It could have turned out to be a cagey, tactical, and essentially boring affair. Big games can (and often do) yield big disappointments. Particularly with no supporters in an empty stadium, and disruption both domestically and on the European stage. An uneventful match wasn’t inconceivable.
But there was an air, as the players walked out, for a special quarter-final tie last Friday night in Lisbon – a feeling in the air of intensity, foreshadowing an exhilarating 90 minutes ahead. I can say it certainly was that, and everything more.
Bayern Munich showcased their squad’s strength and sheer hunger to come out top in Europe with an exceptional and unforgettable obliteration of fellow European heavyweights Barcelona. In a match which was fast-paced and messy from the offset, the German champions bulldozed over a weak Barca defence, shattering the net a staggering eight times and deservedly securing a semi-final spot.
A sign of weakness in Bayern’s defence fuelled Barca’s attack
In an energetic but chaotic opening 10 minutes, Thomas Müller pulled Bayern ahead after a quick and clever one-two exchange with Lewandowski, with the end product a bottom corner volley. The hype of the German’s instant and effective attacking prowess was dampened moments after by a freakish own goal at the other end, conceded by the sheepish David Alaba.
A sign of weakness in Bayern’s defence fuelled Barca’s attack, but a firm save by Neuer and an uncapitalised in-swinging delivery from Messi prevented the Spanish team from taking the lead. It’s hard to believe that all this action occurred within the first 10 minutes – it was a far cry from the first-half between Leipzig and Atletico the day before.
From the twentieth minute onwards, the two teams essentially went in polar opposite directions. Bayern, realising their devastating unbeaten run of 18 wins in all competitions, snatched at their opportunity to take the game by the scruff of the neck, with a sharpened-up defence and an even more serrated attacking force.
The first of numerous blows to Barca’s defence came after Sergi Roberto was caught dilly-dallying in their defensive half, which Perisic took advantage of with his preferred left boot to slot in Bayern’s second. A floundering Barca defence only added fuel to Bayern’s merciless attack, with Serge Gnabry finishing off a well-weighted chip from Leon Goretzka, and Müller poking home his second at the near post.
It proved to be a sign of the times for the next 45 minutes
Moments after the second half kick-off, a long ball by Neuer once again sliced open the Barcelona XI – although this particular attacking opportunity came to no avail, it proved to be a sign of the times for the next 45 minutes.
Despite the demotivating scoreline looming over Barca, a neat dummied cut-in and finish by Suárez provided something of a light in the dark for the Spanish side. But this was quickly snuffed out by a peach of a goal crafted by Alfonso Davies’ superb dribbling down the left flank, a run embellished with great skill and confidence, which was side-footed in with ease by Joshua Kimmich.
Hansi Flick’s decision to sub on Coutinho – though not particularly necessary – proved to be sound judgement as the Brazilian provided a headed goal on a plate for Lewandowski, which was then followed up with two goals to his name.
The Germans in the line-up may have experienced déjà vu
Bayern had a solid performance, jittery at the back at the start of the game, but soon after settled and composed, and constantly threatening and strong going forwards. The Germans in the line-up who also had a role in the 2014 World Cup may have experienced déjà vu of their romp over Brazil in the semi-final. They’ve now secured a place in the semi-final of this year’s Champions League having scored 39 goals in the process of winning all 10 of their matches while conceding just eight.
With such a strong team defensively and offensively, young prodigies such as Alfonso Davies and Serge Gnabry, and an interim-turned-permanent manager in the likes of Hans Dieter-Flick, I can see Bayern set for a bout of history-making years ahead.
As for Barcelona, reports erupted the next morning stating that the Spanish side are set to replace Quique Setien, with predictions of his successor already emerging. But for me, my concerns aren’t only with Barca’s leadership in terms of management, but also in terms of squad and starting XI.
An unpredictable, energetic, and enthralling game of football
Yes, they presented an experienced side, enriched with a wealth of trophy handlers and medal holders, but the starting team had an average age of 29 years and 329 days, the oldest ever named by Barcelona for a Champions League tie. And where they do have youth talents, such as nine-figure signing Ousmane Dembele, who could’ve certainly relieved the reliance on Suárez and Messi, they’re left on the bench.
“This could be an absolute rout” cried the commentator incredulously at half-time – we were only halfway in and it looked to be men against boys. I heard the goal song ‘Seven Nation Army’ so frequently I thought I was at a concert by The White Stripes. What we had on display was a classic Champions League game – an unpredictable, energetic, and enthralling game of football, and I’m so pleased to have witnessed it.