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Champions League 2019/20 Recap

Bayern Munich has been crowned champion of Europe after a gripping final, but the 2019/20 Champions League season wasn’t smooth sailing for any of the 32 participants. With hiccups aplenty—thanks in no small part to the COVID-19 pandemic—there were numerous quirks, oddities, and records in the latest edition of the continent’s premier competition.

It all began in the group stage. On matchday one, ten goals were scored in the two Group E games alone, as defending champion Liverpool fell to defeat against Napoli, and teenage sensation Erling Haaland truly announced himself on the world stage with a hat trick for then-club Salzburg in a 6–2 thrashing of Genk. The Norwegian youngster turned out to be the competition’s revelation, and only top scorer Robert Lewandowski was able to better his tally of ten goals. The first round was just the prelude to what would be the highest-scoring season in the history of the Champions League.

Bayern, in particular, was nigh on unstoppable in front of goal. Its 7–2 demolition of Tottenham in the group stage was nothing compared to what was yet to come in the latter rounds of the tournament. The Bavarians were, by quite some distance, the most prolific team in this year’s competition.

Heading into the knockout phase, there was an abundance of narratives, especially after Liverpool shockingly crashed out at the first hurdle, and Real Madrid, usually the crème de la crème of European football, was decisively defeated by Manchester City. Even the enforced COVID-19 break didn’t stop the football world from dreaming up scenarios of the ultimate underdog and this season’s revelatory team, free-scoring Atalanta, winning it all.

After defeating Valencia 8–4 on aggregate, the Bergamo side faced PSG with the new single-elimination format in place. Atalanta looked well on its way to reach the semis, but for a catastrophic collapse right at the end. A vintage performance from Neymar, who equaled Lionel Messi’s completed take-ons record from 2008, and the game-changing introduction of Kylian Mbappé ended the Atalanta fairy tale.

It was PSG’s first win against an Italian side and only its second-ever qualification for a Champions League semifinal. Its opponent, Leipzig, who beat one of the picks to win the tournament in Atlético Madrid, made its semis debut. After a very one-sided game between two talented young German coaches, the Parisians ran out 3–0 winners.

On the other side of the bracket, Lyon surprisingly reached the semis, upsetting both Cristiano Ronaldo’s underperforming Juventus and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the process, with the latter widely accused of being the master of his own undoing by overthinking yet another big game. Bayern, meanwhile, was busy annihilating an abject Barcelona 8–2. Yes, eight to two—the biggest scoreline in a knockout match in the Champions League era. This was a Barça side expected to deliver the trophy after falling short in dramatic fashion last season. And yet, the German champions just swatted them aside without breaking a sweat.

When the two teams clashed in the semifinal, the overwhelming favorite took care of business. Bayern defeated Lyon 3–0, but the result somewhat flattered the Bavarians, who gave up plenty of chances.

It was a different story altogether in the final. Incredibly, Bayern managed to keep Kylian Mbappé and Neymar relatively quiet for most of the match, not giving up many chances, and when Kingsley Coman headed home a Joshua Kimmich cross, it became an insurmountable task for the Parisians. Bayern held on and, after having played some of the best football on the continent this season, was deservedly crowned European champion.


Illustration by @inakivector.

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