Bayern Munich 1, P.S.G. 0: A Champions League Win for Tradition and Team


In that moment of elation, the cameras hunted for despair. They found it in the slight, forlorn shape of Neymar, sitting on Paris St.-Germain’s bench, a perfect picture of heartbreak. Neymar, with tears in his eyes. Neymar, staring into the middle distance. Neymar, with his head in his hands.

Here, in tight focus, was the shot, the story. No player fits so neatly as an avatar for their team as Neymar. He is the most expensive player in the world, and his club is the richest project soccer has ever seen. His career has been shaped by money, and the club’s ambitions are fueled by it. He is the star concerned only with his own light. He is the princeling who yearned to be king. He is the modern P.S.G. made flesh.

His quest is his club’s quest: to win hearts and minds, to prove their greatness and their worth and, in doing so, to gain recognition and acceptance. Both see the Champions League as the only stage on which that can be achieved. Both had failed at the last step on Sunday: a single goal had been enough to give Bayern Munich a 1-0 victory and a sixth European crown, and prolong the agony of P.S.G.

In those lingering camera shots, in the silence, Neymar not only illustrated how that felt, but exposed the limitations that had led him, and his team, here. It is always easier to tell an individual story than a collective one. There is no one image — not Joshua Kimmich’s artful cross, not Kingsley Coman’s precise header, not Manuel Neuer’s trophy lift — that encapsulates the source of Bayern’s success.

Nor is there a single, pithy explanation. Bayern was, by a shade, the better team in a final that produced a dish quite distinct from any of its ingredients. Two teams front-loaded with attacking talent combined in Lisbon to create a game — a compelling, absorbing game — that was more slow-burn drama than quick-fire entertainment.

Both defended with grit and steel and thought. Neither was quite as assured as normal. Robert Lewandowski was a touch short of his ruthless best leading the Bayern line; Kylian Mbappé was not quite as explosive as he could be for P.S.G. Neymar did not want for work ethic, but his invention was just a little lacking.

Both teams were in pursuit of a domestic and European treble — league, cup and Champions league silverware — and yet neither was quite itself. Bayern won because it came closer than P.S.G., because its self-perception is better defined, because it draws its strength and its wonder from its system, not from the lavish talent of its individuals.

Hansi Flick, Bayern’s coach, had the courage not to change tack out of respect for — or fear of — P.S.G.’s fearsome front line. Bayern played the high defensive line which, common consensus had it, Mbappé in particular would relish. He trusted his players not to blink. The margins were fine, and P.S.G. hardly played badly, but the reward justified the risk.

That will be of scant solace to Neymar and his teammates, of course. The identity of the player that proved their undoing will add a little sting for P.S.G., too. Coman was born and raised in Paris; he joined P.S.G.’s youth academy as a child. He was a teammate of Presnel Kimpembe, the French champion’s central defender, until both were 18.

Coman made his first appearance for P.S.G.’s senior team at 16, the youngest player ever to do so. Like so many others, he is a product of Paris and its banlieues, the suburbs and satellite towns that are, perhaps, the most fertile breeding ground for soccer players in the world. Only São Paulo, Buenos Aires and South London even come close to rivaling it.

And yet Coman, like Paul Pogba and Ngolo Kanté and even Mbappé, until he was brought home at vast cost, got away. Coman left for Juventus in 2014, having grown frustrated at the lack of opportunities he was offered by his hometown team. The scale of investment from P.S.G.’s Qatari backers had by then made the club fallow ground for young prospects. Coman went to Italy, and from there to Munich. Now he has returned to haunt the club that made him, to vanquish it when it was in sight of its goal.

But one picture does not tell a story. Coman’s career has been remarkable. He is only 24, and yet he has already won 20 major trophies. Every season that he has been a professional — he made his debut in 2013 — he has ended as a league champion: twice with P.S.G., once with Juventus, five times with Bayern.

Coman is, in other words, the ultimate player for European soccer’s superclub era. He is the embodiment of the game’s stratification, for how different the world of the elite is from that of those mere mortals who might not win a championship every single season of their career. In these circumstances, it feels almost inevitable that at some point he was going to score the winning goal in a Champions League final. He is proof that, at a certain height, it is almost impossible to fall.

For all Neymar’s tears, he and the team he represents — in more ways than one — are precisely the same. Sunday’s final had been dressed up as a meeting between two visions of soccer: the old power and the new money, the establishment and the insurgent, the immovable object of European soccer’s self-appointed aristocracy and the unstoppable force of a sports team co-opted as the marketing tool of a nation state.

