First leg of Champions League semi final. Bayern Munich v Barcelona. Both teams rampant in their own leagues. Bayern in supreme form. Barcelona wobbling in Europe, having to come back in previous rounds against AC Milan and then Paris St Germain. Messi injured in the first leg v PSG. Rushed back to make the difference in the second leg, simply by being there. (See my Sportsthoughts 70 on that).
But despite everything, it looked finely poised in the semi final.
Until it happened. Bayern 4 Barca 0. A seismic shift. A change in the European order. Bayern strong, fast, direct, ruthless, clinical. Barca stuttering, flat, feeble in defence, lacking spark in all areas. Messi played but clearly wasn’t fit. Hardly any of those mazy runs, the one-twos, the shots from impossible positions. And without the catalyst, Barca seemed to have no inspiration. Not even from Iniesta, or Xavi.
Bayern, on the other hand, looked confident, powerful. Ribery and Robben looked in the mood on the wings. Muller was everywhere up front. The midfield was solid, Schweinsteiger in control. Dante – the poet – calm at the back and dangerous in the air at corners.
Barca had the possession, as they always do. But it was mainly in areas of no danger to Bayern. Just before they went 4-0 up, ITV flashed up the stats. Bayern had 36% possession, Barca 64%. Blimey, if ever a game showed it’s what you do with the ball, not how much you have it, this was it.
A couple of the Bayern goals were dodgy. Gomez’s, for 2-0, may have been offside, though I didn’t think so. Robben’s, to make it 3-0, was superbly taken, but benefited from Muller executing a blatant block on the pursuing Jordi Alba. But above all, Bayern ruthlessly exploited the soft underbelly of Barca – their lack of a solid central defence, especially in the absence of Puyol. They have got away with it by defending far up the pitch, pressing from midfield. But as soon as the energy falls off, as it did tonight, they are left very exposed. Number one purchase in the summer: a top centre back to partner Pique.
Knowing Barca, they’ll just buy another exciting forward. They are a stubborn lot.
So stubborn that they didn’t use the subs tonight as they should have done. Messi stayed on the pitch all game. As did the ineffectual Alexis and Pedro. Fabregas and Villa kicked their heels on the bench. Why? It was as if Barca were accepting the inevitable. Not like them at all.
So Bayern stride on. Inconceivable that they will yield a 4-0 lead in the second leg. But what about the Final? Against Borussia Dortmund or Real Madrid. Most likely Real, but you never know. Bayern have been in two of the last three finals, favourites for both, and lost them. And we Brits will always remember the 1999 final, when they conceded two goals in stoppage time, to lose 2-1 to Man United.
Whisper it… are Bayern chokers?
Surely not: they are Germans. But the national team has flattered to deceive at the last recently, too.
And if Madrid get through, you can bet Mourinho will have a few tricks up his sleeve.
Sorry to see Barca – my favourite non-English team – out of the reckoning, but the final, either Bayern v Madrid, or an all-German clash, looks very tasty!