Why this year's Champions League is PSG's best shot at European glory
When Paris Saint-Germain line up against Bayern Munich in the final of the Champions League on Sunday night, they will be aware of it being their best chance to win the coveted trophy that all European clubs yearn for.
The Champions League, in fact, has been a holy grail for the Parisian club ever since Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) took charge of ownership. Desperate to be a part of European football’s elite by winning the ultimate prize in continental club competition, PSG stand one step away from their objective.
After being bought by QSI in 2011, PSG made their ambitions known right away. They immediately roped in superstars like Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their bid to become European heavyweights and the players did their part, helping the club win four consecutive Ligue 1 titles.
PSG’s massive budget saw them continuously add household names like Thiago Motta, Edinson Cavani, David Luiz and Angel Di Maria, to name a few. These additions to the squad made them untouchable in France’s top-flight and domestic cups but European success was still proving hard to come by.
Playing with the backdrop of a lack of history as well as experience in the Champions League, PSG’s first few campaigns in Europe’s top club competition witnessed them struggle to make an impact even though they were the perennial favourites to win the French League.
PSG's neighbourly humilation
Experts pointed at their lack of competition and intensity in Ligue 1 as a reason behind their European struggles but French outfit Monaco’s campaign in the 2016-17 season, when they made it to the semi-finals of the Champions League, left the side from the French capital a bit red-faced and embarrassed.
The club responded by being aggressive in the transfer market again and securing the services of Monaco’s talisman and teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe, who helped Les Monégasques to the Ligue 1 title and the Champions League semis in the previous season.
Mbappe wasn’t their only superstar addition in that transfer window. The acquisition of Neymar in a record €222 million transfer from Barcelona, after the Brazilian star had helped knock out PSG in the previous season in a memorable 6-5 aggregate win, was supposed to be a statement to the rest of Europe.
However, while they have continued to dominate Ligue 1, Champions League success proved to be elusive even with the addition of Mbappe and Neymar. In fact, prior to the ongoing season, PSG had failed to make it beyond the quarter-final of Champions League in any of their campaigns.
Following their 5-6 aggregate loss against a Neymar-inspired Barcelona in 2017 and their subsequent signing of the Brazilian, PSG lost 2-5 on aggregate to Real Madrid in the round-of-16 in the next season. The subsequent campaign saw them exit by virtue of away goals against an under-strength Manchester United in the round-of-16.
This season, though, gave them their best opportunity yet to win the object of their heart’s desire. After topping their group and edging Borussia Dortmund in the round-of-16, PSG had to play one-off knockout matches in the quarter-final and semi-final of the competition due to the curtailed nature of the season as a result of the pandemic.
Needless to say, with a team decked with quality and world-class talents all over the pitch, the odds were always going to be tilted in their favour considering the number of match-winners in PSG. Add to that, the struggles of most of Europe’s traditional elite this season, leading to matches against Atalanta in the quarters and RB Leipzig in the semis respectively, and it’s easy to see why they made the final without much consternation.
UCL still a bridge too far for PSG?
That said, the final hurdle in their path is a pretty high one in five-time Champions League winners Bayern Munich. PSG, though, will back themselves to overcome the German favourites and finally establish themselves amongst Europe’s elite.
And why shouldn’t they? With players like Neymar, Di Maria and Mbappe in the team, confidence and belief won’t be an issue. How they deal with their nerves and pressure of such an occasion will be interesting to see but PSG know that personnel in their squad won’t be a problem.
Players like Di Maria and Neymar have both won the Champions League in the past, while World Cup winner Mbappe has also shown his mantle in big matches. What’s going to matter is how individuals perform on the day and PSG would do well to remember that this will be their best shot at European glory with the pathways to the final unlikely to be as accommodating as it was during the season gone by.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / David Ramos
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