UEFA Champions League: Bayern Munich, and quite rightly

IN RECENT years, Champions League finals have not been dull but this one was a little on the uninteresting side at times, definitely not the goal feast some people suggested it might be. To put it into context: Bayern, in 50 games prior to the final, were involved in just three games settled by a single goal. PSG a couple more. Between them, they had scored 292 goals and conceded 82. Little wonder the pundits were predicting a game of net-bulging thrills and spills between two of Europe’s wealthiest clubs.

But it wasn’t to be. This wasn’t one of those grim finals that characterised the 1980s and almost every game involving an English team, but it didn’t live up to expectations. Neither did Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, the world’s most expensive front line. Bayern had two thirds of the possession, but they managed only two shots on target, one less than Paris Saint-Germain.

Damp

After the excitement of the previous games in Lisbon, which have been compelling by any standards, this was something of a damp squib of a final for the uncommitted. Much better to remember how Bayern pulled apart Barcelona, Chelsea and Tottenham earlier in the year-long 2019-20 season to benchmark the strength of the new champions. As for PSG, for all the talk of them “returning to win the trophy in the future”, this may have been their best opportunity spurned.

You only have to look at how almost a decade has passed since Pep Guardiola’s last win 2021 when he might be able to lift the huge trophy once more, or Barcelona’s string of recent let-downs. Champions League success is not cyclical, it is not easily attained and competition is fierce. The current PSG team, the creation of an impatient regime, may not be given the time to return and conquer, but it is worth noting this was the first time they had come up against a genuine peer in the knockout stage – teams like Dortmund, Atalanta and Leipzig are not in the same group as Bayern.

Kingsley Coman, a former PSG player, scored the winning goal on the hour, a nicely-taken header from Joshua Kimmich’s perfect cross. Coman’s inclusion in the team, at the expense of Ivan Perisic, was justified by his overall performance, the 24 year-old certainly overshadowed the bigger names on the field.

Coman became the first player to score an outright winning goal since Arjen Robben for Bayern against Borussia Dortmund in 2013 as well as the fourth Frenchman to score a winning goal in the European Cup/Champions League. All finals since then have either been settled by more than one goal or in the case of 2016, on penalties. The last 1-0 final, there have been 16, was in 1998 when Real Madrid beat Juventus 1-0.

Coman, who expressed his mixed feelings about scoring against his old club, a French club to boot, represented a contrasting figure to the sun king that is Neymar. He was a forlorn figure at the end, disconsolate, the heir apparent to the Messi-Ronaldo axis who has yet to tick all the right boxes. As the figurehead of “Project PSG” he looked like a man who had found a centime and lost a € 100 note. Will he be around for another attempt?

Future

Maybe not at PSG, but this is not a player who has an empty trophy cabinet at home: five league titles, five domestic FA cups, one Champions League, one Copa Libertadores and 101 caps for Brazil (61 goals). Yet he was signed to make PSG European champions, as were the ever-changing roll-call of managers. The ego has taken a bruising, nothing else, at worst, Neymar will move on, trousering a huge salary and signing-on fee. But will Neymar’s hobbling coach, Thomas Tuchel, survive this setback?

Bayern, who replaced their coach with Hansi Flick, and rediscovered their mojo, have looked like Europe’s best side for the past few months. They are worthy champions, exciting, fast, venomous in front of goal and they have the best centre forward in football at the moment in Robert Lewandowski. When the 2019-20 season started, he was 30, he has just turned 32! He netted 55 goals in 47 games, including 15 in the Champions League. But the final largely belonged to Bayern’s younger set – with the exception of man of the match Manny Neuer -and with the likes of the excellent Alphonso Davies just 19, the future looks bright for Bayern. When did it last look anything but?

But let’s have no talk of the new Bayern era or any “best ever” claims. Football is getting a little tedious in its culture of “presentism”. Manchester City 2019 and Liverpool 2020 have both been declared all-time greats and critics and now wondering if Bayern can be stopped. This year, no, but any one of their peers could perform an upset against them – even teams considered to be outside the elite band. That said, Bayern are normally eliminated by the eventual winners – as in 2019, 2018, 2017, 2015 and 2014.

Bayern’s victory, the sixth in their illustrious history, will be seen as the lesser of two evils by those who retch at the mere mention of modern football’s corporatisation and state involvement.

 

@GameofthePeople

Photo: PA Images

UEFA Champions League: Are Bayern ready to step aside for new money?

