Forget the final. The Champions League showdown last year was a shadow of the match many were hoping for, with the lure of silverware ultimately weighing heavy on the many superstars who graced the Estadio da Luz pitch in August.
Kingsley Coman had his moment to remember, but it was an otherwise unmemorable final to add to 2019, 2003, and perhaps a handful more in between.
Kingsley Coman of FC Bayern Munich lifts the Champions League Trophy following his team’s victory in the UEFA Champions League Final match between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich at Estadio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica on August 23, 2020 in Lisbon, Por
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The stage is different, and while there will be no Robert Lewandowski or Serge Gnabry for Bayern in the first leg, PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino was not in the dugout the last time these two sides met either.
“The final is not a benchmark match for us, we weren’t there with my staff, we were just spectators,” Pochettino said ahead of Wednesday’s first leg in Munich.
“In addition, it’s going to be played over two matches, the context is different. Revenge exists in sport but for us it’s more of a challenge to beat such a strong team, maybe the best in the world. It’s a source of motivation.”
Mauricio Pochettino face au LOSC
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Two-legged European football is a different beast. Double the time means more opportunities for mistakes to be amended and scorelines to be reversed, and with the finish line a little further from sight, this match-up over the next two weeks has the potential to be everything the final was not.
Bar that final, PSG have scored at least once in their last 43 Champions League games, while since the beginning of 2016-17, only Bayern (2.8) have averaged more goals in the competition than the French champions (2.5).
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That brings with it the promise of a fascinating tie, so too the loss of Lewandowski for Bayern in the first leg, as it only enhances PSG’s chances of coming away with a positive result.
Pochettino will still be torn, however. Push too hard and they could face a deficit too difficult to overturn in Paris, but snatch victory at the Allianz and PSG will then be favourites to advance.
It adds another layer of intrigue to this contest, and it is preying on Pochettino’s mind.
“We respect them, but we have faith in our ability and we’ve come here to win,” he said.
Bayern are a very well-organised team, playing with a high defensive line and with attacking players able to win a game individually. We will have to find the right balance, not overcommit and be careful not to lose the ball in dangerous areas.
“People talk a lot about Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, but the 11 players I decide to put out there will be trusted to do the work needed for us to win. Last season was a final. This is different, it’s a two-legged tie.”
Balance is key, but if they really are heading to Bayern with the will to win, then it could easily go one of two ways. The neutrals among us will hopefully be satisfied no matter what.