In Bayern Munich’s victory, it is possible to draw the conclusion that there is, for now, at least, some sort of winner. Paris St.-Germain has obsessed over the Champions League for a decade. It has spent billions in pursuit of it. It has inveigled its way into the corridors of power and it has broken the rules, both in letter and in spirit, and it has done its best to shift the landscape to its own ends. It wants nothing more than that one trophy, that ultimate vindication of its plan.

And though it came closer than it ever had before this summer, it has failed again. Chalk up a victory not necessarily for the good guys — Bayern Munich, for all its folksy customs, is not what any outsider would call lovable — but for the way things have always been. The old certainties hold. The new order has not been established, and Neymar is sitting on the bench in tears.

But a single picture does not tell a whole story. P.S.G. has not failed, not really, not in the long term. Its presence here was success. A decade since its Gulf money arrived, it can breathe the same rarefied air as the old elite. That, in the context of what Qatar wants from its investment, is almost the same as the Champions League trophy. Almost.

So, too, all of the associations that come with it. To have Neymar — the most expensive player on the planet, an icon, a social media phenomenon — as the avatar of this P.S.G. team is to demonstrate all of the things that are valuable to the club’s backers about this project. It speaks of power and wealth and glamour and relevance and affection, in some quarters, if not universally.

Neymar’s despair might have been the final image of the night, but that is the closing of a chapter, not the culmination of the book. Just as the European soccer season lasts nine months and, at the end of it, Coman gets a medal or three, the same is true of P.S.G. There will be another chance, and another chance after that, and on and on into the future.

Young money soon morphs into old power, and the insurgents become the ruling class. Neymar will be back here again; P.S.G. will be back here again. That is the way the game is built. That is the way the game works. At a certain height, the tears never last for long.


Andrew Das and Rory Smith of The Times followed the Champions League final as it happened. Read on for more

The whistle goes and the absent crowd does not roar but Bayern Munich has done it,: It has beaten Paris St.-Germain, 1-0, to capture its sixth Champions League title, and first since 2013.

The German champions triumph on the strength of a second-half header by Kingsley Coman, a Paris native and former P.S.G. youth player. It is Bayern’s 21st straight victory in a season unlike any before it — interrupted by a pandemic then rescheduled and capped, at last, in August, with a closed-doors Champions League final.

The defeat will be especially painful for P.S.G. and its Qatari owners, who have spent a decade — and hundreds of millions of dollars — to build a team that could deliver the Champions League, the biggest prize in European soccer. But while its star-studded team, led by the Brazilian forward Neymar and the French World Cup winner Kylian Mbappé, created dangerous chances against Bayern, it could never break through.

While the club shed its label as underachievers this season by reaching the final, its quest for its first championship will go on.

90’ + 2

Lewandowski goes down at one end in what sure looked like a penalty in real time. But P.S.G. doesn’t wait around to measure its good fortune: Its strike force breaks in four-men strong. Mbappé slots in a ball for Neymar on the left side of the box. He wheels and fires, but the ball slides through two defenders, a goalkeeper and Choupo-Moting … and rolls wide.

Bayern was lucky there. Neymar was not. But what a moment it could have been in added time.

90’

A moment of danger wasn’t really a moment at all: Mbappé was well offside as he fired point blank at Neuer. Neuer saved it anyway, because that’s what Neuer does.

P.S.G. is nearly done now.

81’

It’s his own fault, really: he gave the ball away and scrambled to get it back from Lewandowski. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, the hero of the quarterfinal win, is on for Di Maria as Neymar’s newest strike partner. But what the Parisians really need is a goal, and Bayern is just so experienced it’s going to take something really special now.

As play resumes, Thiago Silva gets a yellow for pulling down Lewandowski, who just. never. stops. coming.

70’

Rory’s view after the goal:

Bayern, all of a sudden, looks like the team that swept past Barcelona, rather than the team that found Lyon heavier weather than it was expecting.

Coman — a P.S.G. youth product — has put the German team ahead, and within 20 minutes of a domestic and European treble. Twice, Bayern threatened to extend its lead in the minutes that followed. There has been an uncharacteristic uncertainty to Bayern, at times, tonight — as exemplified by how inhibited Alphonso Davies has been — but the goal has banished it. P.S.G. will have to ride the storm out as it searches for a response. How it balances those twin impulses will be key.

