Champions League talking points: Mbappé’s PSG legacy? How did Madrid turn it around?


The 2023-24 Champions League semifinals are all wrapped up with plenty of drama, an upset and heartbreak. Borussia Dortmund delivered the final blow to beat Paris Saint-Germain on their own ground in France, leaving Kylian Mbappé without a European trophy as he prepares to make his exit at the end of the season. Elsewhere, Real Madrid did what Real Madrid do and stunned Bayern Munich in the closing stages of the game to seal their spot in the final.

In the final, we’ll see Dortmund take on Madrid. We asked ESPN writers Gab Marcotti, Alex Kirkland and Julien Laurens to answer some of our burning questions from this round.

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1. Who has been your player of the tournament?

I’ll go with Dortmund striker Niclas Füllkrug, just for what he stands for. It’s wild to think he’s 31 and this is his first Champions League. But he scored the goal that beat PSG in the first leg, as well as the one that leveled the tie against Atlético Madrid. And he started every game, bar the opener (which they lost.) He’s not always pretty to watch, but he’s smart, gets the most out of his physical attributes and is a thorn in defenders’ side for 90 minutes. He fits perfectly in this Dortmund squad of misfits and rejects. – GM

After his performance over two games against Bayern Munich, it’s hard to look beyond Real Madrid’s Vinícius Júnior. He scored both of Madrid’s goals in the semifinal first leg — converting Toni Kroos‘ pass, and then a penalty kick — and while he didn’t score in Wednesday’s return leg, he was easily Madrid’s best player over 90 minutes. Vinicius starred in the quarterfinal against Manchester City, with two assists in the 3-3 draw at the Bernabeu, and scored against Leipzig in the round of 16. He keeps adding to his game, looking just as dangerous through the middle now as he does on the left. And, 23, he’ll keep getting better. – AK

I would give it to Andriy Lunin. Real Madrid‘s backup goalkeeper stepped up to replace the injured Thibaut Courtois and has been quietly excellent in the knockout stages. He was Madrid’s best player in the last-16 first leg against Leipzig and in the quarterfinal second leg at Manchester City, where he was the penalty shootout hero after having an excellent game. He was also very good in Munich in the semifinal first leg and did his job well in the second leg too. At 25, he is having a really good season. Unfortunately, he might not play in the final because of Courtois’ return to full fitness. – JL



Mbappe ‘disappointed’ after PSG’s Champions League exit

Kylian Mbappe shares his thoughts after PSG’s defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League and looks ahead to French Cup final.

2. Does Mbappé’s failure to deliver the Champions League to his hometown club tarnish his legacy at PSG?

Of course winning the Champions League would have been the perfect send-off before he joins Real Madrid on a free transfer this summer, although doing so by beating Madrid in the final at Wembley would have been a bit awkward. That can’t happen now. The real concern isn’t Mbappé’s failure to win the Champions League, but rather the nature of his performances against Dortmund over two legs in the semifinal. A player who aspires to “best in the world” status should be decisive in these games, not anonymous. The feeling has always been that this Madrid team need an elite forward like Mbappé to take them to the next level, but is it the other way around? — AK

Among all the records, goals and trophies, there will always be a “but …” in Mbappé’s story with Paris.

Big players deliver in big games, but …
He should have won us the Champions League, but …

And it’s all fair. Mbappé failed to bring the Champions League trophy to Paris and become a club legend by being the first to do so. In fact he was actually quite quiet, as he was in the key games over the past seven years: the 2020 final, the 2021 semifinals, and this Dortmund clash. – JL

“Tarnish” is a loaded word, but I think there’s definitely a sense of unfinished business and the whole premise of him returning to his hometown club before moving on. He had seven seasons, both with older superstars like Neymar and Lionel Messi, and then this year with Luis Enrique’s young guns and the highest budget in European football. So if he leaves (and everyone is taking for granted that he will), there will definitely be a sense of regret. Possibly setting up a return one day. – GM



Is Thomas Tuchel to blame for Bayern’s late collapse?