IT MAY be a clash of the titans, but Paris Saint-Germain go into their first UEFA Champions League final on August 23 as the underdogs, a role they are relatively unaccustomed to, such has been their dominance of French football. Bayern Munich, meanwhile, judging by their form in the competition and in post-lockdown Germany, are ready to reclaim the crown they last won in 2013.

It is a clash between one of Europe’s established giants against the club that represents the controversial modern business paradigm of the game.

Both teams have won their domestic doubles (in the case of PSG it’s a treble) and feature in the top 10 of UEFA’s rankings, Bayern are currently number one, PSG seven. They are also two of Europe’s richest clubs, with both generating north of € 600 million in revenues and wage bills of over € 350 million. They are both profitable and carry negligible amounts of net debt.

According to Transfermarkt, Bayern’s squad, which now includes Leroy Sané, signed from Manchester City but obviously not included in the Champions League 2019-20, has a value of £ 835 million, around £ 110 million more than Paris Saint-Germain’s. PSG have the two most valuable players in Kylian Mbappé and Neymar, but Bayern’s squad has a greater spread of value. KPMG Football Benchmark values Mbappé at € 200 million and Neymar € 148 million, the only two PSG players in the top 50 by value. Bayern, by contrast, have five players in the top 50, Sané being the highest value at € 82 million. Robert Lewandowski, who has had an outstanding season, is valued at € 80 million.

Winners

Bayern will be playing in their 11th final and bidding for their sixth title. Included in their five victories is the 1-0 win over Saint-Etienne in 1976. PSG, appearing in their first final, become the fourth French club to reach that stage of the competition, alongside Reims (1956 and 1959), Marseille (1991 and 1993), Saint-Etienne (1976). Only Marseille in 1993 won the  Champions League. Three German clubs have won the cup, Bayern (5), Borussia Dortmund (1), Hamburg (1). Bayern have been runners-up five times and Dortmund and Hamburg have also been beaten in the final, along with Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayer Leverkusen and Eintracht Frankfurt.

Should PSG win this time, they will become the 23rd European champions since the competition began in 1955-56. The last new winner was Chelsea in 2012.

  Club Year Total wins
1 Real Madrid 1956 13
2 Benfica 1961 2
3 AC Milan 1963 7
4 Inter Milan 1964 3
5 Celtic 1967 1
6 Man.United 1968 3
7 Feyenoord 1970 1
8 Ajax 1971 4
9 Bayern Munich 1974 5
10 Liverpool 1977 6
11 Nottingham F 1979 2
12 Aston Villa 1982 1
13 Hamburg 1983 1
14 Juventus 1985 2
15 Steaua Buch. 1986 1
16 Porto 1987 2
17 PSV Eindhoven 1988 1
18 Red Star Belg. 1991 1
19 Barcelona 1992 5
20 Marseille 1993 1
21 Bor. Dortmund 1997 1
22 Chelsea 2012 1

Lisbon road

Bayern Munich have a 100% record in the 2019-20 Champions League, scoring 42 goals in 10 games, conceding eight. They have beaten three previous winners on the way, Red Star Belgrade, Chelsea and Barcelona and one finalist, Tottenham. PSG have lost just once, in the round of 16 against Dortmund. They have beaten two winners, Dortmund and Real Madrid as well as one runner-up, Bruges.

There are likely to be four members of the last Bayern 2013 side in the squad for this year’s final: Manuel Neymar, Jérôme Boateng, David Alaba and Thomas Müller. Robert Lewandowski was in the Dortmund team beaten by Bayern. From the PSG side, only Neymar has experience of the final, winning with Barcelona in 2015.

Robert Lewandowski of Bayern is the top scorer in this season’s Champions League with an astonishing 15 goals. It will be the first time since 2007 that the top scorer in the competition has not been either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. In 2015, Neymar got close when he was joint top with Messi and CR7.

The two sides have met eight times in the past, with PSG having the upper hand with five wins to Bayern’s three. This is by far the most important clash as it could also represent the dawn of a new age – will it be the kick-start of the PSG era, or merely affirmation of Bayern’s power and self-belief? It promises to be a very compelling contest in Lisbon.

GOTP normally makes a prediction about this time, invariably a hopeless heart over head forecast. So here goes: Bayern 3 PSG 2.

FC Bayern show why they are Europe’s best

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.

 

@GameofthePeople
Photo: PA Images