It keeps happening. After last year’s heartbreak, FC Bayern once again fell just short against Real Madrid. More missed opportunities, marginal decisions, and a defensive howler that beggared belief. Bayern should really be in the Champions League final. How many times have we said that in recent years?
I really do not know what to say. Time and again, the same story. Here is how it went. Elation. Irritation. Confusion. Frustration. Desperation. Abject desolation.
Now, it is time for reflection.
No refereeing conspiracy. Well, not this time
First, let us get the issue of referees out of the way. What happened this evening cannot be compared with last season’s quarter-final defeat against Real. There were mistakes across both legs of this semi-final, but that is football. Some of us will always look at this with a jaundiced eye as it, after all, Read Madrid… But, there was no case to answer here.
Like the first leg, there was one penalty-claim howler. Marcelo, a player I have grown to despise despite his wonderful skill and ability, somehow managed to hoodwink the officials into believing that he had blocked Joshua Kimmich’s cross legally. Well, either that or the otherwise useless goal line official staring right at him was blind or drunk.
But unlike the quarter-final at the Bernabéu last year, we cannot look at any sort of conspiracy. The honest truth is that Bayern battled hard and were the better team, but came up short due to their own mistakes. Poor defensive coordination to concede the first goal, and a shocking series of calamities to gift Madrid with an easy second.
Ulreich’s hot potato
Some people will blame Sven Ulreich for Real’s second goal. Yes, he was complicit. Yes, it was bad. OK, yes. It was a complete and utter howler. But we need to ask what the hell Corentin Tolisso was doing in playing that suicidal back pass. He did not even look up before throwing the hot potato straight at the ‘keeper.
Just seconds after the start of the second half, it was like being dished up with a cold starter you never ordered. A truly horrific passage of play. A kick-off followed by eight passes that were either lateral or backwards. Then the massive fail, leaving Karim Benzema to score with Real’s very first touch after the restart.
Ulreich knew he couldn’t handle the ball. He tried – and failed – to get his body back into position. What followed was borderline comical. So much so that the entire crowd I was with were just numbed into silence. A genuine “what the hell was that?” silence. OK, the question was a little more coarse.
Would Manuel Neuer have done any better? Perhaps. Perhaps not. After all, the original “Mauer” has had a few howlers in the past. Even the best can make a mistake. Ulreich has been a revelation this season, and the praise that has been sent his way by the coach, fellow players and fans still holds true.
In what might unfairly be called a game of two ‘keepers, it should also be noted that Keylor Navas played a blinder. Maybe it was the result of his having a haircut, but he looked far from the butterfingered bag of nerves we saw in Munich. The save the Costa Rican made to keep out David Alaba’s well-struck effort was straight out of the top drawer.
Obsession with possession
After taking over from Carlo Ancelotti in September, Jupp Heynckes had put the Bavarians firmly back on track. It had even come to a point where some of us had truly believed that Bayern could win another treble. In the end, the Champions League dream was ended by a lack of the clinical finishing that had defined the champion class of 2013.
But it was not only this. Two of Madrid’s goals across the two ties had come about as a result of avoidable defensive blunders, created by the almost maniacal obsession with possession. In the first leg, there was Rafinha’s suicidal cross-pitch pass. In the second, the accumulation of backward and lateral passes.
Eight completed passes. Good. Complete control of possession. Excellent. Only for the opposition to finish it off by putting the ball in the back of the net. Oh.
It was the perfect summary of Bayern’s game, reflected in the crazy statistics across both legs.
In the first leg, Die Roten had controlled 59% of the possession, completing 546 of 631 passes compared to Madrid’s 351 of 416. In the second leg it was 56%, with 519 completed passes from 597 attempts, as opposed to their opponents’ 334 from 400. Away from home. In the seething cauldron of the Bernabéu, no less.
In stark contrast, when Bayern had coasted to that famous 7:0 aggregate victory over Barcelona at the same stage in 2013, their possession count had averaged 40% across both legs. It was a paltry 37% on home turf at the Allianz, where Barça had been subjected to a masterclass in the art of clinical finishing.
In 2013, Bayern were a lean and mean counterattacking machine.
Rather than build on this, Pep Guardiola would turn the Bavarians into a version of that Barcelona team that had been comprehensively sliced and diced in 2013. A team that loved to boss possession, but was highly susceptible to the venomous counterattack. Sadly, this has been the pattern ever since. Carlo Ancelotti could not undo it, and neither could Jupp Heynckes. But hey, the stats were great.
As Pep himself would say, Super.
Wir kämpfen weiter
In the final analysis, the Bayern players had given us everything we could have wanted from this high-pressure fixture. Except the goal that would have taken us to Kyiv. Had we taken our chances, had we had that little more of the rub of the green, Real’s second goal would have been rendered an irrelevancy. Nobody would have cared. In fact, we all would have laughed as the beer flowed.
Not for the first time against this opponent, we can count ourselves unlucky. But who would have thought we would be here at the end of last September, when the media were writing Bayern off and lining Dortmund up for the Bundesliga title? After we had been subjected to a hiding in Paris? Jupp Heynckes has performed miracles, taking the team to a sixth straight Bundesliga title and the final of the DFB-Pokal.
And so, another European adventure comes to a bitter end. But there are two more weeks left in the league, and after that the final chapter in Berlin. There, we hope the team will give Jupp the perfect send-off. He deserves nothing less.
I am proud of this team. In victory and in defeat, I will always carry this team in my heart. With each defeat, it is easier to get over the next one. But it is no less painful. But we are Bayern. Wir kämpfen weiter.
Mia san mia!