French giants, Paris Saint-Germain will be craving to win the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their history in tomorrow night’s final, but standing against the Parisian is red-hot Bayern Munich who is also hoping to win the most glamorous club competition for the sixth time after last winning it in 2013
Paris Saint-Germain secured a spot in the Champions League final for the first time in their history courtesy of a 3-0 win over RB Leipzig in the semi-finals of the competition on Tuesday night, while Bayern Munich also recorded a 3-0 over Lyon in the semi-finals to set up a final with PSG.
Bayern have not won the competition since 2012-13 and will therefore be determined to end what has been another hugely successful season with European silverware.
The respective dominant champions of France and Germany have fared best during the mini-tournament in Portugal that saw all ties from the last-eight onwards played as one-legged knockout clashes and will now go head to head for the famous trophy behind closed doors at Benfica’s Estadio da Luz.
French quadruple winners, PSG have never lifted the Champions League before, finally ending their semi-final exile after 25 years with a dramatic late comeback win over plucky underdogs Atalanta in the quarter-finals and a comfortable 3-0 defeat of RB Leipzig last time out.
They also eliminated Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 prior to lockdown, having topped Group A ahead of Real Madrid.
Bayern meanwhile eased past Lyon in the semis after producing a ruthless 8-2 quarter-final demolition of Barcelona – all of which came after they completed a 7-1 aggregate defeat of Chelsea and cruised to the summit of Group B without dropping a single point.
While most will be looking out for PSG forwards Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, or Bayern counterparts Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski, the title could come down to the likes of Ángel Di María and Serge Gnabry.
They don´t carry the same hype as some of their teammates, but they have been crucial for their teams this season. Both made an impact in the semifinals, with Di María leading PSG over Leipzig and Gnabry helping Bayern get past Lyon.
Di María had a goal and two assists in PSG’s 3-0 win over Leipzig on Tuesday, while Gnabry scored twice in his team´s 3-0 win over Lyon on Wednesday. Both won man-of-the-match accolades for their performances.
“We are very happy to have reached our goal of being in the final,” Di María said. “Now we want to go a step further.”
The skillful and agile Di María is among PSG´s top scorers this season and is one of the team’s assist leaders.
The sturdy and fast Gnabry is less experienced but has been just as crucial for his club this season. The 25-year-old German has nine Champions League goals from nine matches, behind only to Lewandowski’s 15. The 24 combined goals scored by them is a record by a duo in a Champions League season.
“If you look at the way Serge developed in the last years, not only at Bayern but also in the national team, then you have to say that he is close to world class,” Bayern coach Hansi Flick said. “He is a dynamic and dangerous goal scorer, so we are happy … that he is in our team. He is of tremendous quality but I am sure that he is far from a finished product.”
Gnabry´s improvement is visible from a year ago, when he was scoreless in the Champions League and couldn´t help Bayern avoid elimination by Liverpool in the round of 16. This season he has scored a goal in every three shots he took, and has created nearly two chances per game on average, according to statistical analysts Driblab. He has also become one of the team’s leaders in recoveries, with almost five per game.
Di María scored three goals but was a lot more effective than Gnabry creating chances, with an average of almost three per game in his eight matches with PSG. He also thrived setting up his teammates, with an average of almost one assist per game. Di María didn’t play in the quarterfinals against Atalanta because of a suspension.
What both players have in common is that they will be playing for the title after having their careers stalled in England – Di María while with Manchester United and Gnabry with Arsenal and West Bromwich Albion.
Di María disappointed in his season in Manchester just after he had been key for Real Madrid in the 2014 Champions League.
Gnabry could not get it going during his time with Arsenal in the early 2010s, making only a few appearances as a starter. His career was revitalised after joining German clubs Werder Bremen and Hoffenheim, eventually leading him to a place with Bayern in 2018.
Di María could have a bit of an edge over Gnarby at the Stadium of Light. The Argentine used to play there during his time with Portuguese club Benfica, and it’s where he thrived in the 2014 Champions League final.
Asked how difficult it would be for Bayern in the final against PSG, Bayern legend Franz Beckenbaue, said: “I’ve watched PSG’s games, they’re one heck of a team. It’ll be the most difficult game of this Champions League season. I can’t find any weak points in the team and I expect them to vary their playing style. I hope that both teams don’t hold back too much, don’t show each other too much respect and play just as refreshingly and with a joie de vivre like they have done up to now. Then we can expect a wonderful final.”
“It’ll be a match played on equal terms. I’d say it’s 50-50. Sometimes you need a bit of luck. If Bayern get that, they’ll win the game,” he added.