FC Bayern took on FC Porto with a plan and with hopes of continuing their march towards the Champions’ League final in Berlin, but instead found themselves on the brink after a error-strewn and at times painful 3-1 defeat against an energetic opponent. Bayern had gone into the game with an eleven-game unbeaten record on Portuguese soil, but this counted for nothing as Porto left Die Roten with plenty of work to do in the return leg in Munich.
Coach Pep Guardiola made the expected two changes to his starting line up at the Estádio do Dragão, with ‘keeper Manuel Neuer returning in place of Pepe Reina and Jérôme Boateng coming back into the back four for Mitchell Weiser. Elsewhere the coach stuck with the same line-up that had started at the weekend against Eintracht Frankfurt – not that he really had much choice in the matter given the extensive injury list.
In a packed stadium in front of a noisy capacity crowd – which included five representatives from the Red Dragons London – Bayern almost immediately found themselves on the back foot. With less than three minutes on the clock Xabi Alonso was caught dilly-dallying at the edge of the box by the dangerous Jackson Martínez. A surprise inclusion in the starting lineup after a month out with a hamstring injury, the Colombian’s challenge was firm and on another day might have resulted in a free-kick to Bayern, but instead he was left with a one-on-one against Manuel Neuer.
The ‘keeper made what looked to have been a miraculous goal-saving challenge, but the referee pointed to the penalty spot. Replays showed the decision was correct, and every Bayern fan had their heart in their mouth as the Spanish official reached for his pocket – for the yellow card. Not seeing Neuer given his marching orders was a result in itself, and when Ricardo Quaresma dispatched the penalty to give Porto the lead it was a case of “well, that could have been a lot, lot worse”.
Despite the early setback Bayern appeared to settle and had their first decent opportunity when Robert Lewandowski headed narrowly over the crossbar, but moments later another unforced error let the Portuguese in for their second. In what was quickly turning into a defensive horror show, Danté made a complete pig’s ear of Rafinha’s lateral pass, and the alert Quaresma did the rest as he stole in on the Bayern goal and tucked the ball low past Neuer. With less than ten minutes gone, the evening was already looking as black as Bayern’s Trikot.
Despite being two goals down Bayern still managed to boss the possession, and slowly but surely started to work their way back into the match. Juan Bernat was lively down the left and continually looked for openings, but the chance finally came from an unexpected source on the right flank. Jérôme Boateng made his way towards the byline and found the space to slide in a low cross that skidded across the Porto box, and somehow it managed to elude both ‘keeper Fabiano and everyone else in a white and blue striped shirt. The ball found its way to Thiago, who stretched well to meet it on the half-volley.
Having halved the deficit and scored a crucial away goal things looked a lot healthier for Guardiola’s men, but Porto continued to look dangerous – more so against a Bayern defence that had looked shaky from the start. Neuer had a worrying moment when he palmed the ball onto his own crossbar following a speculative effort from Porto’s Brazilian left-back Alex Sandro, but Bayern made it through to half time looking far more comfortable than they had been during those torrid opening ten minutes.
The opening period of the second half saw the men in black continue to keep hold of the ball, with their Portuguese opponents more than content to sit back and soak it up. Most of the play was taking place in the Porto half, but one always felt that there was at least one more error waiting to happen.
Sebastian Rode replaced the ineffective Götze after fifty-six minutes as the coach looked to energise the midfield, but it was Porto who produced the first genuine chance of the second half as Mexican Hector Herrera forced the best out of Neuer, who kept Bayern in the contest with a brilliant reflex save.
As the game ticked past the hour mark the visitors continued to pass, press and probe, but without ever really offering a threat. Frustratingly, Bayern preferred the lateral pass to having a shot at goal as they looked to walk the ball into the net, but their opponents had clearly got their tactics right. Thomas Müller was constantly frustrated, Robert Lewandowski was more or less anonymous, and Fabiano in the Porto goal didn’t even have to make a save.
As Bayern failed to pick open the ever-tightening Porto defence, yet another error presented the Portuguese with their third goal. This time it was Boateng’s turn to play the villain, completely mistiming his clearing header to allow Martínez in. Even the imposing figure of Neuer was no obstacle to the fleet-footed Colombian, who rounded the Bayern ‘keeper and executed the perfect finish.