68’

His job done, Coman gives way to Perisic in a double substitution for Bayern. Philippe Coutinho comes on for Gnabry at the same time, so it’s a fresh set of wingers for Bayern as they try to see this out.

Coman’s goal, if it holds up, will deliver the biggest prize of his career. But not the first prize.

At the other end, there is suddenly a look of deep concentration — or it is desperation — on the faces of Neymar and Mbappé.

65’

He replaces Paredes in a late roll of the dice. A few minutes later Julian Draxler comes on for Herrera.

59’

There’s your opener, and just like that Bayern’s in the lead. Joshua Kimmich plays provider, lofting an easy cross to the far post, where Coman meets it with a snap header that comes right back across Navas’s goal and tucks inside the right post. Bayern 1, P.S.G. 0, and Flick looks like a genius for starting a Parisian against P.S.G. and hoping emotion would produce something special.

A minute later Coman, on the left, nearly doubles the lead with a tantalizing feed to Lewandowski in the center. But Presnel Kimpembe dives to head it clear.

56’

The center back hits Di Maria from behind while contesting a header at midfield in one of those fouls you see in every game. Neymar feels there should be criminal charges, and possibly an arrest, but our referee decides not to indict and again settles for a yellow.

Those are adding up a little, though, and in a game with such fine margins, you wonder if at some point a tired foul could prove costly if the player is already carrying a yellow.

50’

Gnabry and Goretzka sandwich Neymar (accidentally, it seems) and then does it again at midfield a minute later (this one seemed a bit more forceful). The teams cluster around in that performative way they often do, but that foul had a little more bite.

Replays make clear Neymar milked it a bit — Andrew Keh of The Times once called acting coaches to assess Neymar’s diving and his story was amazing — but the last few minutes have shown a bit more edge. Gnabry gets a yellow for the foul, and Paredes gets one for his reaction to it.

Halftime

Rory Smith’s halftime review:

The best gauge of how good any game is, to my mind, is how quickly it seems to pass, and that first half did not seem to last anywhere close to 45 minutes. True, it’s goalless; true, there have been only a handful of actual chances, but the quality is so high — and the risk inherent in both teams’ determination to play “through the thirds,” as soccer people insist on saying, so great — that it’s moved at quite a zip.

It increasingly has the feel, though, of a game that might be decided by a mistake: one pass too many, one heavy touch in just the wrong place. Both teams are flirting with danger. Eventually one of them is going to get caught.

45’

Coman turns the corner on Kehrer on what turns out to be the final attack of the half. And he beat him, too, turning toward the goal and then falling as he felt some contact from behind. The Italian referee took a loooooooong look, maybe waiting for the video-assistant referee to give him some guidance. But as Müller screams in his face he decides not to point to the spot.

Instead, he blows his whistle and the teams head off, still scoreless.

43’

After trading punches — but no real haymakers — in the first 40 minutes, both teams appear content to be a bit more careful as we near halftime. Bayern is still pressing, and then harrying anyone who tries to move the ball out of the back on the ground. P.S.G., meanwhile, still seems to be looking to strike fast whenever possible. Both teams have played well; they’ve just not scored. Yet.

And just then they nearly did: a terrible turnover by Alaba in his own penalty area hands the ball — after a quick give-and-go with Herrera — to an open Mbappé (!!!!) at the spot. But he didn’t strike his shot cleanly or accurately, and Neuer smothers it.

Rory checks in again about a player you might have missed:

There are, obviously, players who will catch the eye much more this evening than Leandro Paredes, but a quick word on the Argentine. He is what a previous generation of British fans called a “schemer,” and there are times where he is a wonderful exponent of the role, as that brilliant, first-time pass for Mbappé a few minutes ago showed. He’s had a slightly peripatetic career — emerging at Boca Juniors, impressing in fits and starts at Roma — and P.S.G. bought him, essentially as emergency cover for Marco Verratti, from Zenit St. Petersburg. He is only 26, but seeing him playing, and playing well on this stage, makes you slightly rueful that he spent 18 months in Russia so early in his career.

31’

A cross from the right somehow finds its way to Lewandowski’s heavily guarded forehead steps in front of Navas, but the Costa Rican is an excellent reaction goalkeeper and he parries it nicely and then collects the rebound.

Bayern is quietly leaning forward again: pressing, probing, sniffing a goal. P.S.G. needs to be careful in these final 15 minutes or so. So does Davies, who picked up the game’s first yellow card a few minutes ago.

