Bayern Munich recorded the biggest ever aggregate win in Champions League semifinal history against Barcelona and booked their place in their third final in four years. Their 3-0 win at the Nou Camp in Barcelona saw Germany’s record champions go through on an incredible 7-0 aggregate score, setting up the first all-German Champions League final at Wembley on May 25.
It was the worst defeat for Barcelona over two legs in European history and their biggest home loss in over 10 years ,indicative of their decline as much as it is of Bayern’s ascent and incredible form this season. For the first time in 12 years, the Bundesliga will have a Champions League winner and for Bayern, the question over whether this is their greatest ever side will only intensify in the coming weeks.
Bayern pulls a Barça on Barça
Jupp Heynckes had several players a yellow away from missing the final so their biggest challenge was to be able to perform without risking players like Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martínez. Dante missed out due to a flu but to the team’s credit, suspension never seemed like a worry. The psychological comfort from the first leg gave Bayern a huge advantage going into the game and they looked secure throughout.
For Barcelona, it was always going to be an uphill battle. No club had ever overturned a 4-0 first leg deficit in the semifinals and on top of that, Barcelona started without star player Lionel Messi who was still deemed unfit. They had to put four past arguably Europe’s best defense and do it without their leading goalscorer.
From the get go, Bayern pressed with great intensity and it took Barcelona almost 25 minutes to get their first shot off as Pedro tried from distance to no avail. Xavi had another half chances minutes later but that is as far as Barça’s threat went in the first half. Like the first leg, their characteristic creativity and interplay was muted by Bayern’s great defensive organization and willingness to neutralize their attacking outlets.
With pressure to score increasing Barça became increasingly vulnerable in the second half and Bayern began to truly exploit them down the flanks. No one uses their width better than this Bayern team and Robben and Ribéry tormented Barcelona throughout for the remainder of the game. A long diagonal ball found Robben in the 48th minute before the Dutch winger made a trademark cut inside and curled a shot to the far post beyond Valdés. The rest of the game became a formality. Vilanova pulled Xavi and Iniesta and Heynckes was allowed to pull Lahm, Martínez and Schweinsteiger.
Gustavo and Ribéry combined in the 72nd minute to double the lead after a shot was deflected by Pique into his own net. Müller then put the cherry on top with Bayern’s third and his eighth of the competition with a header off a Ribéry cross. It was the kind of dominant comfortable performances we have come to expect from the Catalans over the years. Only there was one version of tiki taka out there, and it was Bavarian.
Bayern the new model of a modern football team?
Considering the fact that this was Barcelona’s worst home defeat in over a decade and the most prolific aggregate win in semifinal history, you have admire what Bayern pulled off in both games, and throughout the season. In a sense, Bayern have taken Barcelona’s possession game and evolved it. Bayern perfected the possession game since 2010 but over the last year or two have expanded their game to great levels. They can keep the ball and pass you to death but they can also change it up and adapt based on their opponents.
This Bayern side could be the model of a new hybrid in football, a team not specializing in a certain brand of football or tactic or one based on the individual talents of a few but a constantly evolving, adjusting and collective whole that responds organically to its environment. If that doesn’t sound like a national geographic special then consider Bayern’s different approaches in the Champions League so far.
Heynckes readily admitted to changing gameplans before the Juventus and Barcelona games. Against Juventus for example Bayern’s gameplan was all about quick transitions and using the space left by Juventus’ wingbacks in their 3-5-2 while pressing the back three into giving up the ball in their own half. Not wanting to compete with the possession masters, Heynckes diverted against Barcelona and allowed them to keep the ball for much of the match, instead attacking them where they are at their best; passing lanes and spaces.
Over two legs, Bayern utilized Dortmund, and Barcelona’s own, pressing game. Everywhere Iniesta or Xavi turned, two or three Bayern players were waiting. Schweinsteiger and Martínez were relentless in chasing down Barça’s midfielders and continued to push them out wide where Bayern were always stronger and faster. Meanwhile, in the league, Bayern are all about possession. They have outpossessed, outpassed and outscored every opponent in the Bundesliga. It’s that ability to seemingly switch on and off so effortlessly and all while maintaining a great high level of performance that makes this Bayern side truly unique.
Jupp Heynckes put it best after the game:
This team really pulls together. We get through outstanding work together, and we’re tremendously hungry for success. Both games have shown we’re capable of football at a very high level. We’re playing extremely high-speed football, we’re very well organised, we’re tactically smart, we close down the space, and our transitions are functioning perfectly this season. We’re a real team, from the front to the back.
The Importance of an all German final
Not since the 1980 UEFA Cup final between Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Mönchengladbach have two German sides contested a European final. The meaning of an all-German final cannot be emphasized enough. Bayern and Dortmund’s runs in the Champions League this year represent not only the the culmination of great team building on behalf of the clubs but the rise of German football in general.
It will put a giant spotlight not only on Bayern and Dortmund but on the Bundesliga and the progress made across all teams. After years of coming close this season could be a real breakthrough for German football and the beginning of a new era of European success. The final in 2011 was viewed by nearly 200 million people across the world and with the whole world again watching the two teams will undoubtedly put on a football spectacle at Wembley.
And as it happens, Bayern and Dortmund will meet in the league this season. With the title already decided and second spot all but locked up for Dortmund we may not see either side at their strongest. Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp even admitted taking in and celebrating progression to the final takes priority for the time being, even if it comes at the expense of a loss to Bayern in the league. Either way, this weekend Bayern vs. Dortmund won’t just feature one of German football’s greatest rivalry but a game between what is currently Europe’s two best sides.
Header courtesy of facebook.com/FCBayern
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