Bayern Munich defeated Paris St Germain 1-0 in the final of the Covid-19, 2019-20 UEFA Champions League in Lisbon. The game’s single score, at the 59th minute, came via Bayern’s lone starting substitute, Parisian Kingsley Coman, whose total touches for the match were 38.
Bayern was the best performer this season, the more dominant contestant in the final and everyone’s favorite to lift the cup, but they were flat out outplayed by a very tough-minded PSG who endured mostly unfavorable officiating and made a game out of what everyone thought would be a cakewalk.
Behind the headlines
What the scoreline and most headlines will not tell you is that Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, and Angel di Maria, each had, respectively, three, two, and two easier-to-score-than-to-miss chances in the game, most of them prior to Coman’s header, and managed not to convert a single one.
There were some opposing forces intervening at times, some nice saves by Manuel Neuer (yes lucky ones too wherein a shin or ankle or some stray boot laces seemed to be the deflecting forces) and some pretty last-ditch slides by Bayern defenders to block good PSG chances, but mostly, what we witnessed was that tomorrow’s stars were not able to showcase their wares today.
See Mbappe’s second-half miss from about the penalty spot, with acres of goal to shoot at, which he managed to roll, not kick, mind you, roll, to Neuer’s waiting hands.
This begs the question. If PSG created about three times as many chances as the powerhouse offensive machine known as Bayern, what stopped them from winning hands down, as they seemed to have earned? The answers are three-fold and straightforward.
First, PSG suffered mightily at having their season curtailed and it showed in their lack of finishing, the way their key touches were always just a bit off and the manner in which they needed to fight Bayern physically to keep up with them when finesse is the Parisian’s strong suit. It also showed when half of the usual starting line-up simply could not be counted on to start and thus came in with but 20-30 minutes left in the match.
Second, Mbappe was simply not the player he was before his recent serious ankle injury or will be after some rest and recuperation—he simply could not outrun everyone all the time as he always did or take the angled shots in stride that he often showcased two summers ago in Russia. People caught up to him at least half the time, and he missed all of his open shots.
Third, Ney was once again fouled out of the match by a succession of Bayern infractions—major and minor, but unrelentingly consistent for 90 minutes—fouls that went unimpeded by any manner of officiating until the Brazilian had heard the message loud and clear, Daniele Orsato was not about to pull a yellow until he had reason to pull it out on both sides, you know, to keep the tallies seemingly even (4-4) at match’s end despite a 22-Bayern to 16-PSG foul tally.
When the final whistle blew, Gnabry (3), Muller (2), Lewandowski (2), Kimmich (3), Sule (2), Davis (2), Goretzka (2) and especially Thiago Alcantara (4) had fouled Neymar. At what point does an officiating team take that micro-second of a glance at the sheer number of fouls coming from every corner of the pitch and from just about every position player Bayern had in their line-up—all aimed at PSG’s number 10? It would be nice to know who thinks Ney was diving, or faking an injury, or complaining too much this time. If you recorded the game, note, after the final whistle as the cameras kept rolling, just how many of those listed above came to commiserate with Ney after the match.
About that portal
We just walked through it and what we saw was—first, that until FIFA fixes their officiating morass matches like this will never reflect the football action on the pitch but mostly reward the destructive aspect of our sport. Second, that Mbappe and Neymar are the real deal and next season might not have them playing on as experienced a PSG what with the club’s expected summer departures, but when they are on teams that can support them (French and Brazilian national sides?), and play in matches where they are allowed not to get mugged, they will outshine most of the old guard playing today.
The third and last thing we saw today was a glimpse of what strategies might be used in the coming 28 months alluded to previously. Will a high Bayern line be emulated next season? Probably not, given how often and easily PSG broke it this match. Will possession football develop an offshoot of some kind if only to appease those who cannot countenance its effectiveness? Probably, but mostly because purely possession-based attacks need too much real estate and oxygen to generate results and today’s defensive speedsters and counter-attackers can consume that available space and energy far too easily.
The modern “winger” whether a product of a defensive wingback who can shine on offense or a natural offensive winger or a right-or-left midfielder who can charge down the wing seems everyone’s favorite offensive weapon to the near exclusivity of any other point of attack. Will teams develop a middle of the field attacking approach in one-of tourneys and domestic competitions? If someone can, it will be an ironic revolution in direct attacking and a much-needed respite from the sideline mayhem we so often witness in top, critical matches.
About those painful memories—now Ney has one of his own, but Bayern-Germany cannot leave Lisbon thinking they are fully out of the woodshed. We’ll have to wait a few days to a couple of weeks to see how things line-up and 28 months to witness how they pan out for others bent on memory lane.
As to those Young Turks and Older Stars, well the latter took home the gold this time, but boy were they outplayed. My money’s on the Turks from here on in.