On Sunday, August 23, the record Bundesliga champions, Bayern Munich, will aim to become only the second club to win the European Treble in multiple seasons when they take on Paris Saint-Germain in this year’s UEFA Champions League final at Estádio da Luz in Portugal.
Note that it is only the first time in 44 years - or in fact, the second time in the tournament’s history - that a team from Germany is squaring off against a French side in the final of the European Cup/Champions League. The last time? It was Bayern Munich taking on Saint-Étienne in the 1976 final, and a goal Franz Roth was enough for the Bavarians to lift the European Cup for the third season running.
And well, if they do get the better of the Parisians on Sunday, they will become the first-ever team to win all of their Champions League games of the season. As things stand, they remain on par with AC Milan, who like Bayern, won each of their UCL games till the final in the 1992/93 season. Ironically, it was the French side, Marseille, which ended their run in the final.
Hansi Flick, once an understudy of Joachim Low at the German national team, was roped in by Bayern as a caretaker after Nico Kovac was relieved off his duties in November. And the surge in form since has been revitalizing, to say the least. Playing under the 55-year-old, the 30-time German champions have found a perfect symmetry between youth and experience.
40 - FC Bayern München are only the fourth team in Champions League history to reach 40 goals in a single campaign, along with Barcelona in 99-00 (45), Real Madrid in 13-14 (41) and Liverpool in 17-18 (41). Ferocious. #UCL pic.twitter.com/j0wnatcCsZ— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 19, 2020
The Bavarians have, in fact, won a whopping 32 of their 35 games under Flick, scoring 115 goals while conceding a mere 26 during the tenure, which translates to almost 3.2 goals per game.
Undefeated in his last 29 games, a game against PSG perhaps remains one of the toughest tasks of his short-term managerial career. The reason? It’s PSG’s astonishing defensive record. While Bayern remain the top scores of this year’s Champions League campaign, having scored 42 goals, PSG have kept things tight at the back, allowing their oppositions to breach the last line a mere five times, keeping seven clean sheets in the process. Up front, 25 goals in the campaign means they are second to Bayern in the competition.
Tuchel harvesting the feast
A 3-0 win over RB Leipzig in the semi-finals means PSG have now scored in 34 consecutive Champions League games, equalling Real Madrid’s tally, which they had set between 2011-2014. And so, a goal in the final, regardless of the result, will see them setting a new record of scoring in most consecutive matches (35) in major UEFA competition.
Considering Bayern’s ruthless record in the competitions this year, Thomas Tuchel’s PSG, who are only the fifth French team to reach the European Cup/Champions League final, are duly the underdogs heading into the game. On the brisk of becoming the first French side to win the UEFA Champions League since 1993, expect them to rely heavily on a certain Angel Di Maria.
110 - @PSG_English have reached their first ever European Cup/Champions League final; this was their 110th game in the competition - the most played by a side before reaching their first final, overtaking Arsenal's record of 90 between 1971-2006. Finally. #RBLPSG pic.twitter.com/vREUq2qYrX— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 18, 2020
The former Real Madrid and Manchester United winger has scored three goals and has provided six assists (a contribution of nine goals) in the competition this year, which is now his best return in a single season since the 2013/14 campaign (three goals, five assists) when he did end up winning the title with Real Madrid. The Argentine, in fact, is unbeaten in all of his 17 Champions League matches he has scored in. On a bigger picture, the 32-year-old has provided 26 assists in the last ten seasons of the competition, with only Cristiano Ronaldo sitting ahead with 28.
Tuchel, since arriving in France, has had his fair share of lows, including a 3-1 defeat to Manchester United in the round of 16 in 2019, but has since grown from strength to strength. After the Ligue 1 was ended prematurely due to the global pandemic, PSG headed into the Champions League on the back of a solitary competitive game since March. But despite the initial suggestions of lack of match fitness, Tuchel did amazing in keeping up with sharpness, as Di Maria, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe have combined swiftly in recent times.
Bayern Munich and PSG operate on two contrary principles, but both stand only a step off of winning the treble. Will this battle of two German coaches culminate in the Parisians scripting history or will the Bavarians add the sixth star to their European conquest? It’s only a matter of hours to see.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Rafael Marchante, Franck Fife