Having restored their two-goal cushion, Julen Lopetegui’s men tightened things up considerably, and even then every false touch from a Bayern player caused a ripple in the collective blood pressure. The last thing we wanted was yet another interception, missed clearance or misplaced pass to give Porto a fourth that would almost certainly have killed the tie.
When the final whistle blew Bayern had lost their first match on Portuguese soil, and only their second against Portuguese opponents – the first of course being the infamous European Cup final defeat in Vienna in 1987. On balance of play Porto had clearly deserved their win, and will head to the Allianz Arena full of confidence. Bayern for their part are still in the contest, but know that they will have to produce a far better performance – especially at the back – to turn things around and make the last four.
There is little time to recover before the second leg in six days’ time, with Die Roten back in Bundesliga action at the weekend as they visit TSG 1899 Hoffenheim.
Man of the Match
In what was a defensive horror show defined by the three dreadful individual errors, I can’t say that I was even thinking of looking for a man of the match candidate from a Bayern point of view. At a push, Juan Bernat gets deserved plaudits for an energetic display.
What else can you say? This game was defined by the defence, and one quickly runs out of words to describe the performance. Sloppy, shocking, amateurish, disjointed, brainless… It goes on. Xabi Alonso is a great passer and distributor, but he has been caught daydreaming more than once this season. Danté continues to be a liability, and after a couple of decent games it was inevitable that he would pull a howler out of the locker sooner or later. Then there is Boateng, arguably the most disappointing one of them all given his marked improvement in recent years.
Elsewhere, the performance was at best ordinary with Müller continually crashing against a brick wall, Bernat trying manfully, Götze going walkabout for long spells before being hauled off and Lewandowski fluffing a decent chance before disappearing into a cloud of anonymity – not that he was even given much in the way of service. Every corner was poor, and set pieces woefully unimaginative. In short, this game was an absolute stinker.
It has been said time and again that possession and the number of passes don’t win football matches, and while statistics are useful indicators they never really tell the full story. Bayern had 61% of the possession, and completed 514 of 581 passes (88.5%) to their opponents’ paltry 198 of 257 (77%). Corner count, 6-3. Alonso’s pass completion rate, 100%.
Figures that are, in the final analysis, completely meaningless. What matters is not possession, passes or pass completion, but goals – and on this count Bayern were well beaten.
Looking at the second leg
Ironically, the 3-1 defeat may well be better than a 2-1 loss for Bayern. They know right from the outset that they will have to play some proper football at the Allianz, while Porto will almost certainly have an unwanted weight of expectation on their shoulders. Over the years Bayern have not been great in protecting a narrow advantage, and having to push the boat out from the start may work to their advantage. They will also have the twelfth man, the Südkurve.
With Porto also missing defenders Alex Sandro and Danilo things will be a lot tougher for Lopetegui’s side, and Bayern will be hoping to see Bastian Schweinsteiger and Franck Ribéry back in the starting lineup – or at least on the bench.
Despite the disappointing nature of the defeat this tie is far from over, and bigger deficits have been overturned before. An early goal at the Allianz will throw every ounce of pressure back on Porto, and even in a depleted state a rampant Bayern is a Bayern to be feared. Conversely, the defence continues to be a concern. Things have been wobbly since the start of the Rückrunde, and Porto will fancy their chances of finding the net at least once.
UEFA Champions’ League, Quarter-Final First Leg
Estádio do Dragão, Porto, 15.04.2015
FC Porto 3:1 (2:1) FC Bayern
Quaresma pen 3., 10., Martínez 65. / Thiago 28.
Porto: Fabiano – Danilo, Maicon, Martins Indi, Alex Sandro – Herrera, Casemiro, Torres (75. Ruben Neves) – Quaresma (84. Evandro), Jackson Martínez (c), Brahimi (79. Hernani)
FC Bayern: Neuer – Rafinha, Boateng, Dante, Bernat – Alonso (74. Badstuber) – Lahm (c), Thiago – Müller, Lewandowski, Götze (56. Rode)
Yellow Cards: Casemiro, Alex Sandro, Danilo / Neuer, Bernat, Lahm, Rode
Match Report originally published on the website of the Red Dragons London, the United Kingdom’s premier FC Bayern München fan club
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