Following their 3-0 defeat at the Camp Nou, Bayern fans had been hoping for a Champions’ League miracle against Barcelona – and while the fires of hope would be stoked early on we all knew it was never going to be. Two away goals for the Catalans would quell any chance of a comeback, and it was left to Pep Guardiola’s side to see out their campaign on a high – duly achieved with a stirring performance to maintain their perfect home record in this year’s competition.
The Bayern coach named the exact same starting eleven that had started in Spain six days earlier, with four changes to the side that had gone down against FC Augsburg at the weekend. Manuel Neuer, Rafinha, Mehdi Benatia and Xabi Alonso were back in, with Pepe Reina, Mitchell Weiser, Danté and Mario Götze on the bench.
In a pulsating Allianz Arena there was yet another great choreo display from the home supporters, setting the scene perfectly on what was a warm and slightly humid evening in the Bavarian capital. While everybody was naturally dreaming of the miracle and the great comeback, in reality every Bayern fan wanted one thing: to see the team take the game to their opponents and give their all – win or lose. Bayern were back – for probably the last time – in their “Barcelona” style red and blue Trikots, with their opponents in an eye-bleeding Stabilo Boss – as opposed to Hugo Boss – highlighter yellow-green that made Dortmund’s Gelb look slightly dull in comparison.
Having to chase the game from the start Die Roten were quickly into their stride, but it was Barcelona that created the first chance when Croatian Ivan Rakitić forced Neuer into a fine save. Undaunted, Bayern continued to press. On seven minutes an unmarked Medhi Benatia directed his header past Barça ‘keeper Marc-André ter Stegen from an Alonso corner to notch up his first goal in the Champions’ League, and everybody in the ground started to believe. It was Bayern’s first goal in more than three-hundred minutes of football, and given their recent poor record from set pieces one could describe their scoring from a corner as a minor miracle.
The Moroccan’s celebration was spirited but controlled. There was still more work to do.
An unmarked Medhi Benatia heads Bayern in front after just seven minutes
A second first-half goal would have really put pressure on the visitors and Bastian Schweinsteiger sent a well-struck effort over the target, but within eight minutes of taking the lead the mood in the ground suddenly changed. With Schweinsteiger unable to close down Lionel Messi, the diminutive Argentinian found the fast-advancing Luis Suárez with a perfectly-timed pass. In behind the outflanked Bayern defnece, the Uruguayan calmly slipped the ball inside to Neymar, who completed the move with an easy tap-in.
Bayern now needed four more goals to progress – a task against any team in the Champions’ League let alone the mighty Barcelona – but the fans still remained in good voice. While Neymar’s goal had essentially extinguished the Bavarians’ hopes of making the final in Berlin, there was still plenty of pride at stake. Now was the time for this battered and bruised Bayern side to stand up and be counted.
Responding to the crowd, Guardiola’s side almost hit back immediately when a well-directed looping header from Thomas Müller was brilliantly tipped over the crossbar by ter Stegen, and on twenty-seven minutes more fine approach play from Der Raumdeuter looked to have sent Robert Lewandowski in on goal, only for the Pole to scuff a weak effort straight at the Barça keeper. Just short of the half-hour mark Müller had another chance after a lovely run from Thiago, but was unable to get enough power on his shot to beat ter Stegen.
As the chances continued to come, every Bayern fan clung onto that very thin thread of hope.
Bayern should really have been back in front by this stage, but just short of the half-hour mark that thin thread was cut by another Barcelona goal. Again the home side were guilty of pressing just a little too hard, with Benatia being caught out by the dangerous Suárez. Once again the Uruguayan found space behind the red and blue back line, and sent in another practice field pass to Neymar. With plenty of time to steady himself, the Brazilian stroked the ball home, beating Neuer at the near post.
With Bayern now needing a next to impossible five more goals it was now all about pride. As half time approached Die Roten were answering the call – niemals aufgeben, “never give up”. Another Müller header forced a neat save from the busy ter Stegen, and five minutes before the break Lewandowski had a brilliant opportunity to level the scores after more lovely approach play from Thiago. The Bayern number nine looked to have done all the hard work, but ter Stegen was equal to it as he pushed the ball against the post. It was actually creeping in, but the former Borussia Mönchengladbach man showed his alertness to scamper back and claw it off the line.
There was a slight drop in tempo after the break, but one man who refused to be beaten was Thomas Müller. Fighting for every ball as if his life depended on it and feeding off the crowd, his fierce desire was clear for all to see. As the second half went on and the crowd maintained their voice, the team responded. Just short of the hour mark, Philipp Lahm picked out Lewandowski at the edge of the box, and a neat little shuffle and sidestep from the Pole completely bamboozled his marker Javier Mascherano. Having created the shooting chance, the man in the mask drilled a firm and gently curling low shot into the bottom corner with ter Stegen left standing.
The masked Robert Lewandowski scores Bayern’s second after some neat play at the edge of the box
With Luis Enrique’s side prepared to sit back Bayern were playing all of the football now. Müller shot wide, Lahm lost possession in the box when he could have done a little better, but with just over a quarter of an hour remaining Schweinsteiger found Müller in space some twenty yards from goal, and Bayern’s cult hero did the rest with a crisp shot that fizzed into the bottom right-hand corner of the net. His team still needed an impossible three more goals in fifteen minutes, but the pumped-up Müller was not seeing it as a consolation. In the face of impending doom, he still believed.
Thomas Müller secures the win for Die Roten, in a game where pride was restored
A series of half-chances and mishit shots defined much of the closing period, with Barcelona content to park the bus and accept the defeat on the night. Substitute Mario Götze combined nicely with Lewandowski to almost pick open the Blaugrana defence for what would have been a deserved fourth, but it was not to be. As the final whistle blew to end the contest and call time on Bayern’s European odyssey, the crowd continued to sing. They were out, but everyone could hold their head up high.
Once again Bayern had fallen at the penultimate hurdle, but a semi-final defeat against a fantastic Barcelona team is nothing to be ashamed about. Bayern had scored a staggering thirty-three goals in their twelve matches – a club record – and had also managed to score six or more goals on three occasions – a tournament record.
Elimination from both of the cup competitions leaves Bayern with just two games, a trip to relegation-threatened SC Freiburg before a closing celebration at the Allianz against mid-table FSV Mainz 05. While Bayern’s Bundesliga mission is now complete they still have an influence over how things may finish up at the other end of the table, and with no big games remaining they will be looking to see things out on a high – which could be bad news for poor old Freiburg.
Man of the Match
There were plenty of fine performances, among them the magical Thiago and the spirited Robert Lewandowski. But for me just two words are needed: Thomas Müller.
UEFA Champions’ League, Semi-Final Second Leg
Allianz Arena, München, 12.05.2015
FC Bayern 3:2 (1:2) FC Barcelona
Benatia 7., Lewandowski 59., Müller 74. / Neymar 15., 29.
FC Barcelona win 5-3 on aggregate
FC Bayern: Neuer – Rafinha, Benatia, Boateng, Bernat – Alonso – Lahm (68. Rode), Schweinsteiger (86. Martínez), Thiago – Müller (86. Götze), Lewandowski
Barcelona: ter Stegen – Dani Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba – Rakitić (72. Mathieu), Busquets, Iniesta (75. Xavi) – Messi, Suárez (46. Pedro), Neymar
Yellow Cards: Rafinha, Thiago, Lewandowski, Alonso, Rode / Rakitić