Reigning champions Bayern Munich prepare to take on old foes and last season’s beaten finalists Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday night.
Nearly eight months have passed since Kingsley Coman propelled Bayern to European glory with a 1-0 win over PSG in the 2019-20 final, and the two giants head into this game following contrasting fortunes in their domestic ventures.
Bayern’s quest for a ninth Bundesliga title gathered steam with a 1-0 win over RB Leipzig, but PSG’s trophy hopes took yet another significant hit with defeat to Lille by the same scoreline.
Bayern’s sheer dominance of the European football scene culminated in former PSG protege Coman scoring the vital goal in the 2019-20 Champions League final – becoming the first player in history to net against his former club in the showpiece event – and Hansi Flick’s side are in no position to let their adversaries wrestle the crown off their hands now.
The Bavarian giants were handed a rather favourable tie against Lazio in the last-16 stage, and a 6-2 aggregate victory saw the holders brush aside their Italian counterparts on their way to another quarter-final appearance, and they have only failed to advance past this stage twice in the past nine seasons.
With 18 victories from their last 19 outings in the Champions League under their belt – the outlier being a 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid on December 1 – Bayern could become only the second team in history to string together a 20-match unbeaten run in the tournament, following in the footsteps of Manchester United between 2007 and 2009.
During that run, the Bundesliga, European and World champions have come up trumps eight times in a row at the fortress that is the Allianz Arena, and since Flick took charge, the 56-year-old has witnessed his side notch up 54 goals and concede just 11 in the Champions League, although the loss of Robert Lewandowski could have a significant impact on their attacking prowess.
However, Bayern did not need their prolific Pole to get over the line in their most recent encounter, as midfield lynchpin Leon Goretzka propelled them to a narrow 1-0 success over title rivals RB Leipzig with a 38th-minute winner – a result which saw them open up a seven-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga table.
It has not all been plain sailing for Bayern in the 2020-21 top-flight campaign, and cementing their position atop the rankings without Lewandowski leading the line would be no mean feat, but Flick’s side must forget about their domestic fortunes for the time being as they aim to channel the spirits of the 1970s team, who won three European crowns in a row between 1974 and 1976.
Aside from Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid, lifting the Champions League trophy aloft two years running is almost unheard of nowadays, but many will already be placing bets on Bayern marching to their seventh European title amid an inspirational run of form.
The 30-time national champions have not suffered defeat on their own patch in any competition since being beaten 2-1 by Bayer Leverkusen all the way back in November 2019 – when a full arena of fans was not just a pipe dream – and the Bayern faithful would dearly love to be in attendance for Wednesday’s first leg, but there may be hope for spectators taking their seats for the final.
Of course, Bayern are still some way from reaching the showpiece event once again, but having found the back of the net in 63 successive matches across all competitions, PSG’s faltering crop cannot afford to read too much into the absence of Lewandowski this week.
PSG have their own effervescent forward in Kylian Mbappe aiming to break more records in the Champions League, but the 22-year-old was powerless to stop his side falling to a 1-0 defeat to Lille as the Ligue 1 title race continues to throw up twists and turns in every gameweek.
Jonathan David was the hero of the hour for Les Dogues as Neymar was sent off late on for a skirmish with Tiago Djalo, who also received his marching orders, and Mauricio Pochettino may be sitting rather uncomfortably in the PSG hotseat right now, as the Argentine will be fully aware of what can happen to those who fail to lead Les Parisiens to domestic glory.
Pochettino’s side had only just regained top spot before being dethroned by Lille – who have opened up a three-point gap at the summit with their win in Paris – and while a fourth consecutive Ligue 1 title is of paramount importance to PSG, that elusive first Champions League crown is the real prize that Leonardo and co so crave.
PSG’s 4-1 triumph in Barcelona sent shockwaves through the footballing world as Mbappe made Camp Nou his playground in front of a disconsolate Lionel Messi, and even though Pochettino’s side could not replicate their performance in Catalonia on home soil, a 1-1 draw was enough to see the French giants advance to the last eight for just the second time in the past five seasons.
Les Parisiens had fallen at the last-16 stage three seasons in a row between 2016 and 2019 before their unsuccessful venture last year, but with a mere two wins to boast from their last five games across all competitions, Pochettino’s side need an immediate injection of confidence before their short trip to Bavaria.
The visitors can certainly take inspiration from their away form, though, as they have won their last seven on the road across all competitions, scoring 19 goals and conceding a mere three in that time, and PSG have also marched to victory in five of their last six Champions League games on unfamiliar territory.
Incredibly, Bayern’s 1-0 win over PSG in the 2019-20 final represents the only time that the French champions have failed to find the back of the net in their last 43 Champions League matches, and with both Neymar and Mbappe equally desperate to conquer Europe, not even Flick’s defence may be able to contain two of Europe’s brightest attackers this week.
However, PSG have already faced the reigning European champions twice before, and on both occasions they lost, with AC Milan sending them packing in the 1994-95 semi-finals before Real Madrid came up trumps in their last-16 battle during the 2017-18 season.
The now-departed Thomas Tuchel was the man who led PSG to the showpiece event last summer, and Pochettino has already masterminded Tottenham Hotspur’s path to the Champions League final, but the Argentine also witnessed Bayern breach his Lilywhites defence seven times in October 2019 and will be determined to banish those nightmares at the Allianz Arena.