For Bayern Munich and, in recent times, PSG the success of their campaigns has depended solely on how they perform in the Champions League.
At home, in their respective leagues, they have attained such a degree of dominance that a league triumph almost always seems to be a formality.
Bayern Munich won their eighth successive Bundesliga title this season, while PSG won their third in a row and a seventh in eight seasons.
In Europe, the two sides have a vastly different history with Bayern being one of the competition’s most successful teams with five titles to their name while PSG are relative newcomers, with the current campaign already being their best-ever by some distance.
However, in the last decade, PSG have managed to match Bayern Munich in terms of their ambition as they have built their way among the elite.
Since Bayern last lifted the trophy in 2013, PSG have become a force in European football, but the Champions League has evaded them thanks to some uncharacteristic performances in the knockout stages.
PSG have been eliminated thrice each at the quarter-final and Round of 16 stage. Bayern have managed to go slightly further, losing four semi-finals in the last six seasons.
Bayern have changed five coaches in that time while PSG have appointed four different managers. The domestic success hasn’t had much impact on the rotating door policy for the manager at these clubs as their evaluation has ultimately come down to their European exploits.
In that respect, both Hansi Flick and Thomas Tuchel have performed better than average for their respective clubs, but two sets of players won’t be happy to settle for that and would want the big prize.
Validation for superstars
The Champions League is the biggest validation for the greatness of a player. Robert Lewandowski has great numbers to back his quality but the Champions League medal that separates a good footballing career from the great still evades the Pole, a scorer of 68 Champions League goals, a figure only bettered by Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Raul.
On the other hand, Neymar has already won the Champions League title with Barcelona but it was under the shadow of Messi. His main motive behind a move away from Camp Nou was to win the trophy again with him being the chief architect of the triumph. After a series of high-profile failures in Paris, Neymar stands on the cusp of achieving what he had set to achieve.
Then there’s Kylian Mbappe. At 21, he’s already a World Cup winner but a Champions League crown would elevate his already elite status even further. If he is able to guide PSG to the title, he’d be the rightful heir to the Messi-Ronaldo throne.
“This is exactly why I came here. I always said that I wanted to go down in my country’s history. (This) is another chance to do that,” said Mbappe on Saturday during a virtual press conference.
For the likes of Serge Gnabry and Alphonso Davies, the most promising ones among Bayern’s young brigade, a Champions League crown will truly validate their progress.
For almost every player that will step out on Estadio da Luz turf on Sunday, the Champions League final would present more than an opportunity to win a big trophy. For the players, the club, the final is a defining game.
Battle of German coaches
The same can be said of the two coaches. Hansi Flick’s journey so far has been truly awe-inspiring.
Flick leads out Bayern against Paris Saint-Germain in Lisbon having already secured the Bundesliga and German Cup.
Yet he was only initially appointed caretaker coach when Niko Kovac was sacked last November following a humbling 5-1 defeat at Eintracht Frankfurt.
Bayern have won 32 of their 35 games under Flick, earning him a contract until June 2023, and arrive in Sunday’s final on a 20-match winning streak.
Bayern Munich sat fourth in the Bundesliga when he took over and the transformation the team have undergone in his short tenure is remarkable.
“We’ve always played with a high line and ultimately we’ve got results doing that so we won’t change too much,” Flick insisted.
Tuchel could have been looking for a new job had PSG not completed a dramatic comeback against Atalanta in the quarter-finals. A disappointing exit at the hands of Manchester United last season, had left a sour taste in mouths of PSG fans last season and this was pretty much Tuchel’s final chance.
The German previously at Mainz and Borussia Dortmund has done what no manager achieved previously with this club. But being a history-maker might not be enough for the Parisians who are desperate to stamp their recent resurgence with European glory.
“It is a small advantage for Bayern that they are used as a club to playing these games. I accept that, but it is not a decisive advantage,” said Tuchel.
Can PSG stop Bayern juggernaut?
Bayern Munich have won all ten games in the competition so far and have destroyed anything that’s been in their path. Big wins over Tottenham, Chelsea, Barcelona and Lyon have meant they already have a look of champions about them, but with due respect to the team they have beaten, PSG are a grade above.
The French champions have class throughout the pitch and in Neymar, Mbappe and Angel di Maria possess one of the deadliest attacks in Europe.
In midfield Marquinhos has been in stunning form, scoring PSG’s opening goals in both the quarter-finals and semi-finals and at the back, Thiago Silva will be keen to sign off his career with PSG on a high.
However, PSG’s success will depend on how well they are able to cope with Bayern’s high press. Playing with a high defensive line, Bayern have squeezed teams high up the pitch to win the ball in advanced areas and they wreak havoc with extremely intelligent moves.
But as Lyon showed in the semi-finals, Bayern’s gung-ho approach does leave them vulnerable to a counter-attack. The French side missed two clear chances before Bayern Munich took the lead in the semi-final, a luxury that PSG may not afford the German champions.
“Bayern had a harder time against Lyon than against Barcelona. “If they play like that on Sunday, they won’t win the Champions League,” former Bayern Munich midfielder Lothar Mattheus said.
“Paris have more quality than Barcelona and Lyon, they also have enough players who can put the ball into the key spaces. Maybe against Paris, they shouldn’t defend so high, because Paris will use the speed of Neymar and Mbappe,” he added.
Mattheus who lost the 1999 Champions League final to Manchester United made a valid point, but one wonders how effective Bayern Munich will remain going forward if they don’t press teams high up the pitch.
It’s likely that Bayern will adopt the same approach that has brought them so much success and back them to make it work even against the likes of PSG.
Tuchel’s men showed good defensive organisation against RB Leipzig and he will be urging his team to not let their concentration slip against their ruthless opponents.
However, the chances that Lyon had against Bayern would encourage Neymar and Co. The Brazilian put in fine displays in both quarter-final and semi-finals wins but didn’t have his scoring boots on. He may feel it’s his destiny to score in the final, just like he did for Barcelona in 2015.
Head to head:
Matches Played: 8
PSG wins: 5
Bayern Wins: 3
The two teams last met in the group stage of the 2017-18 Champions League. PSG beat Bayern 3-0 in Paris while Bayern got revenge with a 3-1 success in Bavaria.
Jerome Boateng is a slight doubt for Bayern after coming off injured against Lyon. But apart from that Hansi Flick should have a full quota available.
PSG have a few issues with Keylor Navas in a race to be fit in time to face Bayern Munich. Idrissa Gueye is also doubtful, so is Marco Veratti.
For PSG and Bayern Munich, the Champions League is the only trophy that truly matters. Their recent struggles to win the competition should make it a tasty affair with both teams fighting every inch to get on top of the other.
With the kind of attacking talent on display, goals would be guaranteed. If it does pan out as expected, it would be a sweet end to what has been the longest and most exhausting season in European football history. Bring on the grand finale.
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