Four years after a memorable 4-0 Champions League victory over Bayern Munich the tables were turned tonight as Barça were destroyed by the same score at the Allianz Arena. There is still a second leg at Camp Nou next week but few will give Barça a hope of returning to Wembley for another final after tonight’s result.
Leo Messi was declared fit before the game and Tito Vilanova opted for an XI of Valdés, Alves, Bartrá, Piqué, Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi and Alexis. The idea of playing Pedro and Alexis was because of their work-rate though Barça seemed more concerned with stopping Bayern than in looking for an important away goal.
From the start Barça looked to control possession and in this respect the team was reasonably successful. However, with Messi dropping deep and Alexis and Pedro occupied with tracking Lahm and Alaba there was very little threat on the German goal. Bayern played more vertically and despite not seeing much of the ball early on they created much more danger. After just two minutes Javi Martinez burst into the right side of the penalty area before rolling the ball back to Robben whose low toe-poke was saved by Valdés.
There was little reaction from Barça. The team worked hard to keep possession though Xavi and Iniesta were always controlled well by Schweinsteiger and Martinez while Messi found it hard to get involved and looked a long way from being at 100%. There was one chance from a Xavi corner but the freshly shaved head of Piqué sent the ball wide of the far post.
The Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai will have pleased few with his decisions tonight. In the 15th minute he failed to see a handball from Piqué after Lahm’s shot as Bayern began to push further forward. Corners were always likely to be a problem for Barça and the fact that Bayern won eight in the first 40 minutes was a clear sign of the pressure on Valdés’s goal. In the 25th minute Ribery took a corner from the left, Robben clipped the ball on to Muller who held the ball up before laying the ball back to Robben to cross from the right, Dante rose above Alves and headed the ball back across goal for Muller running in to head home via Valdés’s legs. A foul on Alves? Probably. Could Valdés have done more? Yes. But the goal stood and Barça got worse from here on.
There was only one moment of danger on Neuer’s goal in what remained of the first half but Dante just managed to get his toe onto Pedro’s cross to knock the ball away from the lurking Messi. Bayern had another shout for a penalty after Dante flicked on another corner and the ball struck Alexis’s hand but the referee ignored the Germans’ appeal. Barça arrived to half time relieved to be only one goal down but the second half would prove to be a nightmare.
There was hope at the start of the second period when Martinez was booked for repetitive fouls on Iniesta. However, Don Andrés had a game to forget and Martinez continued to win their personal battle. In the 49th minute Martinez got forward again only to be denied by Bartrá getting back to clear. However, from the resulting corner Robben crossed to the far post where Alves was again beaten in the air by Muller who headed the ball back to where Gomez hooked the ball in from close range. Again Barça could feel hard done by as Gomez was clearly offside but the 2-0 scoreline was a fair reflection of the two teams’ merits.
Bayern were now rampant. Robben set up Ribery for another chance but the Frenchman fired wired, then soon after Robben rose above Alba to head Schweinsteiger’s free kick wide. The reaction from Barça was timid. A cross from Alves followed soon after by one from Alba but both were cut out by Neuer. Messi continued to play very little part, managing just one run into the area which won a corner. From Xavi’s kick Alexis knocked the ball down to Bartrá who couldn’t get any power on his shot and Neuer made an easy save.
The need for an away goal was clear. Pedro had moved to the left in the second half and in the 72nd minute he got past Lahm and crossed but Piqué couldn’t get on the end of it. Bayern went straight up the other end, Ribery found Schweinsteiger who played the ball onto Robben on the right and the Dutchman went past Alba, with the help of a clear foul from Muller on Alba, and snuck the ball past Valdés, who got a slight touch, and inside the far post.
An away goal would still have given Barça plenty to play for in the second leg but unfortunately the best Barça chance again fell to Bartrá who, receiving the ball with his back to the goal, couldn’t decide which way to turn and eventually sent his shot well wide. Bayern came close again after Muller got past Alba and Piqué with Valdés coming to the rescue, the ball came out to Schweinsteiger who managed to injure Alves while knocking the ball on to Ribery whose shot was blocked by Piqué.
With Alves off the pitch Bayern attacked down their left side. Schweinsteiger found Ribery who played the ball onto the overlapping Alaba whose cross was bundled home gleefully by Muller. There was ten minutes still to play but Barça were finished already. The overall frustration was summed up with Alba receiving a stupid yellow card for tossing the ball at Robben’s face.
For Barça there will be many questions to answer after this performance. It is true that the first three goals could all have been disallowed but there could also have been two first half penalties awarded for the handballs from Piqué and Alexis. It is also true that both Busquets and Messi were returning after injury and both players looked a long long way from their best. However, the truth is that Bayern were physically far superior, a fact that was demonstrated by the 112,846 metres covered by Bayern compared to 106,577 run by Barça. Whether this comes down to a question of fitness or a question of desire it is difficult to say though it is probably a mixture of the two things.
Some will no doubt call this the end of an era though with players like Messi, Iniesta, Piqué, Busquets and Alba, however poorly they may have played tonight, we have the core of Barça’s team for the next five years at least. The problem, however, is perhaps the result of so much continued success and for players who are so used to playing finals and semi-finals it is difficult to continue to raise their game. We should take nothing away from Bayern who showed what an excellent team they are, and Guardiola will have few problems to achieve more success with these players. For Barça the saddest thing was the lack of fight shown in the last twenty minutes when an away goal could have changed everything. The lack of reaction from Vilanova was also worrying. No shouting to animate the players and no substitutions except for the late introduction of Villa. Sometimes you just have to accept that the other team has been superior but tonight we let ourselves down by not competing as we should have.
Bayern: Neuer; Lahm, Boateng, Dante, Alaba; Javi Martinez, Schweinsteiger; Robben, Muller (Pizarro m83), Ribery (Shaqiri m88); Gomez (Luis Gustavo m71).
Barça: Valdés 5.5; Alves 5.5, Bartrá 5, Piqué 5, Alba 4.5; Xavi 5, Busquets 4.5, Iniesta 5; Pedro 5.5 (Villa m83, –), Messi 4.5, Alexis 5.5.
Goals: m25 Muller 1-0, m49 Gomez 2-0, m73 Robben 3-0, m82 Muller 4-0.
Yellow cards: m37 Gomez, m39 Bartrá, m46 Javi Martinez, m86 Alexis, m87 Schweinsteiger, m89 Alba, m92 Iniesta.
Allianz Arena 68,000