25’

Di Maria fires high from in close — the third great chance in a few minutes — but the more notable outcome of the play is that Bayern’s central defender Jérôme Boateng comes up with a leg injury (it looks like he was grimacing as he held his inner thigh).

Whatever it is, it has ended his day. Niklas Süle is on to replace him, just as he was at halftime of the semifinal.

21’

A great turn at the penalty spot gives Bayern’s target man a great look. He turns and beats Navas, but didn’t catch the ball purely, and it dings off the left post and stays out. So now both teams have had a good look. Maybe that will open this up even more.

18’

A cutting ball from Mbappé cuts open Bayern’s back line in the area and sends Neymar in past Alaba. He fires a left-footed shot at Neuer, who is lucky to catch it with his trailing arm and then block the rebound out for a corner. That’s the first real threatening chance of the match, and it shows what P.S.G. can do in an instant.

12’

There’s no sign of Bayern altering its approach to acknowledge the pace P.S.G. boasts up front: Alaba and Boateng have set up camp on the halfway line and are not showing any great interest in going much further back. That is out of necessity, more than anything: If they drop back, then Bayern cannot play the intense, high-pressing game that makes it so dangerous.

How P.S.G. copes with that pressure may well be the decisive influence in the game. It’s tempting to assume that Bayern has a vast amount more experience on this sort of stage and, while that is true at an institutional level, quite whether that counts for anything is anyone’s guess.

The personal is much more relevant, and there things are more balanced. There are four survivors of the 2013 win in Bayern’s starting team (Boateng, Alaba, Manuel Neuer and Thomas Muller), but P.S.G. has three former Champions League winners in Neymar, Angel Di Maria and the restored Keylor Navas. Oh, and Kylian Mbappé has won a World Cup. Does that help?

11’

Now it’s the French champions putting on some pressure in Bayern’s end, and Mbappé wins a free kick on the left. It’s a good position, but a better sign. Mbappé has had two shots blocked in quick succession. But he’s had them; that’s the more important thing if you’re Tuchel.

2’

Bayern, unsurprisingly, presses from the first minute and promptly forces a dangerous turnover as P.S.G. tries to play out of the back. Bayern wastes it but promptly wins a free kick when P.S.G. tries again.

That’s one way to shift the focus away from your own high back line.

Bayern Munich’s Hansi Flick has made one change from the semifinals, with the French wing Kingsley Coman replacing Ivan Perisic on the left. Perisic had played very well but he also has played quite a bit, so this may simply be a search for fresher legs. Flick said he liked Coman’s “quality” and his ability to use his quickness to press P.S.G.’s defenders, but he admitted there’s some sentiment at play with this move, too.

“We’re facing Paris, his boyhood club,” Flick said in an interview before the game. “We hope he will be a bit more motivated.”

Bayern’s XI: Manuel Neuer; Alphonso Davies, David Alaba, Jérôme Boateng, Joshua Kimmich; Thiago Alcantara, Leon Goretzka; Kingsley Coman, Thomas Müller, Serge Gnabry; Robert Lewandowski.

P.S.G.’s biggest change is in goal, where the experienced Keylor Navas returns from a leg injury. But Manager Thomas Tuchel also said Saturday that Marco Verratti (who starts on the bench) is back to health. He can’t go 90 minutes, or 120, but he’s a valuable reserve if his team needs him. He had missed the quarterfinals but made a late cameo as a sub against RB Leipzig in the semifinals.

P.S.G. XI: Keylor Navas, Thilo Kehrer, Thiago Silva, Presnel Kimpembe, Juan Bernat, Marquinhos, Ander Herrera, Leandro Paredes, Angel Di Maria, Neymar, Kylian Mbappé.

Italy’s Daniele Orsato is today’s match referee.

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.

The only numbers that matters are those on the scoreboard, of course, but here are a couple more to keep in mind today.

425: That’s the number of days it has been since the first game of this season’s Champions League. The pandemic’s five-month delay has made it the longest in the competition’s history.

-1: That’s the number of days until the start of the new European season opens. (France was first, on Saturday.) England, Spain, Germany and Italy will kick off their new seasons in September.

15: Goals scored by Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski in this season’s Champions League. He needs two more to match Cristiano Ronaldo’s record for a single campaign.

5: Bayern’s total of Champions League titles. Only Real Madrid (13), A.C. Milan (7) and Liverpool (6) have more.

1: Champions League titles won by French clubs. Monaco, in 2004, was the last French team to make the final. Marseille, in 1993, was the only French club to win it.

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.

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.

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.





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