AND SO, UEFA gets the final it probably hoped for, the emerging force of Paris Saint-Germain against German aristrocrats Bayern Munich. New versus old money.
It will be the first time since 1997-98 that two teams have reached the final having qualified for the competition as champions. The fact a team does not have to have won their domestic league makes a mockery of the title and underlines the bloated nature of the UEFA Champions League.
Both teams were also champions in 2019-20, in fact Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain have dominated their respective national leagues since 2012, winning 33 major trophies between them at home and abroad. Along with Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid and a cluster of English clubs, they form the modern elite of the global game.
For the first time in years, Bayern may find they are the popular choice for the neutral in this year’s final. Their 3-0 victory against Lyon was predictable, nowhere near as devastating as the desolation of the Blaugrana, but a professional, steady display that absorbed the best Lyon could offer and then pounced. How Arsenal and West Bromwich Albion must wonder what went wrong when they failed to get the best out of Serge Gnabry, for his 18th minute first goal, coming after Lyon had wasted the opportunities that came their way, was an outstanding strike.
By half-time, it was really all over, Gnabry adding another in the 33rd minute, compensating for Robert Lewandowski’s off-night and netting from close range. The rapier-like Pole did get on the scoresheet with two minutes to go to wrap things up, but his finishing looked as off-key as Neymar’s was 24 hours earlier. Teams like Bayern have alternatives when their star man is having a night off, that’s the difference between those with resources and the also-rans.
Nevertheless, Bayern encouraged Lyon by leaving some gaps in defence they should have exploited, but they couldn’t rise to the challenge. Memphis Depay had an early chance and Karl Toko Ekambi struck the woodwork, but then Bayern took control. Later in the game, Ekambi should have done better when he had only Manuel Neuer to beat, but the imposing German goalkeeper is an expert at making himself look even bigger than he is in reality.
Despite the defensive concerns, which PSG will have noted and wondered how the Bavarians will deal with Neymar and Mbappé, Bayern are probably the best team in Europe at the moment. At times, they have been absolutely thrilling to watch, the 8-2 humbling of Barcelona must have terrified the most accomplished defender, but they have also torn apart teams like Tottenham and Chelsea in 2019-20.
It is difficult not to admire how Bayern have done this in a season in which they have changed their manager and come from behind to comfortably win the Bundesliga. Again.
Bayern, like PSG, are on the brink of a unique treble – league, cup and European Cup – a feat achieved only eight times. The last team to manage that impressive haul was Barcelona in 2015. Prior to that, Bayern did it in 2013. Another name is going to be added to that list whatever happens in Lisbon on August 23.
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