The grand return of UEFA’s Champions League is now less than a month away, with the remaining legs from the round of sixteen being played on the 7th & 8th of August. While Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester City and Juventus will finish their League seasons by mid-late July, teams from France and Germany will go into this year’s delayed Tournament without any recent game time.
Bayern Munich played their last competitive match on Saturday the 4th of July, in the DFB Pokal final against Bayer Leverkusen. Even though they have zero friendlies currently scheduled between now and when they play Chelsea on the 7th or 8th of August, they still go into the UCL considerably more match sharp than Paris Saint Germain.
The French club played their last competitive match over 120 days ago, defeating Borussia Dortmund in the second leg of the UCL at the Parc des Princes. PSG have gone from looking like one of the top 2 favourites to a very unpredictable team. The raw facts paint a far from an ideal situation
Since the suspension and subsequent abandonment of Ligue 1, PSG had been forced into isolation with the rest of France. As reported by Goal, PSG only returned to training on the 22nd of June. Out of all the remaining clubs in the UCL, this was the latest date for a club to return to training. For context, Olympique Lyon returned to training on the 8th of June. Manchester City had already played two competitive matches. While a usual off-season or holiday period for a professional footballer is just 4-6 weeks, the PSG players did not train together for 3 months,
It was revealed during this offseason that 3 separate PSG players had tested positive for Covid-19. It has not yet been stated which players these included, but they could have already left the club. This is because PSG’s starting RB, Thomas Meunier, and superstar striker Edinson Cavani, did not extend their contracts past their deadlines of June 30th. Meunier has joined Borussia Dortmund while Cavani remains a free agent. This leaves Le Parisiens with Colin Dagba at RB, a 21-year-old who has not played more than 10 games in the 19/20 Ligue 1 season. Meanwhile, should Kylian Mbappe or Mauro Icardi get injured, their replacement will be Eric Choupo-Moting.
What makes this year’s tournament more interesting is that UEFA announced, due to Covid-19, the quarter-finals & semi-finals will be played in single-leg ties. To add to this, UEFA will allow teams to make 5 substitutions within the 90 minutes, with a further sub allowed in extra time. However, for PSG, this means they could struggle even more.
PSG have already lost 2 starting players. Angel Di Maria will also be suspended for the quarter-final against Atalanta, after being booked against Dortmund. This is amongst the departures of young talent, including Adil Aouchiche and Tanguy Nianzou. PSG now lack depth, with a current inability to replace it.
Even though PSG demolished Le Havre 9-0 in a friendly yesterday, the club only has 2 more friendlies scheduled before the match against Atalanta. The game takes place between the 12th and 15th of August. While club images show the players appear to be happy training together, manager Thomas Tuchel will have his work cut out. He will be comforted by Neymar’s comments in June, where the Brazilian said he “was determined to make history” with PSG.
The German manager also saw his contract extended by one year, meaning Tuchel should remain as PSG manager until June 2021. However, if his team cannot make up for the loss of depth and relatively drastic lack of match fitness, Tuchel could find himself leaving Paris earlier than expected. While Atalanta on paper are the weakest side in the competition, they obliterated Valencia 8-4 on aggregate in the round of 16. If PSG are caught off-pace, they could be embarrassed.
Compared to this, Bayern Munich look in a steadier situation. The Bundesliga was the first major European League to resume after the suspension of football continent-wide. This meant that Bayern Munich and fellow UCL competitors Leipzig played football before anyone else left in UEFA’s competition.
Bayern will be coming off more of a high than PSG as well. Rather than their League being abandoned, Hanzi Flick’s men were crowned German champions on the 16th of June, with two games left to play of the league season. They also won the DFB Pokal cup final, as last Saturday they beat Bayer Leverkusen 4-2. All this success leads some to believe Bayern are the heavy favourites for the UCL. Indeed, the Bundesliga website wrote an article supporting the idea Bayern Munich could win the treble. To add to this, it has been confirmed by UEFA that the second leg of their round of sixteen tie vs Chelsea will take place in Munich. Yet things will be made harder by the enforced break.
Currently, Bayern Munich have no friendlies scheduled for the month of July. It was even reported that since the cup final, most of the squad has gone on a holiday. Defender Niklas Sule was the only player to remain as he wanted to do some extra work with his fitness coach. Hanzi Flick painted this as a positive thing, saying to Bundesliga, “Niklas wanted to train, I think that’s good, The ten days will do him good with a view to preparing for the Champions League.”
According to Kicker, the club’s plan is to give the players 12 days off following the cup final. They will then train from home, before returning to training as a group and organise a friendly before the Chelsea game. However, this is dangerously relaxed. When Liverpool had a 3-week gap between the end of the Premier League season and their UCL final in 2019, Jurgen Klopp put the squad through a mini pre-season during this time. The club flew to Spain, with a full training camp prepared.
Meanwhile, Bayern have less than 30 days until they will face Chelsea. While they will be returning from holiday and training at home, Chelsea, plus most of Europe, will be getting valuable match minutes. Chelsea’s last league game is scheduled for the 26th of July against Wolves, meaning they will have far more recent game time than the Bavarians. Even though they are 3-0 behind in the tie, they will surely have the advantage in terms of fitness and sharpness.
Even if Bayern sweep aside Chelsea, the rest of Europe will be far sharper. If Bayern go through to the quarters, they will face either Napoli or Barcelona. Both teams will finish their domestic seasons nearer the end of July, meaning they will come back less rusty than the Bavarians.
Even though they have dominated domestically, any prospects about them winning the competition should be tampered with the bold planning they have in place. Robert Lewandowski and his teammates may not be in the form they were in this past Bundesliga season and do not be surprised if this is shown up against the sharper sides across Europe
Written by Alex Barker | Feature Image by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images
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