Champions League final: Why Alphonso Davies will be focal point vs. PSG

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Lyon's Karl Toko Ekambi, left, duels for the ball with Bayern's Alphonso Davies during the Champions League semifinal at the Jose Alvalade stadium in Lisbon, Portugal, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. (Franck Fife/Pool via AP)

The 2019-20 UEFA Champions League wraps up on Sunday, 425 days after it began, with Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain clashing in the final.

Bayern will participate in its 11th final having won 10 straight matches in the Champions League, equalling the record-longest streak. The Bavarians have also triumphed in 28 of their last 29 games in all competitions.

PSG, on the other hand, qualified for its first-ever final on the back of a dominant win over another German side in RB Leipzig in the semifinals.

This will be the first meeting between domestic champions in a European Cup final in 22 years and it should be a thriller between two of the most entertaining sides in the competition.

Here’s what you should expect in Sunday’s final.

Alphonso Davies will be the focus, one way or another

Canadian fans will have extra incentive to watch the match for Alphonso Davies. He’ll be the first male Canadian international to play in a Champions League final and could become one of the youngest-ever defenders to lift the trophy if Bayern Munich triumphs.

Given how involved Davies is in Bayern’s attacking buildup, he’ll surely be a key figure. When looking at the 19-year-old’s statistical radar below, his expected goals buildup (xGBuildup, a metric that determines a player’s involvement in a scoring chance, except for possessions when he attempts the final shot or pass) is elite. His deep progressions and successful dribbles are equally excellent, too.

Davies will likely have freedom to push forward on the left flank again, as PSG right-back Thilo Kehrer is more conservatively positioned. However, Kehrer will have protection from the right-sided midfielder – Ander Herrera or Idrissa Gueye – to help combat Davies’ forward runs.

The Canadian will also have to be extra cautious. While Lyon and Barcelona didn’t punish Bayern when they attacked Davies’ wing, there were several occasions when the young full-back was caught out of position, with his recovery speed failing to aid him.

Most of Lyon’s attacks were generated on Bayern’s left wing, and Les Gones should’ve profited if not for some abysmal finishing.

Angel Di Maria, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar all have the pace, technique and vision to exploit Bayern’s high defensive line. It’s able to function in part by Davies’ never-ending runs up and down the pitch, with David Alaba usually covering for the Canadian in case the Bundesliga champions are hit on the counter. However, PSG’s attack is a far more difficult proposition than Lyon’s. If the latter was able to get in behind Davies and create chances, surely their fellow French outfit will be more clinical in front of goal.

Either way, Davies will be a focal point in the game. Whether it’s to the benefit or detriment of Bayern is unknown.

How will PSG set up in midfield?

Bayern Munich will surely stick with its midfield trio of Thiago Alcantara, Leon Goretzka and Thomas Muller. However, PSG will have Marco Verratti available, meaning they could line up differently compared to their previous two games.

PSG coach Thomas Tuchel could choose to start Verratti or Leandro Paredes – both of whom are conductors on the ball – with Herrera and Gueye so that PSG has two midfielders who’ll cover lots of ground and pressure Bayern off the ball.

It’s just as likely that Tuchel opts for more capable passers, so Paredes and Verratti may start together with Marquinhos, who’d anchor the midfield and is an underrated orchestrator himself.

The latter would be ideal since Neymar would operate in a free role up front, thus creating more passing options for PSG to bypass Bayern’s high press, just like the semifinal against RB Leipzig.

Lewandowski vs. Neymar

If the Ballon d’Or was awarded this year, Robert Lewandowski would be one of the favourites. The Polish striker has scored 55 goals across all competitions and is closing in on a pair of Champions League records.

Serge Gnabry was the man of the match in the win over Lyon in the semifinals, but Lewandowski is the dangerman for Bayern due to his scoring prowess.

On PSG’s side, Neymar has been contributing in multiple facets of the game. He’s running at defenders to unlock space, providing assists and has been key to the Parisians’ progress in the Champions League.

While Neymar has been unlucky in front of goal, he’s bound to score if he keeps registering quality shots.

One reason why PSG overwhelmed RB Leipzig was Neymar’s positioning in the left half-space. Nordi Mukiele, Conrad Laimer and Kevin Kampl didn’t know which of them should mark the Brazilian. He capitalized because of the confusion, although he’d also roam centrally and swap positions with Mbappe.

That’s something Bayern’s players need to figure out entering the final, or else they’ll be punished as well.

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