It was a couple of hours before Paris Saint-Germain were set to take on Bayern Munich in the finale of the Champions League campaign. Brazilian stalwart Neymar stepped down from the team bus carrying a big music box in his hand. He stopped midway before the dressing room and even showed off a few dance steps. This is exactly how the French Champions approached the game.
So much was talked about Bayern’s dominance this season. So much that a few pundits had Paris Saint-Germain counted out even before the lineups were out.
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Bayern Kept Possession Early on
Bayern started the game like the Germans have always done. Sheer display of might in their strides while pressing the opponent. Little did they know that they were playing exactly how Paris Saint-Germain wanted them to.
On several occasions, Bayern were caught into a failed attack as the Parisians sent Angel Di Maria and Kylian Mbappe flying out on the flanks. It paid off for the Ligue 1 giants on multiple occasions, too. Neymar almost scored from an Mbappe layoff. Angel Di Maria left Alphonso Davies for dead more than a couple of times early in the game. And Mbappe should have scored a sitter.
A Dominant Second Half Display
The second half started with something extraordinary. Hansi Flick finally changed his tactics briefly for probably the first time in 2020. Trying to slow the game down contrary to the wishes of Paris Saint-Germain’s pacey personnel, Bayern resorted to tactical fouls every time their opponents countered.
Just on the mark of an hour, Bayern had their breakthrough. Forcing the game wide, playing to the Parisians’ tunes, Joshua Kimmich found the ball in the right half-space. An inch perfect pass to Kingsley Coman on the far post meant that the ex-Paris Saint-Germain attacker had no chance to miss. It was 1-0 to Bayern and that sunk their French counterparts’s morale.
The game had it’s highs and lows since the goal. But the drop in the momentum for the Frenchmen spoke a lot about the damage that the Coman goal had done. Paris Saint-Germain never found their way back into the game.
The tears were visible at the full-time whistle. David Alaba consoled a hapless Neymar, who broke down in the worst of fashions. On the other end of the pitch, Thomas Muller led the Bavarian party with tears of joy.
Nevertheless, one cannot disagree that it was a tactical war between Thomas Tuchel and Hansi Flick; a battle in which the Bayern boss came out on top.
Tuchel Wins the battle of the First Half
Bayern have been so good this season that their one big weakness has almost gone unnoticed. Joshua Kimmich might be one of the most versatile outfield players in Europe. But, surely, his positioning has been dicey.
As Bayern usually crowd the left flank, Kimmich moves either higher up the pitch or comes into the centre of the park. Thomas Tuchel’s Paris Saint-Germain totally exploited this and how.
Paris Saint-Germain forced their counterparts on the left wing time and again, patiently waiting for Kimmich to lose his positioning. Whenever the German right-back moved to an unfamiliar territory, the French side switched the ball like lightning to the other wing and Mbappe ran the show.
This was a constant threat by Paris Saint-Germain as they had three clear chances in the first chance on the left wing.
Joshua Kimmich – First Half Villain and Second Half Hero
It’s been less than a year since Hansi Flick has been directly in-charge of how this Bayern side plays. In the 300-odd days of his command, Flick has rarely changed the style of play. So, it was totally out of question that the coach would shuffle his game on the greatest night of his managerial career.
The second half started with a similar approach by both the sides. But there was a major difference. The Bavarians slowed the game down excessively by tactical fouls, and tried to switch the ball on either flanks to avoid concentration of possession in a particular area.
This only enhanced Kimmich’s impact as he could move into the centre of the park during Bayern’s attacks. The result? A beautiful cross by the VFB Stuttgart youth product for Kingsley Coman to open the scoring.
Manuel Neuer – World Class
If there was anything which stood between Paris Saint-Germain and the Champions League trophy, it was surely Manuel Neuer.
Three big saves which would have found the net but for the German number one. An 83% distribution success rate from goal-kicks. A goal-keeping masterclass which led to Paris Saint-Germain failing to score in a Champions League game for the first time since 2016.
A goal-keeper’s presence, especially that of Manuel Neuer, is undermined heavily in modern football. Neuer proved that tonight. As the outfield players took all the plaudits, his constant leadership from the back went unnoticed.
Neuer’s timely alerts to his centre-backs about the whereabouts of the sneaky pair of Mbappe and Di Maria certainly meant that Boateng, Süle and Alaba maintained their structure on the pitch in addition to marking their respective opponents.
Neuer’s greatness was glorified when he even saved a Kylian Mbappe shot from point-blank range in the 89th minute – something which no Ligue 1 stopper has managed to achieve in the last three years or so. The attack was deemed an off-side later on, however.
Thiago- the calm in the Bayern storm
It was the 86th minute when Thiago was called off by Hansi Flick from what could be his last game for Bayern Munich. The biggest standing ovation during his substitution surely raises a lot of eyebrows in Merseyside, England as Liverpool continue to be linked with the Spanish midfielder.
Nevertheless, the Bayern man pulled off another magical performance tonight.
Thiago started the game on a bit of a shaky note. As Neymar moved deeper from his forward role, Marquinhos and Ander Herrera kept Thiago on his toes very well in the opening minutes of the game. What followed was certainly a lesson for every midfielder in the world watching the game.
An 88% passing success rate in the crowded midfield, 71% long ball success rate and five crucial defensive actions do not justify his impact on the Champions League final tonight. Thiago was the player who slowed down the game effectively in the second-half. This enabled the Bavarian giants to control the game as they struck the nail in Paris Saint-Germain’s coffin in the 59th minute.
There is hardly a midfielder in Europe right now with such vision, technique, defensive IQ and calmness combined. If the Barcelona youth product leaves anytime in the coming months, Bayern are going to find it really difficult to fill the void.
Overall, it was a great battle between two technically sound managers. While Thomas Tuchel won the battle of the first half, Hansi Flick’s resilience to stick to his tactics, while adapting slightly to Tuchel’s approach, won the game and the title of European Champions for Bayern Munich.
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