Paris Saint-Germain stand on the brink of history but couldn't have picked a tougher opponent, writes Andy Brassell
"Bayern showed pleasure at the final whistle against Lyon but we saw smiles, hugs and handshakes, without running and jumping. This was satisfaction, not ecstasy."
It's sometimes said that it's about the journey, rather than the destination, and it felt like that as Paris Saint-Germain celebrated on their return to basecamp after Tuesday night's Champions League semi-final win over RB Leipzig. It was a huge step forward for the club, and this group of players, taking them into the final for the first time and shedding so much of the baggage accrued in the knockout stage failures of recent years.
Satisfaction, not ecstasy
Yet the contrasting reaction of Bayern Munich 24 hours later was telling. There was pleasure at the final whistle against Lyon but we saw smiles, hugs and handshakes, without running and jumping. This was satisfaction, not ecstasy. For Bayern, a first final since their previous treble win - in 2013 - was a means to an end rather than a cause for celebration in itself.
The Bundesliga and DfB Pokal double winners are the clear favourites at [2.1], and it's not only because of their superior experience. Hierarchies change fast in the modern Champions League - just ask Barcelona, Bayern's quarter-final victims - and the Bavarians haven't even reached the final since that victory at Wembley under Jupp Heynckes.
To say they haven't made progress in that time would be incorrect, however. The Pep Guardiola years brought some of the greatest football that Munich has ever seen and at least part of the reason that the current Manchester City coach didn't win the Champions League was down to plain old rotten luck, particularly in respect of the avalanche of injuries that caught up with them in 2015 or the second leg of the semi against Atlético of the following year, which if they played another 100 times they would probably progress on each occasion.
This year's vintage has come together very quickly and Hansi Flick has done an incredible job, restoring Bayern's aggression and attacking intent in a way that his predecessor Niko Kovač suggested couldn't be done. Flick has also made some winning tweaks, including the repositioning of Alphonso Davies and moving David Alaba inside to centre-back, putting Joshua Kimmich back in midfield (which is still a possibility for the final if Benjamin Pavard is ready) and restoring Thomas Müller to his former glory. That's without mentioning the record-breakingly good Robert Lewandowski.
Can PSG's front three be the answer?
PSG, priced at [3.35] for the win that their ownership group QSI has coveted ever since taking over the club in 2011, don't have quite the same surety, though they do have the power of momentum, which has been roaring along ever since their late, late comeback against Atalanta. The start of the season may be a long time ago but Thomas Tuchel and company are still reaping the benefits of a sensible rather than a flashy transfer window last summer, give or take the opportunistic signing of Mauro Icardi.
Neymar and the returning Kylian Mbappé have caught the eye but the support they have received has been crucial. Leandro Paredes, rarely first choice but given increased importance in Marco Verratti's absence, helped turn the game with Atalanta and kept the Parisian plan ticking over against Leipzig. Ander Herrera has chipped in. Meanwhile Ángel Di María has already bossed a Champions League final in this venue, Estádio da Luz, for Real Madrid six years ago.
Many understandably believe the key to the final lies in Bayern's high line, which Barcelona didn't have the pace to fully exploit and Lyon didn't quite have the calmness in front of goal to make the most of. Mbappé in particular could be forgiven for rubbing his hands in anticipation.
Yet Flick is nothing if not switched on, and he made his back four drop ten yards after their early scares against Lyon, showing he is pragmatism as much as he is bullishness. Finding this balance will determine if Bayern are vulnerable or not. That it's even a question suggests we should be in for a great final. Bayern's incredible run of form - 28 wins and a draw in 29 games - makes them justified favourites but if any of the other seven Final 8 participants could threaten them, it always was PSG.