Three days after the stomach-churning draw with Fortuna Düsseldorf, FC Bayern München’s Champions League tie with Benfica had been billed as a make or break match for coach Niko Kovač. After a stunning 5:1 victory inspired by a revitalised Robbéry, the clouds appear to have lifted. For the time being.
There is still plenty of work to do, but finally the team showed commitment and, more crucially, an united front. Meanwhile, the scribblers at Bild are cooking up their next FC Hollywood fantasy plot.
Robben at the double
With the media going into overdrive following the late-game meltdown at the weekend, the only thing the coach could do was maintain calm. There were only two small tweaks to the starting eleven, with Arjen Robben and Rafinha coming in for Renato Sanches and Javi Martínez.
With rumours of dressing room discord and lurid stories whipped by a ravenous media, one might have expected some timidity on the pitch. The reality was far from that. Bayern, kitted out in all red and needing just a point to conform their place in the last sixteen, approached the task with gusto. Right from the start, they looked to impose themselves on a Benfica team that looked like startled rabbits.
It took just thirteen minutes for the Bavarians to break the deadlock in stunning fashion. Taking the ball out on the right touchline, Robben worked his way inside. The Dutchman danced, wriggled, jinked and muscled his way past four white shirts, creating space to launch one of his left-footed specials.
😍 What. A. Goal!
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) November 27, 2018
It was the sort of magical moment that had been in short supply at the Allianz Arena this season.
The goal sparked a furious red wave. Franck Ribéry was denied by Benfica ‘keeper Odisseas Vlachodimos, and the former German youth international then denied Robert Lewandowski with a stunning save.
Robben saw another shot kept out by the busy ‘keeper, but was not to be denied on the half-hour mark. Repeating his first trick, the balding winger again crashed the ball into the back of the net. If the approach was less spectacular, the finish just as emphatic.
Lewy shows up
Vlachodimos’ save to keep out Lewandowski was brilliant, but his flying leap to deny Thomas Müller was even better. With Robben providing a peach of a pass, der Raumdeuter’s header was on its way to the top right-hand corner before it was spectacularly pushed over by the Greek international.
The home fans did not have to wait long for the third. Straight from the resulting corner swung in by Joshua Kimmich, Lewandowski leaped high to beat two defenders and find the bottom left-hand corner.
The Polish international had been poor against Düsseldorf, and clearly had a point to prove. It was also nice to see a set piece being executed to perfection. The goal was Lewy’s 50th Champions League goal in 77 appearances.
Ruud van Nistelrooy (62 games)
Lionel Messi (66 games)
Robert Lewandowski (77 games)
Robert Lewandowski is the third fastest player to score 50 Champions league goals. pic.twitter.com/TDSyPx9Pqm
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 27, 2018
Earlier in the month against Borussia Dortmund, Bayern had played their best half of the season but had been unable to turn the possession and good play into goals. This time, they had made their opponents pay. It could have been half a dozen, but a three-goal lead was ample reward. At the other end, Benfica had failed to register a single shot on target.
Two more goals, but no clean sheet
Clean sheets have been hard to come by for Die Roten this season, and the first half might have suggested that things were about to change. However, they were caught cold within a minute of the restart.
In scene that has played out far too many times in the past few months, the defence was torn open by a swift counterattack. With his first touch of the ball, substitute Gedson Fernandes exchanged passes with Jonas before drilling the ball past Manuel Neuer.
Some of those in the 70,000 crowd might have feared yet another meltdown from the home side, but these worries were quickly allayed by another fine Lewandowski finish just five minutes later. In almost a carbon copy of his first goal, Lewy rose above the defence to meet Kimmich’s corner, guiding the ball past the prostrate Vlachodimos.
— FC Bayern US (@FCBayernUS) November 28, 2018
There were time for a fifth goal, and it was one richly appreciated by the capacity crowd. Having been denied by Vlachodimos just moments earlier, Franck Ribéry collected a cutback from David Alaba before slotting the ball into the bottom right-hand corner. It was his first Champions League goal in over three years.
With the Bavarians away and clear, both of the old timers were subbed off to warm applause. The coach then provided an opportunity for one of the up and coming generation, with South Korean teenager Woo-Yeong Jeong stepping out for his first senior appearance in a Bayern-Trikot.
There is still work to do
After Saturday’s nightmare, this was just the sort of performance we wanted to see. The players were clearly working for each other and the coach, and quickly followed up with statements to that effect. With their backs against the wall, the team had finally come together.
— DW Sports (@dw_sports) November 27, 2018
There is still plenty of work to do. Benfica’s goal showed that there are still issues with the Bayern defence, and there will be tougher opponents as the season progresses. The crushing victory brought a sense of normality back to the Allianz, but it will all mean very little if the team fails to kick on from here and towards the Winterpause.
Before the kickoff, the talk had all been about it potentially being Kovač’s last match in charge. Feeding on an ambiguous statement from Uli Hoeneß after the Düsseldorf draw, the media had done their best to extract as much drama from the situation as possible.
I am almost certain that the hacks at Bild had the back-page headline “KOVAC RAUS!” all ready go. Oh to have been a fly on the wall in their offices when the goals started flying in.
For time being at least, FC Bayern München are back to normal. Niko Kovač is still in a job.
With all the talk of “moles”, player revolts and dressing room disputes, the team seem to be firmly behind the coach. As for Bild, I cannot wait to see what nonsense they will come out with next.
FC Bayern München – SL Benfica 5:1 (3:0)
Robben 13., 30., Lewandowski 36., 51., Ribéry 76. / Gedson 46.
FC Bayern: Neuer (c) – Rafinha, Süle, Boateng, Alaba – Goretzka, Kimmich – Robben (72. Renato Sanches), Ribéry (77. Wagner), Müller (81. Jeong), Lewandowski
Benfica: Vlachodimos – André Almeida (c), Conti, Ruben Dias, Grimaldo – Fejsa (76. Alfa Semedo) – Pizzi (46. Gedson), Gabriel – Rafa Silva, Cervi – Jonas (59. Seferović)
Referee: Daniele Orsato (Italy)
Yellow Cards: Robben 24., Ribéry 33. / Alfa Semedo 87.
Red Cards: – / –
Shots: 14 / 6
Passes: 672 / 475
Completed Passes: 590 / 389
Pass Success: 88% / 82%
Possession: 58% / 42%
Fouls: 12 / 8
Offsides: 3 / 1
Corners: 4 / 3