Bayern take the baton from Barcelona
Published: 25.04.13 / Written by: David Gold
Bayern Munich’s 4-0 win over Barcelona in the Champions League semi final first leg was utterly ruthless.
Barcelona passed the ball around at the start of the game, seeking to impose their style of play on proceedings but there was something notable about the opening exchanges. Yes, Barcelona did dominate possession as they always do – and indeed they finished the game with a sizeable majority of the time spent with the ball. But for those opening minutes they were passing it around at the back, unable to make any serious impact further up the pitch where they could really hurt Bayern.
By contrast, whenever the Germans pressed and won the ball from Barcelona, they thundered forward with direct purposeful attacking play, using the flanks. Bayern love using wide areas, and feel at ease exploiting space out wide to send in dangerous crosses. Barcelona by contrast always look like they’ve been forced into those areas of the pitch and would much rather be in a more central area.
So this was the tone for the match. Bayern went ahead when Dante rose to head a corner across goal and Thomas Muller stooped to nod past Victor Valdes. It was not pretty, but it was extremely effective. Barcelona were rattled.
They were even more rattled when Bayern again scored from a corner in the second half. This time Mario Gomez met a knockdown with a poacher’s finish almost on the goal line but he was actually offside. An incorrect call from the linesman put distance between the two sides.
Barcelona did then rally, and almost found a breakthrough but were unable to score when Xavi sent Marc Bartra through on goal, and he displayed unusual lack of poise for a man in the Blaugrana colours. Bayern capitalised, striking decisively through Arjen Robben, although he was aided by a foul on Jordi Alba by Thomas Muller. The referee made a major error in allowing the third goal to stand. Barcelona tried to rally and get an away goal which would have changed the nature of the tie but instead Muller scored again on the counter attack as time ticked down.
So 4-0 is a comprehensive outcome of the first leg of this so highly billed Champions League encounter. It felt like the end of something. The end of an era perhaps. Barcelona’s dominance in Europe is at an end perhaps, highlighted by a 4-0 defeat, just as it was back in 1994 when AC Milan were the victors over them.
With Leo Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, Barcelona will still be competing for these trophies year after year. But you wonder whether the very best of them has been seen. The golden age under Pep Guardiola seems a distant memory all of a sudden. Barcelona are no longer the team of fantasy they once were – once invincible they are now mortals again.
Bayern may well be the team who assume their mantle as Europe’s finest. More displays like the one last night and no one will be able to live with their sheer power and pace. Yet there is something lacking. Bayern have not got the same fantasy as Barcelona had. Even last night, as they pummelled the Catalans, it was like a hungry wolf tearing into a cat. There was no subtlety about Bayern. It was simply pace, power, direct football and ultimate efficiency. Barcelona on the other hand, have always relied on intelligence of movement and passing. Theirs is a game not so much based on pace and power, but a combination of remarkable fitness and extremely intelligent interplay. Barcelona’s triumphs were always victories of intelligence and of style. Bayern’s is one of strength and speed. The former is always superior to the latter. Bayern may have taken Barcelona’ s mantle, but they have much to do to enchant the world the way Barcelona did. Just as well perhaps, that their next manager will be the man who made Barcelona so thrilling to watch.