Bayern Munich 2-3 Paris Saint-Germain
A showdown between Europe’s top two in a re-run of last season’s Champions League final, I had long been looking forward to this encounter.
While I fully anticipated Champions League 2021 highlights, I did not expect snow (in April), three goals and three substitutions all before half time.
And that was only part of the story!
Highlights of the game
From the outset, this was a spectacle to behold.
Within the first few minutes, Bayern Munich had twice gone close in quick succession. First, Lucas Hernández saw an effort deflected away, then from the resulting corner, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (leading the line in the absence of Robert Lewandowski) headed onto the bar.
Straight down the other end and Paris St-Germain stunned the hosts.
Events in Ligue 1 at the weekend showed Neymar has not learned from past mistakes and is still a petulant figure, yet few can deny his talent and it was the Brazilian who fed Kylian Mbappe who emphatically drilled a low finish under Manuel Neuer.
Bur for a flag, PSG would have quickly doubled their advantage but Mbappe had strained offside before finding Julian Draxler to apply the finish.
Keylor Navas, a regular winner of the tournament with Real Madrid, then showed his mettle to keep out a Leon Goretzka header and a Benjamin Pavard shot.
As if to prove the minuscule differences between teams at this level, Les Parisiens promptly went down the other end and did add a second.
Neymar again played the key ball and this time his compatriot Marquinhos controlled with his first touch before clinically converting with his second.
The defender appeared to have injured himself after scoring and was soon replaced by ex-Man Utd man Ander Herrera, while Goretzka also left the fray with Alphonso Davies introduced.
The European champions needed a quick response and got it when Choupo-Moting powered home a header to reduce the arrears.
A second substitution followed for Bayern as Niklas Sule was replaced by Jerome Boateng, a player coach Hans Flick has placed much faith in.
As the players returned to the dressing room at the end of a breathless opening 45 minutes, the only question was, what could possibly happen next?
More of the same as it turned out.
Neymar was denied by Neuer, then Navas pushed away David Alaba’s low strike.
On the hour and the champions showed their character to draw level as Joshua Kimmich whipped a free kick into the danger zone and the evergreen Thomas Muller guided a fine header beyond the Costa Rican custodian.
At that point Bayern, appearing in the Champions League quarter-finals for a record 19th time (one more than Barcelona), looked like the only winner, just as in the showpiece last summer.
Yet, just eight minutes later with the Germans in the ascendancy, PSG re-took the lead for what proved to be the first leg winner. It was Mbappe – the scourge of Barcelona in the last round – who was on target again as he swept the ball between the legs of Boateng into the bottom corner.
Still, the Bundesliga leaders fought back as Alaba drove a low effort just wide.
As the clock ticked into the closing stages it was staggering to think Bayern had produced 31 attempts on goal, while PSG had netted from three of their five shots on target, but the French champions had shown their clinical side.
This contest is far from over, but Paris St-Germain have three massive away goals and the SBOTOP Champions League 2021 betting odds are too close to call ahead what could be an equally thrilling second leg.
Mbappe’s opener after 149 seconds was the earliest Bayern have conceded in a Champions League knockout match since March 2010, when Wayne Rooney scored past them after 63 seconds.
Mbappe has scored eight goals in this season’s Champions League, the joint-most by a French player in a single campaign in the competition, moving level with Wissam Ben Yedder in 2017-18 and David Trezeguet in 2001-02.
Since making his competition debut in the 2013-14 campaign, Neymar has assisted 25 goals in the Champions League, the most of any player in this period.
PSG’s five wins over their opponents is the most they have enjoyed against any team in the Champions League.
This was Flick’s first home defeat since a 2-1 loss against Leverkusen in November 2019.
Bayern’s record in the Champions League since Flick took charge reads 56 goals scored and only 14 conceded across 15 wins, one draw and one defeat.
It’s a quick turnaround before the second leg in Paris next Tuesday night (April 13). Before then, Bayern host Union Berlin in the Bundesliga on Saturday afternoon, while PSG are at Strasbourg in Ligue 1, also on Saturday afternoon.
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