Key battles for UEFA Champions League final
The UEFA Champions League final is set to kick off on Sunday, with a pair of giants battling for all the glory in the world’s preeminent club competition: PSG - Bayern Munich.
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Below is a look at three key battles, as well as how to watch and follow all of the Champions League semifinal fixtures in the USA.
How to watch, stream Champions League final: PSG - Bayern Munich
PSG - Bayern Munich: Marquinhos v. Robert Lewandowski/Thomas Mueller
This matchup is a concept we discussed prior to the semifinals, and Lyon actually managed to limit the overall impact of Lewandowski and Mueller — at least directly — quite well. Their biggest issue and ultimately their undoing — something we discussed — was what came next: the central duo drew so much attention and help that Serge Gnabry and Alphonso Davies had a field day out wide. Gnabry got goals no. 1 and 2 for Bayern, and the extra space he enjoyed en route to doing so was largely due to the mere presence of Lewandowski and Mueller.
It’s about as close to a no-win situation as exists: take away Lewandowski and Mueller, Bayern have the wide players to eviscerate you anyway; take away the wide areas, Lewandowski and Mueller will be left with one-on-one matchups and torch you themselves. No one in the world will be envying PSG’s back-five once the whistle blows on Sunday.
PSG - Bayern Munich: Angel di Maria v. Alphonso Davies
Di Maris has never — as in, not once in his career — been accused of having a single defense-minded bone in his body, but he’s going to be of the utmost importance to PSG’s defensive game plan against Bayern. Fortunately for the Argentine winger, “the best defense is a great offense” applies in this instance.
It is abundantly clear for the world to see just how important Davies is to the Bayern attack — the width he provides on the left side pulls opponents all out of shape and opens up avenues that otherwise wouldn’t exist. So, how is Di Maria, a 32-year-old winger who rarely retreats to his own half of the field, supposed to stop that? Stop it once it’s already in motion, he won’t. But, prevent Davies from ever getting started, he might be able to do.
PSG must play through Di Maria at every opportunity, because the more he’s on the ball in the final third, the more Davies will be forced back and made to work defensively — it’s the part of his game that’s still, shall we say, maturing. If Davies has to sprint 60 yards upfield to make the overlapping run, his impact will be less severe and more infrequent. Di Maria put forth a throwback performance, to a time when he was one of the best attackers in the world, with a goal and two assists in the semifinal. Just in time for his toughest test yet.
PSG - Bayern Munich: Leandro Paredes v. Thiago Alcantara
PSG thrashed RB Leipzig in the semifinals, not on the backs of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar — both of whom were quite good on the night — but largely thanks to a pair of Argentines, Di Maria and Paredes.
It was Paredes who carved Leipzig to pieces and pulled just about everyone out of their proper positioning. He was instrumental in creating space for those higher up the field but find his own space deeper in midfield, areas where he could take his time on the ball and pick the perfect pass. Nine times out of 10 against Leipzig, he dropped it on a dime.
Interestingly enough, Thiago acted as something of a destroyer for Bayern as they breezed past Lyon. The Spaniard won six tackles (most in the game) and made a pair of key interceptions around his own penalty area. A few years ago, Thiago wouldn’t have been up to the challenge of defensively containing someone of Paredes’ caliber on his very best day, but he’s a more well-rounded player than most people give him credit for. Speaking of toughest tests faced to date, this is a big one for Thiago in what will likely be his final game for Bayern.