The first Champions League semi-final will serve up a David and Goliath story with a difference as big-spending French giants Paris St-Germain take on German fairy-tale minnows RB Leipzig. The only thing these two opponents have in common is the fact that they are both attempting to reach their first Champions League final.
PSG will line for Tuesday’s semi with a high-profile squad, full of big-name stars such as Kylian Mbappe, world record signing Neymar and Angel Di Maria, while the Germans are a bunch of relative unknowns, who are taking their bow on the biggest of football stages for the first time.
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What adds the spice to this clash is the fact that Leipzig have almost nothing to lose, with their gung-ho attitude serving them well to reach the last four of this mini-tournament being held in Lisbon due to the coronavirus pandemic. For PSG, anything short of at least reaching the final will be regarded as a failure, where a priority aim has been to breakthrough with the European title after years of dominance in France.
PSG are mainstays at the top table in Europe thanks to the billions pumped in by their Qatari owners, while Leipzig were only formed in 2009 by energy drink company Red Bull, which in 2009 bought the license rights from fifth-tier SSV Markranstaedt and financed the new team’s steady promotion through the lower leagues.
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Leipzig finally reached the Bundesliga in 2016 and the Champions League a few years later, but they have become highly unpopular at home because of their fast rise financed by Red Bull, prompting rivals fans to often protest at games.
In their second Champions League appearance, they have eliminated Jose Mourinho’s English giants Tottenham Hotspur in the round of 16 and star-laden La Liga club Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals.
PSG overcame Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 and were on the brink of going out before two late goals saw them squeeze past Italian surprise package Atalanta in the last eight.
PSG have been boosted by the news that star striker Mbappe could be ready to start against Leipzig alongside Neymar, having recovered from an ankle knock.
Mbappe came off the bench for the last half-hour against Atalanta to set up the winning goal, and coach Thomas Tuchel told reporters he is now ready to start.
“He played 30 minutes against Atalanta and had no problems with his ankle,” Tuchel said.
“Since then he has had six days to recover, he will train and if there is the possibility for him to start we will see if can play the 90 minutes.”
Until the 21-year-old introduction against Atalanta injected speed and invention into PSG’s attack, Neymar had carried his side up front.
Tuchel said the Brazilian’s performance had shown qualities that are not always acknowledged.
“Since I arrived he has always been a leader. A different leader, not as everyone understands him, but with his qualities, his confidence, his courage in the field, his will to win. He loves competition and you need that to be a leader,” he said.
“We also created a group with players like Ander Herrera, Pablo Sarabia, Keylor Navas and others, guys who know very well how to live together, created a collective atmosphere. Perhaps this is the key to seeing Neymar on another level.”
CATCH THE MATCH
Champions League semi-final
PSG v Leipzig
Estadio Da Luz, Lisbon
Broadcast on BeIN Sport