Bayern Munich produced a devastating first-half performance to overturn a 3-1 first-leg deficit to Porto and eventually ease into last four of the Champions League, 7-4 on aggregate.
Under severe pressure after their shock loss in Portugal a week ago, Bayern blew the doubters and their opponents away with five answered goals in the first 45 minutes. And, while they failed to retain their searing intensity after the interval and Porto briefly threatened a most unlikely comeback when Jackson Martinez pulled a goal back, Xabi Alonso’s late free-kick made it a resounding 6-1 win on the night to cruise through on aggregate.
It was a dream night for manager Pep Guardiola just a week on from what had been his lowest point as Bayern Munich manager. With domestic dominance now a given and the Champions League the true marker of Bayern’s success, the knives were out for Guardiola in his second season in charge at the Allianz Arena following their obliteration by Real Madrid in the semifinals a year ago and an error-strewn offering in Portugal.
The fallout from the first-leg loss included the departure of long-time club doctor Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt, on the back of a heavy load of injuries that continued to blight Bayern for the return leg. Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, David Alaba, Mehdi Benatia and Javi Martinez were all absent from the squad, while Bastian Schweinsteiger was only fit enough for a place on the bench. Without Robben and Ribery in particular, the challenge for Guardiola was how to improve upon what had been a stale, predictable attacking performance in Porto.
But the former Barcelona boss answered those doubts and again showed what a superb and versatile coaching mind he has at his disposal. Knowing he had to find greater width, Phillip Lahm was pushed wide on the right and Juan Bernat advanced down the left. Within 30 minutes Bayern were 3-0 to the good playing with all the intensity that was lacking in the first half and profiting with a style that was vastly different from the tiki-taka stereotype often attached to Guardiola’s teams.
Each of the first three goals came from crosses from wide and commanding headers in the box. The first came after 14 minutes when Bernat supplied a superb ball from the left and Thiago Alcantara met it with an emphatic header at the near post. The identity of the scorer was fitting, too, for if there was one man to standout from this quarterfinal win it was surely the former Barcelona midfielder. Having also scored in the first leg, Thiago again showed his quality and dynamism in a performance made all the more exceptional given he has only just returned from a year out with injury.
The second goal was even more in tune with the blood and thunder variety not exactly synonymous with Bayern’s coach. A deep corner sent in front the right was headed back into the danger zone by one center-back, Holger Badstuber, and then directed into the net after a commanding jump from the other, Jerome Boateng.
The third was perhaps the pick of the bunch, a perfect synthesis of the technically proficient style Guardiola demands and the more direct approach he utilized to mount this stunning fight back. the move was all one-touch, starting with Thiago’s first-time lifted pass down the right, then followed by Lahm’s ball into the box, Müller’s volley on and Lewandowski’s decisive header to finish.
Hampered by the loss of both first-choice full-backs, Porto were simply being overwhelmed by Bayern’s incredible tempo. The pressing that so disrupted the German champions in waiting in the first leg evaporated as they struggled merely get out of their own defensive third. And there was no reversing their slide, as a first semifinal appearance since they won the Champions League in 2004 spectacularly vanished from view.
There was some misfortune for the visitors, too, when Müller’s shot from 25 yards deflected off the heel of Bruno Martins Indi and left beleaguered goalkeeper Fabiano desperately unable to recover. Before the interval it was 5-0 thanks to Müller’s pull-back and Lewandowski’s clinical finish into the corner of the net.
Among all the pre-match talk of the players Bayern had missing, it had gone underappreciated just how much talent remained. An attacking trident of Lewandowski, reveling in Bayern’s more direct approach, as well as World Cup winners Müller and Götze would be the envy of almost any other team in the world.
But, always the perfectionist, Guardiola may well have some stern words about his players taking their foot off the gas in the second half to briefly offer Porto a glimmer of hope. Hector Herrera’s cross was converted at the back post by Martinez with 17 minutes remaining, leaving Porto needing to score only twice more to prevail. When the Colombian striker soon whistled a shot inches past Manuel Neuer’s post some late drama appeared possible.
Those prospects were ended, though, when Porto defender Marcano lunged in on Thiago to earn himself a second yellow card. And a fitting finale to a magical night at the Allianz Arena was provided when Alonso curled a sumptuous free-kick into the net.