Brave Bayern come up short as Barcelona reach final
Early Neymar double makes it mission impossible for home side
Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer, Sebastian Rode, Xabi Alonso and Javi Martinez look dejected at the end of their Champions League semi-final. Photograph: Michaela Rehle/Reuters
Bayern Munich 3 Barcelona 2
On a muggy, absorbing, oddly processional night at the Allianz Arena Barcelona reached their eighth European Cup final with their first win in Munich, cruising past the champions of Germany without ever really having to thrum up through the gears. A 3-2 victory for Bayern Munich on the night – and a 5-3 Barcelona win on aggregate – was just reward for Luis Enrique’s team, who were once again irresistibly supple and incisive in attack when it mattered.
This time Luis Suárez provided the craft and Neymar some effortless finishing, the Brazilian scoring twice in the opening half hour effectively to kill the tie. If Bayern also attacked with energy in a dominant second half they were equally generous to the spectacle in defence, having started again with the high-risk three-man back line Pep Guardiola had abandoned after 15 minutes of the first leg.
In the buildup here Guardiola had committed himself fully to the remaining year of his contract at Bayern. Welcome as it was, Bayern will perhaps hope their manager spends part of the summer pondering his defensive repertoire, or at least adding a section to cover occasions such as these where that refusal to cover up and crouch behind the guard even a little can become a slightly crankish note of stubbornness.
The morning headline on the back page of Abendzeitung read “Wanted: the eighth football miracle”, above an inspirational list that summoned up, among others, West Germany’s 1954 World Cup Miracle of Bern and 2005’s Miracle of Istanbul, also deemed to be German, thanks to the presence of Dietmar Hamann and, less convincingly, Xabi Alonso.
If this was perhaps a little extreme, then reversing a 3-0 deficit against Barcelona’s sublime attacking machine was always a daunting prospect, made all the more so by the congealing of Bayern’s attacking edge in recent weeks. Before kick-off Bayern had not scored in three games. Barça, meanwhile, had not conceded since 15 April, a combined 630 minutes of football with an aggregate score of 25-0 to Luis Enrique’s team.
For all that, the Allianz Arena was familiarly boisterous before kick-off, a great rolling wave of noise breaking around its vast cantilevered sides as Bayern started quickly again, pressing aggressively in midfield. Guardiola had warned against attempting to “do everything” in the first quarter of the game but in the event his talk of caution turned out to be an act of misdirection as Bayern lined up again in that slightly wild, brilliantly bold three-against-three back line, pressing man for man in the middle and daring Barcelona to take them on.
Barça were unchanged, with the usual finely grooved three-man midfield behind Lionel Messi, Suárez and Neymar – and with the ominously familiar results with six minutes gone as Ivan Rakitic sprinted through a flat defence and shot across Manuel Neuer, who palmed away the ball. This was always likely to be a case of risk and reward for Guardiola, and for a moment there was a giddy sense of hope inside the Allianz Arena as from Barça’s corner Bayern broke the length of the field, won a corner and took the lead.
There is a misconception that Guardiola does not care for set pieces, when, in fact, he is meticulous like all top managers. Here Medhi Benatia was simply left unmarked by Barcelona at the far post, from where his header found the bottom corner.
Game on! Or maybe not. Bayern still resembled a team with a defence perpetually on the verge of being overrun, which it duly was eight minutes later. This time it was Suárez bursting from left to right through a knot of densely packed but oddly static Bayern defenders. Suárez looked up and produced a lovely square pass to Neymar in front of goal and with 14 minutes gone Bayern needed five.
Bayern kept making chances, Thomas Müller going close twice, but still that high-pressing back line looked as brittle as a four-day-old pretzel.
Barcelona’s attack is simply too good for this, so alive to the tiniest pocket of space, let alone the vast donated acreage here. With 29 minutes gone it was 2-1, the same combination of Suárez and Neymar creating a goal of playground simplicity. A single lofted pass was all it took to send Suárez sprinting in on goal again. His pass was perfectly weighted across goal. Neymar chested down and caressed the ball lovingly into the near corner.
On the touchline Guardiola looked puzzled, inquisitive, a little baffled by this turn of events but rarely can a team have come to this stadium and been required to do so little in order to score two goals. Still Bayern attacked, as they had to now, and they might have scored again on 39 minutes, Lewandowski shooting straight at Marc-André ter Stegen, then seeing the ricochet clawed off the goalline by the keeper rushing back.
As Messi left the field at half-time, his team 5-1 up on aggregate, Guardiola stepped across and shook his hand. There was no real need. Bayern had already extended courtesy enough to this stellar attack, in a display as frantic as it was limp, as bold as it as self-defeatingly open.
With the second half in danger of fizzling out, Bayern equalised again on the night, this time through a lovely finish by Robert Lewandowski just before the hour. With Barça now camped out in their own half Bayern even took the lead, Müller steadying himself and finding the corner. But for all Bayern’s gameness, there was a hollowness to their second-half dominance.
As Müller was taken off again there was even a note of dissent in the crowd, with perhaps more to come in the weeks that follow.
For Barça, Berlin awaits. They will take some stopping.