Bayern Munich took a surely decisive step toward a second-straight Champions League final as they produced a superb performance to defeat a subdued Barcelona 4-0 in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal at the Allianz Arena.
From first minute to last, Bayern were the better team in all areas of the pitch and fully deserved their win and the resounding manner of it. Thomas Muller set the recently-crowned Bundesliga champions on their way in the first half and Barcelona’s aerial weakness was exposed a second time when Mario Gomez made it two shortly after the break.
With Barcelona failing to show any signs of a recovery, Arjen Robben and Muller once more scored late on to potentially make the second leg a mere formality. While Barcelona could point to questionable decisions from the officials on two of the goals, even the most ardent fan would struggle to argue that the scoreline had not been just.
Bayern had shown the potential for this type of performance throughout a record-breaking campaign, but the dominating fashion of their win against a side that were looking for a third Champions League title in five years still took the breath away.
Barcelona, though, weakened by injuries and suspensions as well as a lack of signings at the back were also listless going forward throughout as the decision to play a drastically off-the-pace Lionel Messi failed to pay any dividends.
If anything, the result could have been even more emphatic.
Bayern started the game extremely positively pushing high up the pitch and had a glorious chance to take the lead inside two minutes. Spaniard Javi Martinez broke down the right of the box and executed a clever back-heel for Robben, but the Dutchman, in the side in place of the injured Toni Kroos, failed to make the most of the opportunity as he poked a tame shot that Victor Valdes got down low to block.
With every man working tirelessly without the ball, Bayern were happy to drop back much of the time but also caused problems pressing high up on occasion. Yet, at all times every man was acutely aware of their responsibility.
With the ball they also looked by far the more dangerous side. Bayern should probably have had a penalty early on too as Philipp Lahm’s fierce shot from the edge of the box was blocked by the arm of Gerard Pique.
Jupp Heyncke’s side would have to wait until the 25th minute to begin getting just reward for their play. Capitalizing on Barcelona’s weakness in the air after a half-cleared corner, Robben lobbed a hopeful deep cross into the box allowing Dante to tower over Daniel Alves and head back across goal into the six-yard box where Muller arrived around the back to stoop and head home off of Valdes.
There was little initial response from the Liga leaders and in fact they failed to muster a single shot on target in the entire first half. The one time Messi, making his first start in three weeks after a hamstring injury, came to making any impact in the attacking third was when Dante just diverted the ball away from the Argentinian in the box following a low cross from Pedro.
At the start of the second half, Barcelona initially came out positively as they looked to get a potentially crucial away goal, but within four minutes of the restart their deficit had been doubled.
Again Bayern profited from Barcelona’s inability to match up in the air defensively. From a Robben corner, Alves’s lack of height was fatally exposed for the second time, this time by Muller who headed it back across goal and from inside the six-yard box, although he appeared marginally offside, Gomez pounced to volley home in typically predatory fashion.
Barcelona now desperately needed an away goal to prevent themselves having a mountain to climb at Camp Nou next week. Instead, Bayern remained the likelier to find the net.
Robben cut in from the right in trademark fashion just prior to the hour mark, but this time instead of shooting on his favored left foot he laid it onto Ribery who took a fine touch past Alves but dragged his shot wide of the target.
And minutes later Robben did have an attempt on goal and really should have found the target and the back of the net as he climbed above Sanchez but put a header wide.
As the half wore on, Bayern, understandably, began to focus increasingly on maintaining their advantage -- a point that was reinforced when the defensively minded midfielder Luiz Gustavo replaced Gomez.
But just as the narrative of a Barcelona onslaught appeared set for the final 20 minutes, Bayern entered dreamland by taking a 3-0 lead.
Even more than the second goal, there was huge controversy about the strike that will likely rage long after the final whistle. Jordi Alba, facing up to Robben down the right of the box, was crudely taken out of the game by a blatant body check by Muller, but play was allowed to go on and Robben took full advantage of the space to place a fine finish from an acute angle past Valdes.
Incredibly, the night had not yet reached its pinnacle for Bayern, as, moments after being denied by Valdes, Muller hit a fourth.
With his second goal of the game that surely secures Bayern’s place in the final, Muller stole in ahead of Alba in the middle from Ribery’s inviting low cross and slid to turn the ball into the net and wrap up a memorable night in Bavaria.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.