PSG vs. Bayern: Breaking Down the Champions League Final Position by PositionAugust 21, 2020
August's incredible, enthralling, breathtaking UEFA Champions League knockout tournament reaches its climax on Sunday, as Paris Saint-Germain take on Bayern Munich for the right to lift 'Ol Big Ears—the historic, iconic silver trophy.
It's an incredible final, one that pits two high-powered attacking teams against one another, and arguably the best we could have asked for given who qualified for the semi-finals.
The red corner boasts the world's best No. 9 in Robert Lewandowski, a Thomas Muller back in prime form, the world's quickest left-back and a midfield so smooth it looks like its skating on ice.
In response, the blue corner offers up Neymar and Kylian Mbappe—surely two of the world's five best players—ahead of a smartly built midfield and a goalkeeper who has already won the Champions League three times.
Here, we've compared the expected starting XIs side by side to see who has the edge (on paper) heading into the final, and in the process previewed what to expect from each player, shaping the tactical battle ahead.
A rating out of 10 is given for each, which is based on their overall quality and form heading into the showpiece event.
Keylor Navas, PSG
PSG are hoping Navas will be fit for the final, having missed the final stages of the quarter-final and watching the entire semi-final from the sidelines.
If he does make it, it'll be a huge positive for Les Parisiens; Navas has won the Champions League three times and stands one of the game's best between the sticks. His cat-like reflexes and error-free play have formed a solid base for PSG this term.
Manuel Neuer, Bayern
Neuer's 2019-20 season has been terrific, the 34-year-old rebounding to top form after a concerning lull between 2018 and 2019—though injuries can be deemed the reason why the drop-off happened.
The German's sweeper-keeper style is as crucial as ever behind Bayern's bold, high defensive line. He came up big against Lyon a couple of times, putting off Memphis Depay one-on-one and saving from Karl Toko Ekambi.
Thilo Kehrer, PSG
Right-back isn't Kehrer's best position, but he's seen out PSG's season there in part because he's been converted, in part because their natural option for this role, Thomas Meunier, left the club on July 1 for Borussia Dortmund.
As emergency fill-ins go, Kehrer's been pretty good. He returned from lockdown looking shredded, he was already incredibly quick, so the physical aspects have come easy to him. He's not played an adventurous or enterprising role, but he hasn't had to; his job is to give it to guys ahead of him.
Joshua Kimmich, Bayern
Kimmich is arguably the best right-back in the world, which is a bit mad, because it's arguable right-back isn't even his best position!
He transitioned to central midfield this season, but has been restored to the flank in Lisbon due to an injury to Benjamin Pavard. He's been predictably excellent, managing to showcase his immense passing range and playmaking ability even from right-back.
Thiago Silva, PSG
A long-time leader, a veteran of this PSG project, Silva will depart PSG after the Champions League final having either accomplished a mission established back in 2012 when he joined or having come agonisingly close.
At age 35, he still stands as one of the better centre-backs in the game, and drawing on his experience and guidance will be crucial for the young players either side of him.
Jerome Boateng, Bayern
Surely no one saw this coming.
Just a year ago Boateng's career at Bayern (and the top level in general) looked just about done; injuries had disrupted his rhythm and age (30 at the time) was starting to work against him.
His renaissance under Hansi Flick has been the most jaw-dropping of them all—even more so than Neuer's, Muller's and Leon Goretzka's. Although niggles and knocks still curtail his appearances, Boateng's vital to Bayern's defensive setup.
Wednesday night proved exactly that, as he produced a few big blocks and tackles to prevent Lyon getting dangerous shots off.
Presnel Kimpembe, PSG
Kimpembe is really starting to emerge as one of the best left-sided centre-backs in world football now, his assured performances in Lisbon helping more and more to realise he's got close to a complete skill-set.
He has all the physical attributes you could ask for, plus a real comfort on the ball and an ability to feed the ball forward through the channels into more dangerous players. Not one Atalanta or RB Leipzig player could get the better of him.
David Alaba, Bayern
In a move that surprised most, Alaba has grown into a leadership role in Bayern's back line under Flick, converting from left-back to centre-back and marshalling the line.
He's been pretty much perfect aside from a truly bizarre, unfortunate own goal against Barcelona, boasting the recovery pace to deal with quicker threats and a surprising aerial presence to deal with bigger ones.
