It’s an unfortunate rarity that two of the best sides in the world get to compete directly against each other, as Bayern Munich and Barcelona did in the Allianz Arena on Tuesday night, it is also a rarity that when those clashes do occur they are as one sided as this Champions League semi-final was.
Lionel Messi and company have dominated the European scene for over half a decade, picking up two Champions League wins in the past five years and being ever-presents in the latter stages of the competition. Yet their Bavarian hosts made them look a shadow of their normal selves as they fired four past the Catalans without reply.
Bayern dismantled their opponents with ease, with Muller claiming a brace alongside goals from Arjen Robben and Mario Gomez, and at the back they were rarely threatened, with Messi, the catalyst for so many of Barcelona’s most inspired performances, clearly still feeling the effects of his most recent hamstring injury.
Barcelona may feel aggrieved that Gomez’s goal was not ruled out for offside, or that they were not awarded a foul in the build-up to Robben’s neat finish, but they too were let off by the referee, with Gerard Pique handling the ball in the box during the early stages of the first-half which replays suggested was a stonewall penalty.
It’s a result which makes it look close to impossible for Barcelona to come back, as they have done so many times in the past, at the Nou Camp. Indeed, it’s a result which suggests, after an era of Catalan rule, there may be a new dominant force in Europe, and the dominate force comes from Bavaria, Germany.
Barcelona attempted to set the pace for the game, dominating possession and frustrating their opponents, their hosts responded however by breaking quickly with their first real spell on the ball, culminating in Robben cutting inside from the right-hand side, alluding his marker and firing a shot on goal which forced a good save from Victor Valdes.
It was to be a continuing theme of the early stages of the first-half, with Barcelona largely dominating possession but seeing their intricate play well broken up by Munich, who’d in turn break quickly. Good play in abundance, though chances in the early stages were few and far between as both sides canceled each other out.
But with 25 minutes played it was Thomas Muller who struck first, with a ball from Frank Ribery leading to a one-two between Muller and Robben, with the Dutchman playing a looping cross into the box towards Dante, who headed down into the path of Muller, allowing the German to comfortably knock the ball into Valdes’ bottom left-hand corner.
Bayern continued to threaten, most particularly from set pieces where the height and physical presence of the hosts troubled the Barcelona back-line on a number of occasions. Barcelona continued to have their fair share of possession, but created very little, with Messi often seen back near the half-way line trying to spark the visitors into life.
It was another header at the back post four minutes into the second-half that helped double Bayern’s lead, with a corner kick reaching Muller at the far post, who nodded back across the face of goal for Gomez to tap it in with little pressure from a helpless Barcelona back-line, who had looked susceptible from set-pieces throughout.
There was no rally from Tito Vilanova’s side, no surge forward, no immense pressure piled on Bayern’s defence. Indeed, Barcelona rarely looked a threat to their hosts, with Messi rarely showing the brilliance that has seen him win four successive Balon D’Or’s, leaving young defender Marc Bartra to have Barcelona’s best chance of the night, nudging it straight at Neuer from close range.
Barcelona came close again, just after Bartra’s close range effort, but a chance for Pique was handled by Neuer, with Bayern breaking quickly through Ribery, who played it quickly across to Robben via Sweinsteiger, allowing the winger to break down the right, cutting inside before working a sight on goal and firing home.
Their fourth came with just under ten minutes to go as Ribery played a ball forward along the right into the path of the advancing Alaba, who proceeded to play it across the face of goal and into the path of the advancing Muller, with the German beating Jordi Alba to the ball and nudging it past Valdes and into the back of the net.