Bayern Munich Beats Lyon and Will Face P.S.G. in Champions League Final


Bayern Munich’s numbers, Lyon Manager Rudi Garcia had said, were so intimidating that they were best ignored. Unbeaten since early December. Flawless, with not so much as a point dropped, in 19 consecutive games. Scoring goals at an eye-watering rate.

“If we just look at the statistics,” Garcia had said before Lyon faced Bayern in the Champions League semifinal on Wednesday night in Lisbon, “we might as well watch the game in the hotel.”

Lyon could not, in the end, stop Bayern’s big red machine from rolling on to its first Champions League final since winning the competition in 2013. Two goals from Serge Gnabry — the first a bone-shaking finish from the edge of the penalty area, the second a scrappy tap-in — effectively settled the game before halftime. Robert Lewandowski, scoring his 55th goal of the season and his 15th in this season’s Champions League, added a third on a header in the 88th minute.

Lyon was hardly a passive observer to the proceedings, though. This was no meek surrender, as RB Leipzig’s defeat to Paris St.-Germain by the same score line on Tuesday night had been. Twice, Lyon came close to taking the lead before Gnabry opened the scoring. In the second half, when most would have considered its chance blown, Lyon continued to push forward, searching for the slice of good fortune that might have brought its players a lifeline.

P.S.G., certainly, will have seen enough from Lyon to believe that Bayern might be more vulnerable in Sunday’s final than Wednesday’s final score suggested: the pace of Kylian Mbappé, the craft of Neymar and the endeavor of Ángel Di María should trouble a Bayern defensive line that struggled to contain Karl Toko Ekambi and Memphis Depay.

The trouble, for P.S.G. and everyone else, is what Bayern offers at the other end of the field. Lewandowski is the headline threat, but the German champion bristles with threats across the board. Gnabry was the star on Wednesday, his dazzling run and fearsome finish shattering Lyon’s hearts after a bright start. But there were worthy contributions from Lewandowski — scoring in his 10th straight Champions League game, and now only two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of 17 in a single campaign — but also from Leon Goretzka, Alphonso Davies and Thiago Alcantara, too.

The experience that Bayern’s manager, Hansi Flick, can call on may lend an edge, too. In Manuel Neuer, Thomas Müller, Jérôme Boateng and David Alaba, Bayern has four survivors of its victory over Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 final. Five, actually, if one includes Lewandowski, who was in Dortmund’s yellow and black that night.

P.S.G., of course, has never reached the final before this season, though several of its players have. Di María won the tournament in 2014 with Real Madrid, and Neymar lifted the trophy a year later with Barcelona. They and Mbappé will not plan to be passive observers, and will believe they can have a rather better outcome than Lyon did.


Rory Smith and Andrew Das of The Times followed the game live. To track the game as it happened, read on:

88’

That was as simple as the first one was difficult. A free kick won deep and close to the byline to the left of Lopes. A gentle service into the middle, and Lewandowski rising to meet it and nod it in. That’s 3-0 to Bayern.

Game, set, match. See you Sunday, P.S.G.

Lewandowski has 15 goals in this season’s Champions League, even without the second legs here in Portugal, and that puts him in reach of Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of 17 in a single campaign.

79’

Two minutes after he sent a curling shot just wide, Coutinho actually puts the ball in the net. There’s a moment of confusion, though, and no celebration, as the referee calmly explains why there’s no goal.

It appears that, while Coutinho was onside as he broke behind the defense after the cross at the penalty spot, Goretzka appeared to touch the ball on its way through. That touch immediately rendered Coutinho — now behind the last defender — offside. No goal.

75’

A day to remember for the 25-year-old Gnabry: two goals in a Champions League semifinal. He trots off and is replaced by Philippe Coutinho. Just another reminder of the embarrassment of riches that is the Bayern bench.

58’

Dembélé, who scored twice off the bench in the win over Manchester City in the quarterfinals, is sent on, presumably with instructions to try to do the same thing. Memphis Depay that makes way. It’s the same sub that took place against City, and after Depay’s golden early chance, he wasn’t much of a factor. Maybe his replacement will fare better.

He almost does immediately, as Ekambi tests Neuer. But the rebound is controlled by the keeper, and the danger is over as fast as it was created.

46’

Boateng, who most definitely will be required in a final against P.S.G., departs and Niklas Süle comes on. The German commentary on the game notes that that wasn’t an expected change, but hints it may be more about resting him for the final than because of an injury.

For Lyon, Thiago Mendes comes on in midfield for Guimaraes. Maybe he can do what Guimaraes could not.

Halftime

Rory Smith checks in at halftime:

Lyon, at least, can take solace that it has given a rather better account of its abilities than RB Leipzig did on Tuesday night. Only slim solace, though, because the outcome is just the same.

