It was painless, if a little snooze-worthy. FC Bayern München are almost through to the last sixteen of the Champions League, after a solid and functional display against AEK Athens at the Allianz Arena. Robert Lewandowski bagged a brace, as the Bavarians eased to their second 2:0 win over the Greek champions.
A fortnight ago, FC Bayern beat AEK 2:0 in the Greek capital. In my post-match report, I suggested that a similar result could be sufficient to see them through the last sixteen.
Job done. Well, almost.
Under continued scrutiny after the 1:1 draw against SC Freiburg, Bayern coach Niko Kovač made plenty of tweaks to his starting eleven. Niklas Süle made way for Mats Hummels in the centre of the defence, and Joshua Kimmich was back in his familiar right-back slot, meaning that Rafinha was on the bench.
There were wholesale changes in the middle of the park. Back into the “six” slot, Javi Martínez was joined by Thomas Müller and Leon Goretzka, with James Rodríguez, Renato Sanches swapped out. A late injury to Arjen Robben meant that Franck Ribéry made a start alongside Serge Gnabry in a rejigged attack.
Having grown accustomed to seeing Bayern charge off the blocks and then fade away in recent outings, the pattern of this match was a markedly different. The opening twenty minutes were largely forgettable, as the home side struggled to find any sort of rhythm.
The first real opportunity would fall to the visitors after just five minutes, with the Bayern defence almost caught out from a corner. Thankfully, Vasilis Lampropoulos headed wide when he should have at least hit the target. AEK ‘keeper Vasilis Barkas was equal to a well-placed header from Leon Goretzka, but that was about the best the home side could offer.
Bayern’s play was particularly sluggish, and there was a growing sense of discontent among some sections of the crowd. The passing game lacked its usual accuracy, and opportunities were at a premium.
Lewy on the spot
Just as the crowd were about to fall asleep, Kovač’s men finally got a break. At first, it looked like just another missed half chance, with Müller hitting a shot wide from a Kimmich corner. But then, having had a word with one of the goal line officials, referee Matej Jug pointed to the penalty spot.
It was a pretty clear decision. AEK’s Serbian defender Uroš Ćosić clearly wanted to swap shirts with Robert Lewandowski, dragging the Polish striker down to the ground on the process. In his 100th Champions League match, Lewy stepped up to take the kick, confidently firing it past Barkas.
The goal appeared to provide some spark to the attack, and the closing fifteen minutes of the first half was a lot more positive.
The start to the second half was a lot more positive. Müller sent a firm snapshot wide, and a lovely ball into the box from Kimmich was brilliantly met by Goretzka, whose firm header was turned over the bar by the increasingly busy Barkas.
Bayern double their lead
AEK were unable to make any impact and Manuel Neuer could very easily have retreated for a nap, but recent events meant that the home crowd remained on edge. Just a goal adrift, it was not beyond the realms of possibility for AEK to do a Freiburg and snatch an equaliser.
Just after the hour mark, a lovely through ball from Martínez found Lewandowski, but the Pole was unable to dink the ball over Barkas. Minutes later, David Alaba sent a free-kick straight into the hands of the Greek ‘keeper. There was a moment of mild panic as AEK made a rare foray into the Bayern half, but Niklas Hult’s deflected cross was well held by Neuer.
After 71 minutes, Die Roten got some much-needed breathing space. A Kimmich corner was flicked towards the far post by a defender, and Lewandowski executed the perfect poacher’s finish to score his 49th Champions League goal.
The home crowd could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
Through with two matches to spare
There were a couple of good opportunities to add some additional gloss, with Gnabry testing Barkas and Lewandowski heading wide. But Bayern had done what they needed to do. In matching the result in Athens, it felt like a Greek Groundhog Day.
Having almost sleepwalked through their first four matches, Bayern are back at the top of the group. Ajax’s 1:1 draw with Benfica in Lisbon also means that barring a mathematical miracle, the Bavarians are through to the knockout phase with two matches to spare.
FC Bayern München – AEK Athens 2:0 (1:0)
Lewandowski pen 31., 72. / –
FC Bayern: Neuer (c) – Kimmich, Boateng, Hummels, Alaba – Martínez – Müller, Goretzka – Gnabry (87. Renato Sanches), Ribéry (84. Rafinha) – Lewandowski (90.+1. Wagner)
AEK: Barkas – Lampropoulos, Chygrynskyy, Ćosić – Bakakis, Hult – André Simões – Galanopoulos (78. Rodrigo Galo), Alef (67. Erik Morán) – Mantalos (c) (80. Boyé) – Ponce
Referee: Matej Jug (Slovenia)
Yellow Cards: – / Ćosić 30., André Simões 64., Lampropoulos 67.
Red Cards: – / –
Shots: 19 / 3
Passes: 589 / 372
Completed Passes: 412 / 293
Pass Success: 87% / 79%
Possession: 62% / 38%
Fouls: 13 / 14
Offsides: 6 / 1
Corners: 11 / 1