Backs against the wall. Under pressure. Slap bang in the middle of an epic injury crisis, the week after the shock departure of the long established medical team. Staring Champions’ League elimination squarely in the face less than a week after one of the most miserable displays in years. The buildup could not have been any worse for FC Bayern München as they prepared to take on FC Porto in a make or break second leg.
After the insipid, error-strewn first leg in Portugal that had seen Pep Guardiola’s side limp back to Munich with a 3-1 defeat, a response was demanded. To a man, the team stood up to be counted, and in the days before the match encouraged the fans to play their part in upping the ante. It was clear that they were hurt – not by the justified criticism, but by their own performance – and you could sense them champing at the bit to put things right. Win, lose or draw, we were sure to see one hell of a fight.
It started with a degree of trepidation, which was transformed into hope, and from there into euphoria. As a Bayern fan who has lived through many European evenings, even now I cannot begin to describe the gamut of emotions; one can easily dive into the pool of hyperbole, but I will choose just to use one word. Phenomenal.
Although former Bayern and Germany midfielder Dietmar Hamann is something of an enthusiast, I am guessing that not many football fans around the world (save for those of us from Great Britain and its former empire) know about the game of cricket. No, I am not going to take you off on a tangent here by explaining the arcane leg before wicket rule or the difference between silly point and deep fine leg, but relay a tale from the World Cup back in 1992.
Deep into the competition, Pakistan were looking beaten, a team of lost souls without a plan. A team on the brink of elimination, their hopes hanging by a thread. Faced with what was effectively a do or die match against tournament co-hosts and holders Australia, captain Imran Khan (no relation to Oliver Kahn!) stepped out before the game wearing a t-shirt with a tiger on it. When asked about his non-regulation attire, he made a reference to his team being “cornered tigers” – a moment that has since become legendary.
Pakistan beat Australia to keep their threadbare hopes of making the knockout stages alive, and after that beat Sri Lanka and the other co-hosts New Zealand to make the semi-finals. In a classic semi-final against the Kiwis they overhauled a massive score to reach the final on the crest of a wave, and you can all guess what happened next. From being one of the poorest teams in the competition, Imran’s “cornered tigers” had won the World Cup for the first time as they beat England in the final in Sydney.
As FC Bayern prepared to step out into seething Allianz Arena, they too were like Imran’s “cornered tigers”. A team stung by criticism, with their backs to the wall. And like the Pakistani cricket team in 1992, they refused to buckle – fighting back with a spirit that had been tapped from within. Every man played his part; it was technically perfect at times, like a smooth, well-tuned German engine. But it was also a thing of beauty.
Not since The Bride slaughtering everything that stood in her way in Kill Bill had such brutal carnage looked so beautiful; no sooner had Bayern’s cornered tigers been released into the noisy arena decked out in red and white, they proceeded to tear Porto apart. If Quentin Tarantino could ever direct a football match, this would be his blueprint.
With Bayern’s injury problems more acute than ever only one change was made to the starting eleven from the first leg, with Holger Badstuber coming in for the out of form Danté who was left on the bench. Having been rested at the weekend against Hoffenheim Jérôme Boateng, Xabi Alonso and Thiago were back in the starting lineup, along with skipper Philipp Lahm – fit again after a bout of gastroenteritis.
As the Südkurve roared their approval and presented some magnificent choreography demanding niemals aufgeben – “never give up” – the team looked steeled for the fight. They were ready. Of course, the nerveless Thomas Müller was the coolest of the lot amidst all of the tension, nonchalantly whistling along to the Champions’ League anthem.
Bayern started as they meant to go on, immediately looking to stamp their authority on their Portuguese opponents. With Porto playing a more defensive formation – and lacking suspended full-backs Danilo and Alex Sandro – Bayern looked to attack down the weakened flanks, an approach not tried since the injury to flying winger Arjen Robben. The first chance came after ten minutes, with Robert Lewandowski striking the base of the post after a Thomas Müller shot had been well parried by ‘keeper Fabiano.
One might have though at that moment that it was going to be one of “those” evenings – long-time fans will know exactly what I mean – but the team kept plugging away, with Lahm popping up on the right and sending the Porto and confusing the opposition. It’s a rare sight these days, but it was quite something to see the little skipper embark on those swashbuckling charges down the wing.
