl Toko Ekambi flew down the wings. A series of critical blocks from Jérôme Boateng and Neuer, as well as the woodwork and a fair share of misfortune, kept the scoreline even at 0-0.

The German champions’ quality eventually bled through. Gnabry took a long ball on the right side, sliced through the Lyon defense and blasted a shot beyond goalkeeper Anthony Lopes before 20 minutes had gone by. He scored a second one before halftime, tapping in a rebound from close range and giving Bayern Munich a 2-0 lead at the break.

Lyon’s dream of a first Champions League final would not die quietly. The French outfit maintained a rigid square formation when defending high up the pitch, before putting together several pleasing passages of play. Houssem Aouar and substitutes Moussa Dembélé and Rayan Cherki combined to create multiple chances, but Lyon’s fate was sealed by an inability to finish — 15 shots, nine of which were on target, resulted in exactly zero goals.

The irrepressible Lewandowski would well and truly put the game away with a pinpoint header, his 55th goal of the season, with just minutes left to play. After upending superpower after superpower, Lyon saw its run come to an end Wednesday, but it was a campaign worthy of pride. Few would have predicted this Cinderella run, and few would have been able to slay the giants that Lyon left in its wake. Bayern Munich was, in the end, simply overwhelming.

Final preview and predictions

Chanun Ong: In a year when fans questioned whether a Champions League final would even take place, European football has finally trundled into the terminus of its pandemic-stricken season.

Bayern Munich, fresh off an 8-2 blowout of Barcelona and a 3-0 win over Lyon, has left some of Europe’s best in its dust. Opponents have had no answer to a coordinated teamwide attack that seems to exploit space wherever it may arise. Thiago Alcântara is Bayern’s creative midfield maestro, while Thomas Müller plays as a more attacking midfielder. Wingers Gnabry and Ivan Perišić are supported by the marauding runs of attack-minded fullbacks Kimmich and Davies. The imperious Lewandowski is the head of the dragon, his 15 Champions League goals only two shy of the all-time single-season record set by Cristiano Ronaldo.

PSG seems the more fragile of the two sides, needing two last-gasp goals to overcome Atalanta in the quarterfinals before a 3-0 win of its own over RB Leipzig. If its most recent match was a barometer of its form, however, the French side seems to be in relatively fair weather. Neymar and Mbappé delivered inspirational performances, and the return of Di María provided a third attacking outlet that will certainly be a threat in the final.

Given the world-class attacking prowess of both sides, defensive resilience will be essential when the two juggernauts cross swords. Bayern is the favorite, but its match with Lyon proved that it is by no means invulnerable. The French side utilized the aggression of Kimmich and Davies to find space along the wings, creating huge scoring opportunities that the team ultimately failed to capitalize on. Neymar has not been himself in front of goal in recent matches, but PSG will need to finish the chances that its Ligue 1 counterparts could not if it wants any chance at prevailing against Bayern.

More importantly, PSG will need to do something that no other team has been able to do thus far: repel the relentless machine that is the Bayern attack. 

Who will be the man of the match?

CO: With all the talent on show, Bayern speedsters Gnabry and Davies have the most to prove. Can Gnabry come through with a key goal in the final after running circles around Chelsea and Barcelona? Can Davies, the Canadian national, make an impact on Europe’s biggest stage? Young, talented and full of potential, both players have futures that already seem so promising. If they can maintain their composure in the most important game of their careers, one of the two will shine brightest on the night.

JKS: This final has a star-studded cast. Lewandowski, Neymar and Mbappé seem like the obvious trio to watch. Lewandowski needs just two goals to tie Ronaldo’s single-season Champions League record, and Neymar could finally silence doubters and win a title all his own. But the key player will be either Di María or Müller. They make their respective squads tick. Di María had a near-perfect showing in the semifinals, and Müller has a penchant for popping up in the right place at the right time. One of them will guide their side to victory.

Who will win and why?

CO: To stop the caliber of attack that Bayern Munich has in its holster, you’d need to be wearing a bulletproof vest while sitting inside an armored truck. The PSG defense is not awful, but it is far from where it needs to be. That said, can the Parisians’ front three catch the Bavarians out early and put the game out of reach? It may be close, but the signs point to Bayern winning it all.

JKS: This is going to be a dead shootout. Expect goals, then expect more goals. This match will come down to the wide areas and may be a question of speed. Are Neymar and Mbappé faster than Davies and Kimmich? Will Gnabry and Lewandowski make that question obsolete? The winner will take home the treble. That winner will be Bayern Munich.

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