The “ESPN FC” crew discuss Thomas Tuchel’s decision to take off Harry Kane and Leroy Sane late in the game vs. Real Madrid in the Champions League.

3. Did this game turn on Tuchel’s changes or Ancelotti’s changes?

For me, the game turned on its head with Manuel Neuer‘s big mistakes more than the coaching from Tuchel and from Ancelotti. There were 12 minutes between Bayern moving to a back five and Joselu’s first goal. What went through the Germany goalkeeper’s head in the 88th minute? Why did he throw the ball so quickly forward instead of kicking it long towards Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and wasting more precious minutes? That mistake was intercepted in the Bayern half and, four passes later, Vinicius had a shot on goal that caused his second. It was an easy shot to save for a keeper of the calibre of Neuer, yet he fumbled it and let Joselu make it 1-1. Up until that shocker, Neuer had been brilliant but his mistakes cost his team the game more than any changes from either manager. – JL

Both. Obviously given he scored both goals, Joselu was pretty important. But that’s the sort of obvious substitution you make late in the game when you’re chasing it. The Luka Modric and Eduardo Camavinga ones were also predictable, you knew we’d see them at some point and I think it’s interesting that Madrid’s shape didn’t change, but they were like-for-like. The tactical changes for which you can give Ancelotti kudos were the other two: Sending on Joselu might have been obvious, but doing so for Fede Valverde (who can run all day and has scored his share of late winners) was not, neither was taking off Rodrygo (if Ancelotti was superstitious, he would have remembered his exploits against City) to make way for Brahim Díaz.

That said, Tuchel’s decision to take off Jamal Musiala and Harry Kane (not matter how tired they were) was bizarre. Yes, there were only five minutes to go, but if Madrid score once, you’re stuck playing extra time without your two biggest attacking threats. Why would you possibly do that? (In the end, Madrid scored twice, so I guess it didn’t matter.) – GM

Two substitutes — Alphonso Davies and Joselu — might have scored all three goals at the Bernabeu, but perhaps the most important shift in the game was the way that Tuchel looked to hold onto Bayern’s 1-0 lead, withdrawing Leroy Sané, Harry Kane and Jamal Musiala in the last 15 minutes and in particular, replacing Sané with defender Kim Min-Jae. That tipped the momentum in Real Madrid‘s favour, giving them license to go for broke, which they did in the closing stages, summed up by centre-backs Nacho Fernandez and Antonio Rüdiger playing the passes for Joselu’s winner. – AK



Tuchel fumes at late offside call: ‘It’s against every rule’

Thomas Tuchel can’t believe the linesman raised his flag for offside in the dying seconds of Bayern Munich’s defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League.

4. Luis Enrique argued that PSG were the better side over the two legs but were not lucky and cited xG and hitting woodwork … is he right?

Three of those instances were they hit the woodwork came after they were 2-0 down on aggregate and two of those were long-range strikes, rather than chances that came from open play and possession, so I’m not sure I’d say that. Yes, PSG had plenty chances to win but, as the saying goes, you have to finish them and it’s not just about luck, certainly not in this case. You expect PSG to create more chances anyway, simply because they have better players (want to play the combined XI game?) – GM

We’ve heard this kind of thing from Luis Enrique before. He said very similar things when his Spain team were eliminated from the 2022 World Cup by Morocco in the round of 16. He’s a coach committed to prioritizing process over outcome, believing if you do things the right way — his way — results will follow. Yes, he’s right, PSG were better than Dortmund. And yes, they were unlucky. But they also weren’t good enough when it came to converting chances. Hitting the woodwork six times over two legs isn’t luck, it’s a pattern. – AK

The best team doesn’t always win in sport, which is the beauty of it. Big games are often won on details and how efficient you are in both boxes. So I don’t go for the bad luck theory. If you don’t take your chances like PSG and gift the opposition a goal (a terrible back pass from Marquinhos, poor marking from Lucas Beraldo and Gianluigi Donnarumma was at fault in goal too), you don’t deserve to qualify anyway. Paris were not at their best in either leg; they lack intensity, creativity and composure. Yet, they had enough chances to win which will be a source of regret for the players and fans. – JL


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