Charles Onwuakpa writes a detailed Tactical Analysis of the UEFA Champions League Final that ended PSG 0-1 Bayern Munich.
Despite months of uncertainty throughout the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic and leagues being temporarily or permanently suspended, the 2019/20 season officially came to an end with the Champions league final between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich in Lisbon.
This event will go down in the history of football for two reasons:
- it was played behind closed doors, as UEFA wisely prevented fans from attending due to safety issues;
- it was played in an alternative venue: in order to complete both European club competitions before the end of August, UEFA decided to scrap the second legs of the quarter-finals and semi-finals in favour of one-legged tournaments, with all Champions League games hosted in the Portuguese capital.
Kingsley Coman was the match-winner for Bayern after heading in a cross from Joshua Kimmich in the 59th minute: the Germans weren’t at their best offensively and PSG had the best chances overall (especially in the first half), but the former controlled possession for large stages of the game while the latter was unable to react after the goal.
PSG (4-3-3): Navas; Kehrer, Thiago Silva, Kimpembe, Bernat; Herrera, Marquinhos, Paredes; Di María, Neymar, Mbappé.
Bayern Munich (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Kimmich, Boateng, Alaba, Davies; Goretzka, Thiago; Gnabry, Müller, Coman; Lewandowski.
Thomas Tuchel kept faith in the starting eleven that defeated Leipzig in the semi-final; meanwhile, Hansi Flick surprisingly replaced Ivan Perišić with Coman in an otherwise unchanged XI from their previous match against Lyon.
Bayern’s aggressive start in the first half
Pressing has been a key tactical concept for Bayern since Flick’s appointment in November 2019: his team attempt to win the ball back in their opposition half while maintaining a very high defensive line in order to remain vertically compact and was largely effective in these situations during the first half, especially in the opening eight minutes.
A major point of concern for the German side before the final was that PSG could have exploited their high line much better than Barca and Lyon did in the previous rounds due to the tremendous pace of Kylian Mbappé plus the elite passing of Neymar and Ángel Di María in transition, but Bayern reacted very well during these phases and always had two (or even four) players ready to restrain Mbappé and Neymar.
PSG high pressing scheme and mid block
After Bayern’s positive start in the early stages, Tuchel’s side enjoyed a twenty-minute spell in which they were the better side on both ends.
PSG often pressed Bayern’s buildup phases during this period with a defensive shape that resembled a 4-2-3-1: Neymar – whose work rate in these situations was impressive – split both centre-backs while pressuring Neuer on the ball; Mbappé and Di María started in narrow positions and curved their pressing runs to cut off the passing angles towards the full-backs, while PSG relied on man orientations in midfield with Ander Herrera responsible for marking Thiago (who was often Bayern’s deepest midfielder).
The French side won the ball back well through this pressing scheme, especially on the right wing when Alphonso Davies was in possession.
Tuchel’s men mainly attacked in transition and their best chance during the first half was in the 17th minute: a poor touch by Gnabry under pressure from Kimpembe lead to a Bayern turnover and a good counterattack for PSG; Marquinhos picked out Mbappé in the left channel and the latter assisted Neymar with a short pass in the space behind Boateng (who was latter subbed off due to injury) and Alaba.
Neuer made a great first save, but the second one in this sequence was even better: he effectively spread his body while diving to prevent the cutback for Di María, who was in front of an open goal.
Their second best opportunity arrived in the 22nd minute: a header from Herrera after a clearance by Paredes lead to a quick one-two between Neymar and Mbappé with the former orchestrating a counterattack: ultimately Di María was unable to keep his shot on target and blasted the ball above Neuer, but Mbappé did even worse during this sequence as he made an off-ball run through the middle rather than in the space on the left channel.
PSG subsequently retreated into a 4-5-1 shape for the rest of the first half: the narrow positioning of their midfield and Marquinhos’ excellent defensive screening made it often difficult for Bayern to penetrate and attack through the centre; when the Germans were able to do so, Paris’ centre-backs quickly stepped out to apply pressure on the receivers between the lines and were successful in doing so despite Flick’s front four often interchanging their positions.
Bayern’s main attacks and chances in the first half came through the wide areas: Lewandowski intercepted a cross from Davies and took a shot on the turn, but was unlucky to hit the left post in the 21st minute; nine minutes later, his headed attempt on Müller’s cross from the opposite wing was easily saved by Keylor Navas.
Their primary attacking option was Coman, who looked lively in 1v1s with Kehrer on the left wing but lacked precision in his final ball; Davies’ contribution on the same flank was quite underwhelming: he lost possession in his own half a couple of times and seemed quite vulnerable defensively (he was booked for a clumsy foul on Kehrer and nutmegged by Di María in the space of two minutes).
The first half ended 0-0 despite a poor clearance from Alaba in the 44th minute which almost gifted Mbappé with a good chance inside the box, but the latter’s shot was too weak to worry Neuer.
Bayern control possession in the second half
The second half started more or less how the first half had ended: Bayern controlled possession (62%) while PSG defended in a mid block.
Unlike in the first half, though, Tuchel’s side failed to recover the ball with their high pressing scheme: this was partly due to fatigue and partly due to Thiago, who stepped up in his passing game and orchestrated Bayern’s buildup phases with elite playmaking: he started the sequence that lead to Coman’s goal with a fantastic progressive pass between the lines for Kimmich.
Despite a few chances created by Di María (in particular a shot from Marquinhos inside the box which was well saved by Neuer in the 69th minute), PSG were unable to react when 1-0 down and Bayern controlled the rest of the game without creating further goalscoring opportunities.
Both managers’ in-game decisions in the second half were questionable: Flick subbed off his wingers in the 68th minute, but Coutinho or Perišić failed to have any offensive impact in this game.
While it made sense to replace Gnabry, who was poor on the ball and looked a bit nervous in the second half, the decision to sub off Coman was inexplicable given the Frenchman’s level of confidence after his goal and his ability to create three threatening situations between the 61st and 64th minute.
On the other hand, Tuchel’s changes failed to impact on the scoreline: despite an attacking lineup in the closing stages of the game, PSG were unable to create clear-cut chances except for a missed flick by Choupo-Moting after a counterattack in the 91st minute and only managed one shot on target in the second half; it was also quite surprising that Tuchel didn’t bring on Icardi despite having five substitutions at his disposal.
Bayern were crowned European champions for the 6th time in their history and achieved their second treble in the last ten seasons: both were deserved results for the excellent job that Flick has done since his appointment, initially as a caretaker and then on a permanent basis: the German side won 21 consecutive games in all competitions since the restart of football during the COVID-19 pandemic and won each of their 11 Champions League games this season with an incredible tally of 43 goals scored.
On the other hand, PSG were unlucky in the decisive moments of a relatively even game and ultimately came short of the trophy due to a poor performance in the second half (especially from Neymar and Mbappé), but Tuchel’s side showed resilience and cohesion throughout the “Final Eight” tournament that was missing in previous seasons and will be one of the favourites to win it next season.
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