In a scintillating UEFA Champions League final, Bayern pushed through with passion and drive. That gave the Bavarians the necessary edge to lift a sixth European Cup.
It’s hard to focus and find one single narrative to describe what this game was and what it means.
So we’ll do all of them!
Hans-Dieter Flick: straight into Bayern’s pantheon
This has to be one of the most clichéd things to hear today. If you’d told us at Straight Red, back in November, that Hansi Flick would manage Bayern into a treble, we’d have all had a laugh. Indeed, much faith was deposited into Joachim Löw’s former assistant. However, the team’s dismal state spoke volumes. The tactics were in disarray, there was a gaping hole in the team’s mindset and many player’s seemed unmotivated.
We expected the team to improve under Flick. But we were also realistic. And with football falling prey to the pandemic, even more so. So again, a cliché: never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined it.
Flick brought it all: solid tactics, an unshakeable drive and the physical prowess to carry it home.
Speaking of mentality…
Much was said in the hours and days preceding the final about how Bayern “celebrated” getting to it. Many people saw that photo of Leon Goretzka, Thomas Müller and Joshua Kimmich on a bench, hardly celebrating, and cried arrogance. Those of us on the other side praised the teams poise and composure. They knew the ultimate goal hadn’t been achieved. Solid wins against Barcelona and Lyon would hardly mean a thing if not compounded tonight.
It’s understandable that the Paris Saint-Germain players would throw all bells and whistles. This was the club’s first continental final. It came after
years and years millions and millions of Euros of trying to scratch their way into Europe’s elite. But praising Bayern’s lack of flair isn’t a slight at PSG’s ecstasy.
The team’s mentality has been showing for months now. There is no stopping them in that respect. And they know they have the legs to carry out a physically demanding but rewarding plan.
Now, about the game
We throw plenty of bile at PSG in this blog. And while we feel it’s warranted, the truth remains that they are a fantastic football team. Ángel Di María’s legs overflow with talent. Leandro Paredes can kick the team into fifth gear with a single pass. Kylian Mbappé can leave almost any player behind in two strides. Keylor Navas is a tried and tested goalkeeper – especially in the Champions League.
If Barcelona and Lyon gave Bayern a run for their money at times, it was almost certain that PSG would, as well. And while they did, it wasn’t a sustained dismantling of Bayern by way of their defensive frailties. Only sporadically could Paredes, Ander Herrera or Marquinhos attempt a long ball behind Joshua Kimmich or Alphonso Davies. Rather, it was Di María who tried to thread his forwards into space. And even if he did, Bayern’s commitment at the back created just enough of a roadblock to disorient Neymar or Mbappé. In the two or three times that didn’t happen, Manuel Neuer stepped in to save the day.
Turning the dial
The first half ended goalless, and after the second started, it was advantage Bayern. Flick’s pressing and the players’ Athenian stamina slowly squeezed the life out of PSG. Thomas Tuchel’s men bowed out of the game mentally after Neymar was shown by Serge Gnabry and Kimmich that they weren’t having any of his despicable antics. Targeted long balls became hasty clearances that Mbappé could scarcely convert into danger.
When this happened, one of the main differences between PSG and Bayern became apparent. You see, Neuer is Bayern’s captain. But everywhere on the pitch, the team has leaders. Kimmich, Thiago, Müller, Goretzka, Lewandowski. You name the player, they have a mental power over their teammates. As for PSG? Everyone is so busy trying to pamper Neymar, leadership is entirely diluted. And if the Brazilian isn’t leading the way with his footballing, the team somewhat falls apart.
I’ll leave analysis of Tuchel’s decisions to PSG blogs and French media. However, seeing Di María and Herrera subbed off for Verratti and Draxler raised both my eyebrows in disbelief. Bayern’s substitutes came in with the same intensity as the players they replaced.
Lots of irony
Indeed, this Champions League campaign left us two little nuggets of cheeky entertainment.
On the one hand, Bayern’s triumph means Barcelona have to hand over an additional €5m to Liverpool for Philippe Coutinho. Indeed, the club’s agreement for the transfer included an add-on contemplating such a fee if Coutinho were to win the Champions League. However, it doesn’t specify which club he had to win it with.
On the other hand, it is more than funny that Kingsley Coman should have scored the goal that put PSG to the sword. You see, Coman is a PSG youth product. Born and raised in Paris, and then offloaded to Juventus. Here’s a club that bases its sporting project in outlandish transfers, nudged to the wayside in the road to European glory by one of their own.
PS: Neymar tears? Glorious.
2020 is a good year, people. Drink it in with some weissbier.
Mia san mia!