Add that to his importance in Die Roten's build-up play from the back, and the balancing role he plays when Alphonso Davies storms forwards, and you're looking at a true defensive lynchpin for arguably the best team in the world.
Juan Bernat, PSG
It's an odd calling card to have as a left-back, but Bernat's track record of scoring important goals in big games continued in the semi-finals as his header ended any hopes of a RB Leipzig comeback.
His defensive skill-set doesn't quite match up to his attacking one, but what he does offer is incredible energy and stamina up and down the flank all game long, and he's looked good in Lisbon.
Alphonso Davies, Bayern
For a long time, the discussion over who is the world's best left-back has centred around two names: Andy Robertson and Jordi Alba.
But the quarter-finals saw Davies take a sledgehammer to the status quo; he was so good, he forced himself into this discussion—and for many, it was at the expense of Alba.
There is no combination of speed, one-on-one defensive ability, dribbling, crossing and shooting like Davies'; no one else can offer it or match it.
Earlier this week we put together a best XI from the Champions League semi-finalists and put Marquinhos at centre-back—his natural position—but the Brazilian has excelled from a defensive midfield role this season and will anchor the formation in the final.
He's smooth in possession and happy to receive off the defence, can set a physical tone in midfield and screens the back four really well.
That he's managed to score in each of the last two games—the all-important equaliser against Atalanta, then the first goal against RB Leipzig—is an added bonus. With Kehrer at right-back and Marquinhos in midfield, PSG can put four big men in the box for set pieces despite utilising a diminutive forward line.
Thiago Alcantara, Bayern
There's more talk about Thiago's future—Liverpool? B/R's Dean Jones explores that here—than his play right now, so let's rectify that: He's a masterful, mesmeric midfielder who controls the tempo and direction of Bayern's attacking play.
Die Roten's match vs. Lyon in the semi-finals was helter-skelter, end-to-end for 90 minutes. You'd have expected Thiago to cool things down a little and take the game away from Les Gones, but it felt like they were trying to run up as big a score as possible to build confidence.
In the final, you'll see Bayern play smarter and Thiago come to the fore even more, measuring passes and circulating possession in a way few can.
Leandro Paredes, PSG
Paredes has had to prove himself several times over at PSG despite only joining in January 2019, but is now finally gaining acceptance from those watching on.
He made a big impact off the bench in the quarter-final vs. Atalanta and performed superbly from the start against RB Leipzig, zipping passes through the lines and into the feet of the team's most dangerous players.
A talented passer with excellent vision, he projects to start the final based on good form and the fact PSG need as many needle-threaders on the pitch as possible to try and exploit Bayern's high defensive line.
Leon Goretzka, Bayern Munich
Goretzka's finally come alive in a Bayern shirt.
After years of not really knowing what to do with him or creating a clear role for him, Flick has unlocked his box-to-box energy and incredible athleticism in a way that seriously benefits the team.
He has license to break forward from Die Roten's midfield pivot and hit the box, offering a shot from range, a body to contend with on set pieces and some very clever link-up play and flicks in dangerous areas.
Marco Verratti, PSG
As explained at the top, this is a predicted XI, and while putting Verratti in may feel a bold call, there's more logic to it than first appears.
Thomas Tuchel gave him seven minutes (plus stoppage time) off the bench in the semi-final as he returns from injury, and PSG put him up to face the media on Thursday. That's a good sign.
Then there's also the simple reality that, if you want to try and play Verratti, it's best to start him and see what you can get from him. If it goes wrong, you have five substitutes to cover it, and you don't want it to be the other way around: Bring him on late and he breaks down, meaning you have to bring him back off again.
Verratti is one of PSG's best midfielders, a Thiago-esque presence in the way he controls and dictates the rhythm of a game. If there's a chance to get even one half out of him in the final, Tuchel has to try.
Like Neuer and Boateng, Muller represents an old flame revitalised at Bayern, his productivity levels and importance to the side rising to the point where they match—or perhaps even exceed—their zenith back in 2013.
If Bayern win the Champions League, there's a serious conversation to be had over whether this has been Muller's best ever season.
He hasn't changed a bit in the seven years that have passed since then, still that same odd combination of graceful and awkward, an elite footballer spliced with a baby giraffe who is yet to learn to walk.
