The dash to conclude the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League season comes to a close Sunday. German giants Bayern Munich face off against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League final. One club will get to lift the famous trophy in front of the empty stands at the Estádio da Luz in Lisbon, Portugal.
Both teams faced a rather unprecedented road to get to this point in the competition as the coronavirus pandemic interrupted the normal course of action of two-legged ties. In their place was a series of one-legged ties all set to take place in the country where the final was scheduled to happen.
Stars will be aplenty in Sunday’s final as the attacking duo of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe face off against Bayern’s machine that includes Robert Lewandowski, breakout start Serge Gnabry and a rising star in Alphonso Davies.
1. Paris Saint-Germain are in after years of heartbreak
PSG’s trip to the final is its first ever in club history, and it immediately proceeds their first European semifinal in 25 years. The Parisians were perhaps more known for their ability to choke in the early stages of the tournament. From 2013-2016, they were stopped in the quarterfinals every year they got to that point in the competition. The following seasons were even worse as they were eliminated in the Round of 16 three consecutive times. This year’s narrative-changing campaign has landed them in their first European final in their 110th game of the competition, which is the most played by a side before reaching their first final — previous record was Arsenal, which was 90 games from 1971-2006.
2. Bayern finally break through again
While the frustrations haven’t exactly been on the same level as PSG’s, the Bundesliga side has dealt with their own issues in breaking through a certain part of the tournament in recent years. From 2014-2018 they lost four straight semifinal ties. The year after that stretch, they were knocked out by eventual champions Liverpool. All it took for them to break through after a seven year absence from the final was becoming one of the most dominant European teams in recent memory.
3. Neymar, the facilitator
The Brazilian winger’s recent Champions League performances may have been categorized by his inability to be an effective goal-scorer, but perhaps it’d be better for him to focus on being a facilitator so his missed opportunities don’t rack up on him. His magical back heel assist to Angel Di Maria on Tuesday was the latest example of his talent in helping teammates put the ball in the back of the net.
It was his 24th career assist in the Champions League since his debut in the 2013-14 season. Since that year, no other player has recorded more assists in this competition than the Brazilian star. The next highest is Cristiano Ronaldo with 21, teammate Di Maria with 18 and former teammate Luis Suarez with 16.
4. Lewandowski’s goal scoring is breaking records
When the Bayern Munich striker headed in his team’s third goal against Lyon on Wednesday, it meant a few good things. First, it naturally meant that the match against their opponents was officially put away. Second, it tied a club record with legend Gerd Muller for the most goals in a single season — Muller’s record was set in the 1972-73 season. On top of that, it tied Lewandowski third all-time with Cristiano Ronaldo for most Champions League goals scored in a single season with 15. The Portuguese star and the Polish striker are the only two players since 1955 to score 15 or more goals in a single European campaign. Should Lewandowski score a double on Sunday, he’ll tie Ronaldo’s single-competition record; a hat trick, and it’s all him.
5. History is not kind for PSG
As previously mentioned, this is the first time Paris Saint-Germain will be in the Champions League final in club history. If history is any indication, they probably won’t be leaving Lisbon with the trophy. The last six first-time Champions League finalists have lost their debut finals appearance. Tottenham lost to Liverpool in 2019, Chelsea lost to Manchester United in 2008 — though they came the closest as the game went to penalties — Arsenal lost to Barcelona in 2006, Monaco lost to Porto in 2004, Bayer Leverkusen lost to Real Madrid in 2002 and Valencia also lost to Madrid in 2000. But this situation is not without precedent. In 1997, Borussia Dortmund defeated Juventus in their first ever Champions League final. It is possible, but recent history dictates it’s unlikely.