What Bayern Munich and PSG’s common goal tells us about the state of the Champions League

Sometimes opposites can have the most in common. Bayern Munich are European aristocracy, six-time champions of the continent, a dynastic club. Paris Saint-Germain are the nouveaux riches, paying prices Bayern long considered obscene and yet never winning the Champions League. They are Qatari owned, Bayern Bavarian to their core, even ending their much-criticised sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways.

And yet they are also inextricably linked, sharing a particular position. A Champions League campaign can define anyone’s season and, in various ways, Europe has become central to the identity of clubs as different as Real Madrid and Manchester City; but arguably Champions League campaigns define every season at Bayern and PSG more than anywhere else.

Theirs is the curious plight of the superclub in a domestic league with no real peers. They have rivals, principally Borussia Dortmund and Marseille, but not equals: the gulf in resources is too great. Bayern are in a second successive competitive title race in the Bundesliga, beaten 3-0 by Bayer Leverkusen and now trailing them by five points, but they have won it 11 times in a row. PSG have won Ligue 1 nine times out of 11; it will soon be 10 from 12. Their economic advantage in their own country means they are judged still more by Europe. Statement signings can seem designed for the signature achievement of conquering the continent, whether Harry Kane for Bayern last year or Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar in Paris Saint-Germain’s past.

And Champions League knockout ties mean the success or failure of a year is disproportionately likely to come down to 180 minutes, to a moment of late drama. PSG can testify to that more than most, given the manner of some of their eliminations – in injury time against Barcelona in 2017 and at home to Manchester United in 2019, in particular. Yet they need these games more than most.

All of which may make it feel odder to the Super League’s treasonous plotters that two who they may have assumed would be most eager to sign up for far more such glamour games instead took a stand against it: Bayern, like Dortmund, reinforced German football’s reputation for respecting the fans by pledging their loyalty to the Bundesliga and the Champions League while the PSG president, Nasser El-Khelaifi, replaced the Super League schemer Andrea Agnelli as the chairman of the European Club Association.

Their motives may not have been identical, but it underlined that each wants to win this competition. As they resume their efforts to do so, Bayern away to Lazio and PSG at home to Real Sociedad, it is as staples of these stages, but with a sense of underachievement in the last 10 years. There is a theory each has not been tested enough in their own country to prepare them for the European elite.

Mbappe has suffered Champions League heartbreak at the hands of Bayern (Getty Images)
Mbappe has suffered Champions League heartbreak at the hands of Bayern (Getty Images)

Bayern’s only Champions League in a decade when they have invariably been one of the outstanding teams came at PSG’s expense. Since they won 2013’s all-German final against Dortmund, it is an 11th consecutive season in which each has been in the last 16. This is a hurdle Bayern normally clear with something to spare: they have been quarter-finalists in nine of the last 10 years, failing only when eliminated by Liverpool in 2019. PSG, with their tragicomic failings, have gone out in the first knockout round in five of the last seven seasons.

That should not become six in eight. There is a certain similarity in their opponents, with neither Real Sociedad nor Lazio in the top six of their domestic leagues and each at least 23 points behind the leaders. The Spanish club are in their first Champions League knockout tie for 20 years, the Italian in their second in 24. It bestows a status as overwhelming favourites on Bayern and PSG respectively.

That might sit more comfortably with the German champions. They cruised through the group stages with the second best record: PSG had the second worst of any qualifier, dicing with elimination, albeit in a tougher pool. They have a Champions League-winning manager, in Luis Enrique. So do Bayern, in Thomas Tuchel, though the German is also the only coach to steer PSG to the final and he lost to his current employers in that 2020 showpiece.

Harry Kane has scored four goals in six games for Bayern in this season’s Champions League (Getty Images)
Harry Kane has scored four goals in six games for Bayern in this season’s Champions League (Getty Images)

That these clubs are strangely intertwined is showed by the shared personnel, in Tuchel, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Lucas Hernandez; perhaps, if suggestions of a summer transfer are realised, by Joshua Kimmich, too. They are signs they often end up shopping in similar markets.

And PSG, beaten by Bayern in the 2020 lockdown final by a goal from the Parisian Kingsley Coman, eliminated again by them in the last 16 last season, could look at the German champions enviously. They usually go further, their exits feel less hubristic. PSG’s summer reboot, to bring a greater focus on locals, could have borrowed something from Bayern’s German core. But for two clubs who don’t want to relinquish their domestic crowns but don’t really need another, the importance of Europe won’t need underlining as their annual bid for continental glory restarts.