The crowd maintained their voice and the Südkurve were relentless, as were the small army of Red Dragons gathered at the Bavarian Beerhouse in London. Bayern were on top, there was a clear sense of expectation, and on fourteen minutes the team delivered. Juan Bernat made his way down the left and fashioned the perfect cross into the box, and man of the moment Thiago found the back of the net with a perfect header. Game on.
Fuelled by the early goal and roared on by the capacity crowd, it was now like a relentless red and blue wave, with Porto looking nothing like the confident outfit that had looked to have placed one foot in the semi-final the previous week. Star striker Jackson Martínez was reduced to being a desperate defender, while the two-goal hero Ricardo Quaresma might as well have not even been on the pitch. It was all Bayern, and Porto knew it; suddenly, Julen Lopetegui’s men were the ones left looking like they were walking in quicksand.
Eight minutes later Bayern scored their second, as they finally got a corner right. Thiago’s kick sailed into the box and was brilliantly helped on by the towering Badstuber, who found the equally dominant presence of Boateng at the far post. The big central defender made no mistake as he atoned for his gaffe in the first leg, rising high to plant the ball low into the bottom corner of the net and past the desperate left hand of Fabiano.
Bayern were now ahead in the tie on away goals and could have afforded to sit back a bit and take stock, but the team were in no mood to rest on their laurels. One could clearly sense that Porto were there for the taking, and waves of red and blue continued to make their way forward. There was a clear sense of urgency that had been lacking in the first leg; every ball was chased down, with no quarter given. Just sublime, controlled aggression.
Then, what was arguably the defining moment. Just five minutes after their second, Bayern scored their third – and what a goal it was. Not some fizzing shot from a tight angle or a thirty-yard blockbuster, but a team goal that arguably qualifies as one of the goals of the season and – given the context – one of the greatest goals seen at the Allianz. It had everything: twenty-seven passes as Porto were pulled across the pitch like the flesh of a well-cooked chicken being removed from the bone, one-touch passes, sublime movement and a finish that was pure poetry.
With poor Porto left chasing shadows as Die Roten passed the ball around for fun, Thiago picked the moment to strike – looping a beautiful pass from the centre circle deep into the Porto half by the right touchline towards the marauding Lahm. Showing that he had lost none of his touch since being transformed into a defensive midfielder, the skipper let the ball take one bounce before floating it into the box on the half volley, picking out Müller who created a blur of flailing limbs as he hooked across a lovely first-time ball for the advancing Lewandowski. The finish was pure textbook, the Polish predator clearly looking like a man in form.
It was a goal you can watch again and again. Yes, I’d encourage you to do just that. Watch the video below, and just put it on an endless loop.
At 3-0 Guardiola’s men were not quite out of sight, but with Porto looking anything but likely goalscorers one could start to feel comfortable. If the the first two goals elicited a loud, pressure-relieving roar and those nothing but stunned admiration, the fourth was something to make you smile, evoking memories of Germany’s almost ethereal destruction of a hapless Brazil in last year’s World Cup. With half time still nine minutes away, Müller’s well-struck shot from distance took a wicked deflection of Dutch defender Bruno Martins Indi before beating poor Fabiano. It may not have been the prettiest of goals, but it took Müller onto twenty-seven Champions’ League goals, overtaking former team mate Mario Gómez as the leading German scorer in the competition.
Just like that balmy, crazy evening in Belo Horizonte last summer, there was time for a fifth before the break. Müller had been one of the major cheerleaders before the match in demanding that everybody but themselves on the line and make all of Munich proud, and performance more than matched the pre-game call to action. Showing speed and strength der Raumdeuter forced his way in front of his marker to reach the ball by the byline, cutting the ball back inside to Lewandowski, who pinged a perfect right-footed shot low into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Holger Badstuber was arguably lucky to only see yellow for a bad double-footed challenge as the first forty-five minutes came to an end, his passion clearly spilling over. It was a rare blip in what had been a controlled performance, one excellently marshalled by English referee Martin Atkinson – in stark contrast to the flaky Carlos Velasco Carballo in the first leg.