There is a pattern emerging from these semifinals — quite an obvious one, really, but still: clubs whose status dictates that they must be based around developing and selling young players cannot cope, head to head, toe to toe, with the teams who ultimately benefit from the development of those players.

Bayern has a star alumnus of Lyon’s academy, Corentin Tolisso, on the bench. He’s on the bench because he is not good enough to start, because being among the best players at Lyon is only enough to be one of many at Bayern. It is not quite that simple, of course, but as an illustration, it is.

In that context, Lyon has done well to make a game of it, crafting two good chances before Serge Gnabry’s first goal, and occasionally looking menacing before his second. That may be as much as it can hope to achieve, though, realistically. Bayern is one of Europe’s predators. Lyon has long been prey. That is the balance of their relationship, and that is the dynamic of the game.

HALFTIME

Bayern strolls off at the half with a 2-0 lead. That’s 10 goals in two games in Lisbon.

Lyon? They’re wondering what hit them. (Hint: It was Serge Gnabry, mostly.)

38’

Gnabry with a tantalizing cross from the right narrowly misses the left post. Lewandowski could have turned it in with a simple touch, and he’s kicking himself for, well, not kicking the ball. Oops.

33’

Gnabry gets his second on a far less pretty goal, pushing across a loose ball in the goal mouth after Lopes — taking no chances again — slammed into Lewandowski flubbed shot to smother another attempt. Unfortunately, he didn’t corral the ball, and Gnabry got to it first and pounced.

Gnabry actually started that, with a steal in midfield. Working across the middle he fed Perisic, who smartly drove a low cross in from the left. The collision created the rebound, and there you go: 2-0 Bayern. Just like that.

31’

Burned by his defense on the Gnabry goal, Lopes is asserting himself a bit. Shouting more. Gesturing. And he just cleaned out Lewandowski — fairly, but roughly — on his way to a 50/50 ball. Better safe than sorry.

18’

That looked a lot easier than it was. Gnabry corrals a long, looping pass effortlessly on the right wing and, sensing space inside, bursts into it. A couple of touches give him an opening, and just as the ball rolls across the top of the penalty area he rips a left-footed shot — from in between FIVE defenders — that screams past Lopes into the top left corner. Wow. Terrific goal, and Bayern leads, 1-0.

That shows how fast Bayern can burn you; it was less than a minute after a ball dinged off Neuer’s post, and off a long ball meant to allow them to recover.

Instead Gnabry scores a rocket, and Bayern suddenly has the lead.

17’

First he turned Alphonso Davies at the byline. Then, drawing the ball onto his left foot, his ripped shot beats Neuer but bangs off the post and caroms right back at him. Wonderful play. No reward.

11’

A wonderful touch from Lewandowski, Bayern’s target man, allows Goretzka to sneak in behind on the right. But he whiffs on his shot, barely touching the ball, and rolls harmlessly across the goal.

Harmlessly, that is, until Lopes realizes it might just sneak inside the left post and he dives to push it out for a corner.

6’

A big mistake by Bayern — shades of Barcelona — as a ball from deep in midfield splits the center backs and springs Memphis Depay straight down the middle, sprinting out of the center circle. But Depay takes too many touches trying to round the massive Neuer, though, and sends his falling shot into the right-side netting.

Huge early chance there.

3’

Gaps suit the Bundesliga champs, and so they have immediately tried to stretch Lyon wide and side to side in the opening minutes. But Rudi Garcia is no fool, and Lyon isn’t falling for this. It’s quite possible they have seen the Barcelona tape and know what happens if you do.

It has been only a couple of months since Jean-Michel Aulas declared that this would all be quite impossible. France’s soccer authorities had declared an end to the Ligue 1 season — with 10 games still remaining — in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, and Aulas, the owner and president of Olympique Lyonnais, was simmering.

Not only would the cancellation cost French clubs revenue, time and players, Aulas said, not only would it deprive his team of the chance to improve on its standing — it sat seventh in the league table when the season was stopped, meaning it faced the prospect of a first season outside European competition in more than a decade — but it would hamstring the attempts of the two French representatives of the Champions League.

Aulas’s theory was simple, and it was widely held: Lyon and Paris St.-Germain, the two French teams still alive in the knockout rounds, would return to the Champions League cold, weakened with ring rust, against opponents in the full flush of the season. “In August, we are going to meet teams in these competitions who have been able to prepare better than us,” he had said in the spring.

On Tuesday night, P.S.G. became the first French team to reach a Champions League final since Monaco in 2004. On Wednesday, Lyon can join its great rival, though there is the rather intimidating bulwark of Bayern Munich — fresh off an 8-2 victory against Barcelona — standing in the way. Never a man to let facts get in the way of his opinion, Aulas suggested, after P.S.G. rallied to eliminate Atalanta and Lyon shocked Manchester City in the quarterfinals, that a “little bit of luck” had erased the competitive disadvantage the French teams had been handed.

