Bayern Munich 4 Barcelona 0: Three lessons as Mueller stars in Bavaria
Bayern Munich 4 Barcelona 0: What lessons did we learn as Thomas Mueller helped fire his side to a commanding first-leg win?
Aerial advantage for Bayern
Prior to the first leg, much of the analysis centered on how the hosts Bayern Munich would be able to gain an advantage over their illustrious Spanish counterparts, as they sought to reach a third final in four seasons. Many picked out the physical threat posed by the Bundesliga champions, with statistics certainly backing up the assertion that it could prove to be a feasible ploy. In fact, no side in any of the top five leagues in Europe wins as few aerial duels per game as Barcelona, with a figure of 9.7 to their name. While much of that is down to the style that is played by the Catalan club, it is also true that Barcelona’s players do not have the height to compete in this manner. The first real indication of this making an impact came in the 24th minute as Jupp Heynckes’ side took the lead in the tie. After Arjen Robben’s corner was only-half cleared, the winger’s dinked cross was nodded across the area by Dante, and eventually ended up in the path of Thomas Mueller. Alive to the danger, the attacking midfielder reacted before Gerard Pique and planted a header beyond Victor Valdes. With the home side not losing any of the last 57 home European games after scoring the opening goal, it wasn’t going to be an easy task for the visitors to get back into the game. At the end of the first period, the Bavarians ended with eight corners compared to just three for Tito Vilanova’s men. Just four minutes in the second half, the lead was doubled, with a set-piece again proving to be the undoing of Barça. Robben was again the architect for Bayern as his drilled delivery was headed by down by Mueller, who easily out-jumped full-back Dani Alves at the far post, and comfortably tapped home by Mario Gomez. Controversy surrounded the goal though with replays suggesting that Gomez may have been in an offside position when he received the ball. Incredibly that means that the striker has now netted 11 goals in the same amount of appearances this season and 15 in his last 14 Champions League games at this ground.
Robben and Mueller run riot
Throughout this first-leg fixture, Mueller and Robben were both at the heart of the best forward moves that Heynckes’ side had to offer. Netherlands winger Robben has often been lambasted as being selfish and greedy but he proved that teamwork is a key part of his game. After setting up the first and second goals with teasing deliveries, the 29-year-old added a fantastic individual effort to further extend the lead after 73 minutes. His twisting run concluded with him facing up to full-back Jordi Alba and stroking the ball home past the keeper. The officials were once again under the microscope though as they failed to spot Mueller’s body-check of Alba, which left the way clear for his team-mate to tuck home. Nearly a year to the day, he hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons after having a dressing room bust-up with Franck Ribery at half-time during the Champions League final before going on to have a penalty saved in extra time by former Chelsea colleague Petr Cech. And his performance won’t have overshadowed the show that was put on by his 23-year-old counterpart on a historic night for the home side. In a display that belied his tender amount of years, Mueller got the night off to a great start by netting the first goal before setting up the second strike. It came to the best possible end nine minutes from time as David Alaba’s slid a pass across the box to Mueller, and he poked into the empty net beyond a helpless Valdes. There was a sense of revenge for the hosts who were beaten by the same scoreline four years ago in Munich’s Olympic Stadium, as Lionel Messi scored twice. It also marked the first time that Barça have conceded a quartet in the Champions League since March 2005 against Chelsea, and a first 4-0 defeat since Dynamo Kiev dished it in the 1997/1998 group stages.
Barça get a taste of their own medicine
In all of the praise that is given to Barcelona, their possession filled pressing style is levelled as their ‘X Factor’ and what makes them special. It was difficult to see how this could be seen as a negative thing, as the statistics suggested that they had no competitors in these departments. The Spaniards have attempted a total of 7912 passes in their fixtures this campaign, with an incredible 89.7 per cent of those being completed and having an average possession rate of 69.6 per cent. While their opponents on Tuesday night were the closest challengers, they were streets ahead of Germany’s newly-crowned league champions. But this didn’t prove to be a deciding factor as Bayern showed that other sides can successfully reproduce the style. Vilanova’s men continued to retain an advantage possession wise in this encounter , with 55 per cent, but a highly-motivated home side covered over 98km to snuff out every attacking opportunity that the visitors, who were completely off-colour in both halves of the pitch, struggled to produce. While Bayern have committed more fouls (137) and received more yellow cards (24) than any other team in this year’s tournament, they stayed within the laws for the most part of this game. Much of the attention was on the return of Argentine Messi, who hadn’t played in two weeks, after a 30-minute cameo in the quarter final success over Paris Saint-Germain but he was completely overshadowed by a committed and organized home display. The infectual performance by the talismanic attacker was summed up by him having just 72 touches – the joint-fewest that he has managed in Europe this campaign. Messi and his team-mates found chances incredibly hard to come by on a difficult night in Munich, with the best falling to inexperienced centre-back Marc Bartra. With 76 minutes gone, Xavi’s free-kick found the defender unmarked in the penalty area, but after spinning round with the ball, he proceeded to fire his effort high into droves of jubilant home supporters. Despite the never-ending praise for Barcelona, this loss proved that their tactics aren’t infallible and a plan B doesn’t seem to be something that have in their armoury. Unsurprisingly no team has ever progressed to the next phase of this competition (throughout it guises as the Champions League and European Cup) after losing by this deficit, which only serves to highlight the sheer size of their task to turn the tie around.