At half-time one could now afford to relax – just a little. The 3-1 deficit had become a 6-3 lead, and with Porto needing three goals to regain their advantage – call it a miracle – one could look back at the first half and watch with awe. If the first leg had seen Bayern’s worst display of the season, this crazy evening in Munich had seen by far their best.
The second half almost started as the first had ended as Mario Götze sent a well-struck volley just wide of the target, but bayern slowly began to wind things down. That’s not to say that there were no further opportunities – Bernat had a shot blocked, Badstuber headed over and Alonso was just off-target with a smoothly-struck free-kick.
As the clock approached the final quarter of an hour Porto finally looked something like the team that had triumphed in the first leg, with skipper Martínez suddenly finding his form as he looked to restore a little pride for the bruised and battered Portuguese. The visitors finally got their reward on seventy-three minutes, but there was more than a whiff of offside as Martínez nodded the ball past Manuel Neuer as Bayern conceded their first home goal of the campaign.
Porto had suddenly sparked into life and for a short spell looked dangerous for the first time in the match, but as the clocked towards full time they knew it was little more than an exercise in futility. When Thiago’s run on goal was ended with a brutal hack from Iván Marcano the referee was left with no option but to show a second yellow card, and from the resulting free-kick Alonso – having had a decent sighter earlier in the half – made no mistake as Bayern notched up goal number six.
There was time right at the end for Lewandowski to almost claim a maiden hat-trick for Bayern as his slightly scuffed effort from close range was blocked by Fabiano, but when the final whistle blew it marked the end of what had been yet another glorious evening at the Allianz. The cornered tigers had not just triumphed, but had ripped their opponents apart. Meanwhile, in a moment that will also add to the theatre of the occasion, an excited Guardiola was seen prowling around the touchline with a massive rip in the side of his trousers. Maybe the rich Bavarian diet has had an effect on the svelte Catalan.
In coming back from the brink, Bayern had been transformed into a force of nature. Given the pressure and nature of the buildup, this performance went way beyond the 7-1 spectacle earlier this season in Rome or even that other great special night in Munich, the 4-0 destruction of Barcelona in 2013. Die Roten have made a habit of winning big in the Champions’ League in recent years, but given the fact that they were starting 3-1 down against a team previously unbeaten in the competition makes it all the sweeter.
In leading the players’ ode to to the Südkurve, the irrepressible Thomas Müller showed once again just how much the fans mean to the players as he grabbed a megaphone to lead in rousing rendition of Humba Täterä. The man truly is a legend.
We can only hope now that it is going to get a little easier on the injury front as we continue to look ahead towards the tail end of the season. A potential Bundesliga title-winning match against Hertha Berlin awaits at the weekend, and there will be no let-up as Guardiola’s men look towards first the DFB-Pokal semi-final against Borussia Dortmund at the end of April and then the Champions’ League semi-final at the beginning of May.
There is still plenty of work to be done, but things are well and truly back on track in Munich. A second treble is still on.
Match of the Match
This was truly a team performance, and everybody played their part. Every challenge was made, every fifty-fifty ball chased down, every last ounce of energy spent. Thiago was magnificent, Lahm was captain fantastic, Boateng and Badstuber were towers of strength, and Lewandowski was strong, smart and clinical. But if I were to pick one man, it would be Thomas Müller. One goal, two assists, and the sing-song at the end… What more can we ask of him? I bet he can probably create interesting creature creations out of balloons at kids’ birthday parties too.
UEFA Champions’ League, Quarter-Final Second Leg
Allianz Arena, München, 21.04.2015
FC Bayern 6:1 (5:0) FC Porto
Thiago 14., Boateng 22., Lewandowski 27., 40., Müller 36., Alonso 88. / Martínez 73.
FC Bayern: Neuer – Rafinha (72. Rode), Boateng, Badstuber, Bernat – Alonso – Lahm (c), Thiago (90. Danté) – Müller, Lewandowski, Götze (86. Weiser)
Porto: Fabiano – Reyes (33. Ricardo), Maicon, Marcano, Martins Indi – Casemiro – Herrera, Torres – Quaresma (46. Neves), Brahimi (67. Evandro) – Jackson Martínez (c)
Yellow Cards: Badstuber / Herrera, Martínez, Ricardo, Marcano (2)
Red Cards: Marcano
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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