Lyon will need that to hold this evening. Bayern has looked imperious since European soccer’s restart — since Hansi Flick took charge in November, in fact — culminating in that coldblooded demolition of Barcelona. The general rule of European soccer is that the team with the greater resources and the better players will win, and in that sense this is as big a mismatch as P.S.G.’s victory against RB Leipzig on Tuesday.

Lyon is, at least, an outsider that is easier to cheer than Leipzig. Though the pugnacious Aulas is not what you might call universally beloved in France, he has turned his club into something of a model for others to follow. And he has done it not once, but twice. First, around the turn of the century, when smart recruitment, especially from South America, turned Lyon into the leading light in French soccer. And now, when its productive academy and its emphasis on youth has earned it a reputation as one of Europe’s premier talent factories.

Houssem Aouar and Maxence Caqueret are the two crown jewels; both will need to use this game as their star burst, the moment they announce themselves to the world, if Lyon is to have any chance.

Bayern’s team is, as usual, formidable:

Manuel Neuer; Joshua Kimmich, Jérôme Boateng, David Alaba, Alphonso Davies; Thiago Alcantra, Leon Goretzka, Ivan Perisic, Thomas Müller, Serge Gnabry; Robert Lewandowski.

It’s the same starting lineup that thumped Chelsea (4-1) and Barcelona (8-2) to get here.

Lyon, too, sticks to what has worked in the past, meaning Moussa Dembélé, the man of the match in the win over Manchester City in the quarterfinals, starts on the bench.

The Lyon lineup:

Anthony Lopes; Leo Dubois, Marcelo, Jason Denayer, Marçal; Houssem Aouar, Maxence Caqueret, Bruno Guimaraes, Maxwel Cornet, Memphis Depay, Karl Toko Ekambi.

Today’s referee is a Spaniard, Antonio Mateu Lahoz. He has a reputation as a chatty ref.

With Lyon in a 3-5-2 formation, with wings ready to drop back or push forward, and Bayern in its customary 4-2-3-1, there should be quite a bit of action — and opportunity — on the outside today.

Bayern’s Davies and Kimmich, for example, can be devastating when they press forward into the attack, which they can be expected to do liberally. That might create some counterattacking chances for Lyon if they get caught up forward, however.

Of course, if they get forward and do what they did against Barcelona — create goals or score them in bunches — then getting upfield on the counter may be the last thing on Lyon’s mind. This Davies run alone, to set up Kimmich against Barcelona, is enough to keep defenders up nights.

That said, Bayern’s high back line — a feature of its front-foot approach — saw it caught out early a few times against Barcelona. It was fortunate not to get burned, and the rout was soon on, but Manchester City scored first against Manchester City by taking advantage of a similar chance. So it knows as well as any team that an opponent’s aggressive nature can be turned against it.

Aouar, Lyon’s promising 22-year-old midfielder, has grown up in the club. He joined Lyon as an 11-year-old amateur in 2009, and over the years has developed into one of the club’s top talents since making his debut as an 18-year-old in 2017.

He wears the No. 8 jersey, which was given to him when its previous bearer, Corentin Tolisso, joined Bayern Munich three years ago. But that, he noted on social media this morning, is not his only Bayern-Lyon connection.

A decade ago, as a 12-year-old, Aouar wrote on his social media accounts, he was one of the youth players selected to carry one of the banners onto the field when Lyon hosted its only previous Champions League semifinal.

Bayern Munich won that day, on a hat trick (left foot, right foot, header) by Ivica Olic, and advanced to the final, where it lost to José Mourinho’s Inter Milan. Now Aouar has a chance to write a different story.

Wednesday’s winner will face Paris St.-Germain, which outclassed RB Leipzig in Tuesday’s first semifinal, in the final on Sunday at Benfica’s Estádio da Luz.

The game will be P.S.G.’s first appearance in the final, and the culmination of a yearslong project by its Qatari owners to build a world-beating team. It has not always gone well for P.S.G. But as Rory wrote Tuesday night:

After all the wrong turns, all the heartache and disappointment, the humiliations and the turnarounds and the gut-wrenching collapses, Paris St.-Germain has finally done what it was designed and built to do.

This year marked P.S.G.’s first appearance in the semifinals since 1995 — long before both the arrival of the club’s Qatari owners and even the birth of Kylian Mbappé — and the club has, in recent years, developed a habit of falling short when faced with one of Europe’s giants. But it has everything it needs to compete this time: the world’s most expensive player in Neymar, arguably its best young player in Mbappé, and the grit and drive and luck that has been missing in past runs.

Sunday, against a tradition-rich opponent, will be the final test of a project that has been years in the marking.





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