FOOTBALL / Barcelona’s European campaign battered by Bayern Munich
By the end it was a humiliation. Barcelona, the team that has made its reputation on merciless thrashings, know what it feels like to be on the wrong end of a good old-fashioned one itself. It had been outfought, out-thought and ultimately, outplayed, and from here, who can possibly see Bayern surrendering this position and not making it to Wembley on May 25?
A team of Barcelona’s refinement is simply not accustomed to being humbled in this manner. It will consider this a deeply chastening experience and perhaps the most astonishing part is that the damage might have been even more grievous. Bayern played with such ambition and superiority that it is no exaggeration to say the team 20 points clear at the summit of German football might have added more goals.
Barcelona left with legitimate complaints about the officiating, particularly when Mario Gomez and the outstanding Arjen Robben scored the second and third goals, but it would be kidding itself if it wants to attribute the blame elsewhere.
The manner in which it had crumpled was almost shocking to see. Bayern muzzled Lionel Messi in a way that rarely happens. It was the stronger, fitter unit; the team that played with the greater structure and organisation, and now Barcelona — mighty Barcelona — fully understand why Jupp Heynckes’ side has a goal difference of 75 in its favour in the Bundesliga.
It was a rout, the kind of score that is not meant to happen to Messi et al. But the team was flat, lacking cohesion, pressed into carelessness, vulnerable in defence and lightweight in attack — everything one would normally consider beneath them. Was it a one-off or something deeper? There were later questions about it being “the end of an era.” All that can be said for certain is that it was dishevelled enough to make it a genuine debate.
Bayern, in stark contrast, was tremendous. Robben and Ribery shimmered with menace on the flanks. Muller, scorer of the first and fourth goals, was a dangerous opponent. Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger controlled midfield, ensuring there was never a single part of the match when Messi started to influence the tempo.
Barcelona had looked like a flower starved of water when Messi was unable to start the second leg of its quarterfinal against Paris St. Germain.
This time he was there from the beginning, albeit possibly still short of fitness, but was peripheral, looking increasingly forlorn as the game went on, hands on hips and shaking his head.
He had a stinker. Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta could have no meaningful influence. Gerard Pique, the central figure in defence, affirmed the sense that he is not the most accomplished organiser and Marc Bartra, playing because of injuries to others, barely coped.
Bayern could have been ahead inside 90 seconds, Robben running though, but denied by Victor Valdes, and Barcelona had still not found its rhythm by the time Muller opened the scoring with a 25th-minute header.
Robben clipped in the cross and Dante had the height advantage over Dani Alves for the first chance.
His effort was drifting wide, but Muller was at the far post and Valdes, not looking wholly convincing, was beaten by a stooping header.
The goal had highlighted Bayern’s superiority in the air and it was the same four minutes after the interval.
Three players went for the ball when Robben whipped a corner to the far post.
Two of them wore Barcelona shirts, yet neither with great conviction, certainly not compared with Muller’s leap. Gomez was offside when he applied the finishing touch from two yards out, but even then, Barcelona did not appeal with the kind of vigour usually associated with it.
Muller flashed a shot wide, Ribery had a go from the other side and Robben, hardly known for his aerial prowess, had a free header at goal before the home side went further ahead.
Robben worked the ball on to that wonderful left foot, running through the right-hand channel and took full advantage of referee Viktor Kassai not penalising Muller’s block on Jordi Alba.
Barcelona’s players waited for a whistle as Robben expertly slipped his shot past Valdes. Barcelona, after years of dishing out this kind of trouncing, was now being subjected to Bavarian “olés”.
Muller slid in to make it four from David Alaba’s cross and Barcelona’s worst defeat in Europe for 16 years was complete. ©Guardian Newspapers Limited 2013