Tuesday’s first-leg quarterfinal Champions League match between Bayern Munich and Juventus ended in near-perfect fashion for the Bavarians, with Bayern dominating the match and coming away with a 2-0 win over the Italian side. Only the wasteful finishing of the Germans and the injury to midfielder Toni Kroos negated an otherwise brilliant performance and result that saw the game-winner scored in the first thirty seconds of play. The two clubs will play the second leg of the series next Wednesday, April 10, in Turin.
The two legendary clubs came into the match, their first meeting since 2009. both leading their domestic leagues, with Bayern Munich carrying an outrageous 20 point lead in the Bundesliga over Borussia Dortmund after demolishing Hamburg Sunday 9-2, while Juventus hold the top berth in Serie A by a nine points margin over Napoli. Both clubs also currently lead their leagues in fewest goals allowed, with Juve granting only 20 scores in 30 league fixtures whereas Bayern have been even stingier, allowing 13 nettings in 27 Bundesliga games.
On Tuesday Juventus lined up in their traditional 3-5-2 alignment, with playmaker Andreas Pirlo centering the midfield while Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri led the line for Antonio Conte’s side. Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern side were aligned with four in the back, five in midfield and Mario Mandukic as a lone striker. While Juventus’ last CL match was a fairly comfortable 2-0 win over Celtic, the Bavarians came into the match with memories of their nervy, almost-catastrophic Round of 16 tie against Arsenal, where a vibrant second-leg performance by the London side at the Allianz came much too close to ending Bayern’s treble dreams as the Munich side advanced on the basis of away goals.
An unbelievable beginning to the match saw 20 year-old Bayern left back David Alaba score his second huge goal in a week’s time. The Austrian, who netted the late equalizer for Austria against Ireland in WC qualifying last Tuesday had reason to celebrate this Tuesday, also. The usually impeccable Pirlo gifted Bayern with a short ball in his own end that went directly to Bastian Schweinsteiger , who squared the ball to Alaba. The Austrian left-footed a swerving low ball from well-outside the box that one-hopped past a surprised Gigi Buffon and into the corner of the Juve net. Suddenly, shockingly, Bayern had a 1-0 lead and the goal that would win the match.
The first half was basically a display of Bayern confidence and skill, as they outshot the visitors 10-3, but more importantly found it easy to shred Juventus’ defense, failing to add to their lead only by poor shooting. Arjen Robben, who came onto the pitch in the 16th minute following an adductor injury to Toni Kroos, had three shots himself in less than 30 minutes on the pitch, as Bayern dominated the half in all ways but the scoreline and possession (it was a bit shocking to see that Bayern had only 52% of the ball by halftime — seemingly Heynckes’ side enjoyed much more of possession than that). Constantly surging forward, Bayern left little opportunity for the Bianconeri to mount anything more threatening than a few Pirlo setpieces, including a dangerous looking corner kick at the half’s end that Juventus were unable to capitalize on.
Considering Bayern’s performance against Arsenal in the club’s last Allianz CL appearance, there had to be some trepidation among the Bayern supporters concerning the club’s inability to combine a dominant first half performance with a corresponding dominant scoreline. Nonetheless, Bayern came out from intermission in the same attacking, superior way they had played the previous 45 minutes. Three minutes into the restart, Mandžukić challenged Buffon with a shot to the near post while Alaba launched another long-distance, bouncing shot in the 55th minute from a free kick.
In the 63rd minute, Bayern earned their insurance goal. Robben took a pass and dribbled deep down the right flank before sending a pass back towards Gustavo in the center of the field. The Brazilian shot quickly, forcing Buffon into a parrying save of his one-hop shot at the corner of the net. Unfortunately for the Italians, Mandžukić gobbled up the short rebound and passed to an oncoming Thomas Müller, who got inside defender Leonardo Bonucci and tapped the ball into the empty net. While Conte’s club mounted two spells of danger in attack near the 70th minute and again in the last five minutes of regulation time, the previously untested Manuel Neuer was up to the challenge of repelling shots by former Bundesliga man Arturo Vidal, while Schweinsteiger and Muller both had good chances to add a third goal to the Bavarians’ total. Bayern had 75% of possession during the second half’s first 25 minutes, ending with 55% over the entire match while launching 22 shots, with nine on target, to only two shots on frame for Juventus.
Bayern Munich earned almost the perfect result Tuesday — only the cashing in of another goal or two from numerous chances would have made things better. Denying Juventus a precious away goal leaves one less way for the Turin side to successfully ambush the Munich club in the series’ second leg and eliminate them from an advance to the Champions League semifinals.
Bayern Coach Jupp Heynckes certainly earns props for a satisfying result based on a total team effort. Each player on the pitch contributed, and the defensive work by the central pairing of Dante and 35 year-old Daniel van Buyten was superb. The tall duo was able to knock away any threat Juve could mount down the center and played with poise, giving up only two fouls between them. Van Buyten proved his value as a replacement, using his experience to stay within himself and provide solidity in the back, something Bayern haven’t always displayed in big matches. Every midfield and attacking player for Heynckes (except for the injured Kroos and subs Gomez and Shaqiri) took at least two shots on goal, with at least one on target, a democratic performance that will create headaches for Conte as he plans tactics for the second leg of the series.
So which Bayern player(s) will Juventus focus on in the next match? Ribery was fluid and dangerous in attack, on occasion dribbling around Juve players as if they were orange cones in practice. Robben played unselfishly and had several chances to score, Mandžukić provided Müller who scored, Schweinsteiger provided danger on setpieces as did Robben with several fine corners, Gustavo blasted a dangerous shot that created Bayern’s second goal. And with so many Bayern and Juventus’ players Tuesday part of the respective German and Italian national teams that met in the 2010 Euros with Italy ending German dreams of Euro glory, Tuesday’s performance by Bayern dissolved some of the lingering German “fear” of Italy and Italian clubs.
For Juventus supporters, the road to Champions League glory has become much rockier, as they now need at least three goals in next Wednesday’s rematch to advance. But a degree of hope is reasonable for fans of the Old Lady ahead of Wednesday’s encounter in that Bayern have allowed three goals in a competitive match this season, if only once, away to CL opponent BATE Borisov back in early October, and have been less than impressive in CL matches this year away to Lille and Valencia. Certainly Conte will have to re-think his offense, as front-liners Quagliarella and Matri, as well as their 65th minute replacements Vucinic and Giovinco, were unable to launch a single shot in Tuesday’s game. But whatever Conte decides to do to ignite his team’s offense, Juventus will need to duplicate the near-perfect performance exhibited by Bayern Tuesday to have any hopes of remaining in the tournament this year.
Bayern: Neuer – Lahm, van Buyten, Dante, Alaba – Schweinsteiger, Luiz Gustavo – Müller, Kroos (Robben 16′), Ribery (Shaqiri 90+2) – Mandzukic (Gomez 90′)
Juventus: Buffon – Barzagli, Chiellini, Bonucci – Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, Peluso (Pogba 75′) – Matri (Vucinic 65′), Quagliarella (Giovinco 65′)
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