Paris St.-Germain and Bayern Munich are meeting Sunday in the final of the Champions League, European soccer’s richest and grandest club competition. The final is being played at Benfica’s Estádio da Luz in Lisbon. Bayern and P.S.G. both won comfortably in the semifinals.
TV: Sunday’s game will be broadcast in the United States on the CBS Sports Network and, in Spanish, on Univision. Television coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. Eastern but — and this may be important as you schedule your day — kickoff is at 3 p.m.
Help me look smart when I’m with my friends later.
As always, our chief soccer correspondent, Rory Smith, is here to help. Here’s his preview:
There is no such thing as a bad Champions League final. This is the culmination of the European season, after all, the single biggest club game of the year (and possibly the biggest annual sporting event on the planet, Super Bowl included). When the stakes are that high, the drama and the tension is inherent.
But that doesn’t mean all Champions League finals are good. Some are overwhelmed by their own significance, and the game itself is dour and cautious and inhibited: think 2003, when A.C. Milan and Juventus produced 120 minutes of soccer so bad that both teams should have been disqualified, or even last year’s effort between Liverpool and Tottenham.
Many turn into exhibitions, where one team is so obviously superior to the other that the outcome starts to feel preordained: Barcelona, say, in 2009, 2011 and 2015, or Real Madrid in 2017 and 2018.
The true classics are the exceptions: In recent years, perhaps only Liverpool’s extraordinary win in 2005, Chelsea’s remarkable resistance in 2012 and Bayern’s most recent victory, in 2013, could justify that description.
Despite the eeriness of an empty stadium and the fact that it is August, there are reasons to believe that 2020 might earn a place in the canon. Both Bayern and P.S.G. have star quality: Robert Lewandowski and Alphonso Davies, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé. And the two teams share many other similarities: Both are national champions who play on the front foot, and both are as happy in possession as they are dangerous on the counterpunch. Also, both have very little recent experience of losing, boast fearsome attacks and, certainly in Bayern’s case, have slightly questionable defenses. P.S.G. has been built to win this tournament; Bayern is on the cusp of a domestic and European treble.
Bayern’s imperious form — particularly that dismantling of Barcelona — has been enough for most to assume the German team is the favorite, but P.S.G. will have seen the chances created by Lyon in the semifinals (and even by Barcelona before its collapse) and will have taken heart. Neither team is without its flaws. Both teams have an abundance of strengths. That is precisely how a Champions League final should be poised. There is never a bad one. This should clear that bar with ease.
How did the teams get here?
Sunday’s game is a throwback of sorts: the first meeting in the final since 1998 of teams who entered the tournament as domestic champions.
That is, of course, how it used to be in the days of the old European Cup, when you had to win your home league just to gain entry to the competition. The creation of the Champions League in 1992 changed all of that, opening the door to extra teams (from the big leagues, mostly) and extra revenues but also setting the stage for all-Italian, all-German, all-Spanish and all-English finals.
Tradition is still a powerful force — P.S.G. has won seven straight French titles, and Bayern Munich eight in a row in Germany — but you take your nostalgia where you can.
Bayern Munich emerged from the group stage an easy winner over Tottenham, Olympiakos and Red Star Belgrade. In the knockouts, it easily dispatched Chelsea (7-1 on aggregate), Barcelona (8-2 — ouch!) and Lyon (3-0). Bayern is 10-0 in this year’s competition, and has scored at least three goals in nine of those games. At 4.2 goal per game, in fact, it is the highest-scoring side in Champions League history.
P.S.G. also cruised out of the group stage, producing five wins and a draw in a group that included Real Madrid, Club Brugge and Galatasaray. It overcame a first-leg deficit to oust Dortmund in the round of 16, and then rallied — with two goals after the 90th minute — to beat Atalanta, 2-1, in its quarterfinal in Lisbon. RB Leipzig went much easier (3-0) in the semifinals on Tuesday.
Unlike Bayern, which can field a handful of players who were present when it won the competition in 2013, P.S.G. has never played in the Champions League final before this season.
Who has the momentum?
What’s strange is that the two finalists were the two teams that some predicted would struggle the most in Lisbon.
Because the French league shut down in the middle of the pandemic and never resumed its season, Paris St.-Germain arrived having played only two competitive games since March. Bayern Munich had a monthlong break between the German Cup final and its resumption of play in the Champions League, a layoff that Oliver Kahn, the club’s new chief executive, worried might be a disadvantage.
It turns out neither rust nor rest was an issue. Bayern has scored 15 goals in its three Champions League games this month, and P.S.G. seems to be peaking at the perfect time.
Here’s some pregame reading.
On P.S.G.: Sunday’s game is the pinnacle of the season for both teams, but for a few others — especially at P.S.G. — the match is the culmination of years of spending, planning, preparing and positioning. Qatar, of course, built this entire club for this single moment, with an investment in both money and national pride that is probably incalculable. Kylian Mbappé, still only 21, can bring the world’s biggest club title to his hometown two years he brought the World Cup title home to France. Thomas Tuchel can pull off what so many other big-name coaches could not, and mold P.S.G.’s wealth of talent into Europe’s best club. And then there’s Neymar. Let Rory Smith take you through what this game, and this season, could mean for him, for his image and for his legacy.
On Bayern Munich: Hansi Flick was supposed to be a temporary solution as Bayern’s manager when he was installed last fall, a trusted hand there to gently guide an aging and faltering team away from the precipice of decline. Instead, he has turned into the perfect man for the job. But he hasn’t turned Bayern round with tactical wizardry or some madcap system or a revolutionary approach, Rory found in dozens of interviews with those who know him best. His biggest trick, it turned out, is that he’s not a jerk.
On life in Lisbon this month: Pulling off the Champions League’s reboot in Portugal over the past two weeks was a herculean affair for UEFA, the event’s organizer. Usually it has months to put together its plan, and a host city in place more than a year out. This year was, um, different in almost every respect. Earlier this month, Rory and Tariq Panja went through the rules and found that there was a plan and a policy in place for everything: who stayed where, how much water and sports drinks would be provided, the parts of the fields where teams could warm up and (perhaps more important) where they could not. Two weeks later, the most draconian lines in the book — those drawn up to deal with how to eject a coronavirus-stricken side — remain, thankfully, unused.
And something special from the archives: If you want a real treat, here’s a piece from 2018 about a previous experiment that hoped to merge big money and star power to create a Paris superclub. The club was Matra Racing de Paris, and it’s quite a tale.