Angel Di Maria, PSG
You can list off all the superlatives in the world when talking about Neymar and Mbappe—and we will, just a bit further down—but as incredible as they are, Di Maria has marked himself out as a near-equally important member of the attacking setup.
He collected the man of the match award against RB Leipzig, setting up two goals and scoring one himself, offering an invaluable work rate alongside a cutting edge that sliced through the Germans' defensive setup.
As PSG look within their ranks for experience on the final stage, the gaze will no doubt linger at Di Maria, who put in a man of the match performance in the 2014 final as Real Madrid beat Atletico Madrid. That pedigree could prove crucial.
Serge Gnabry, Bayern
In case you hadn't already noticed, Wednesday's game left no one in any doubt: Gnabry is absolutely lethal.
Left foot or right, close range or long, he can rifle a shot into the corner before you can blink. His nine Champions League goals this term mark him out as Bayern's secondary goal threat behind Lewandowski—and he's managed that tally from just eight starts!
His reliability in front of goal and when playing the final pass seems to have cemented his spot in the XI ahead of fellow speedster Kingsley Coman, and don't be surprised if he pops up with another huge goal in the final.
Kylian Mbappe, PSG
PSG with and without Mbappe are two vastly different entities. Without him, Neymar has to work overtime and he lacks runners to pick out. But with him, the speed and runs Mbappe offers—in addition to his finishing prowess—gives PSG a sharp edge in the final third few can deal with.
It won't have escaped Mbappe's attention that Bayern play with a very high defensive line and leave space in behind to exploit—space which Mbappe would revel in.
That's probably the most obvious tactical trigger point that helps decide this final, as Bayern won't alter their approach even in the face of one of the quickest, deadliest forwards in the game. Just how effectively can he make use of that space?
Ivan Perisic, Bayern
Perisic has had to work hard to force his way into this XI, existing as a backup option for most of the season, but has found form at the most pivotal time, looking excellent against all three of Chelsea, Barcelona and Lyon.
His battle with Kehrer on the flank will be physical and combative, and the difficulty with containing Perisic is that he can use either foot so well, he's a danger from any position or angle.
The superb timing of his runs down the left in transition and the sheer velocity with which he slams balls into the six-yard box has led to goals being scored and created. He's not Bayern's biggest threat, but ignore him at your peril.
Neymar's free central role against Atalanta in the quarter-finals took him into the No. 9 position fairly often, pushing Mauro Icardi to the right flank (where he offered very little).
With Di Maria and Mbappe back in the starting XI vs. RB Leipzig, Thomas Tuchel furthered that experiment by bencing Icardi and playing Neymar through the centre. It worked like a charm.
So we approach the Champions League final with the very real possibility of Neymar playing in the centre of the front three again, where he has been incredibly effective so far.
A lack of finishing touch notwithstanding, he's looked beyond world-class, destroying both opponents in Lisbon so far. Neymar's reminded us all that when he decides to win a game, he goes and wins it—and there's little you can do to stop it.
Robert Lewandowski, Bayern
Lewandowski's late header to top a 3-0 semi-final win took him to 15 Champions League goals for the season. He's now a hat-trick in the final away from Cristiano Ronaldo's record of 17 goals, and he'll complete the campaign having played two fewer games due to coronavirus.
He represents the ultimate No. 9 right now, looking the best he's ever looked, combining predatory finishing with an array of clever flicks and passes to help create goals too.
His relationship with Muller and his understanding of Goretzka's runs and timings is part of what makes this Bayern attack feel so relentless, so fast-paced, and so unstoppable at times.
PSG total score: 90/110
There are a couple of question marks hanging over PSG's XI for the final. Will Verratti start, or will Ander Herrera continue in his place? Will Icardi return to the starting lineup, or will Tuchel turn to Idrissa Gueye?
No matter what Tuchel decides to do, he's offering out the weaker side of the two—on paper. He'll have to produce the better gameplan, and rely on better execution, to compensate.
Bayern total score: 99/110
Bayern look every bit the best team in the world right now, and the scores pretty much back that up. There's no weak link, the depth is superb and they have difference-makers across the pitch.
They walk into the final as favourites, having won 10 Champions League games in a row, but still need to play to the maximum of their abilities to defeat a PSG side fuelled by world-class attacking talent.
Final Prediction: PSG 2-3 Bayern Munich
All statistics via WhoScored.com