Barça reached the Champions League Final tonight after completing a 5-3 aggregate win over Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich. Bayern threatened to overturn Barça’s 3-0 advantage from the first leg especially when Mehdi Benatia headed in from a seventh minute corner. However, Barça hit back on the counter with two goals from Neymar Jr which left the Germans needing five goals to go through. A strong second half from the home side had Luis Enrique’s men on the back foot and goals from Lewandowski and Muller gave brief hope to Bayern’s fans. Despite some nervous moments, Barça held on till the end to book a place in Berlin on June 6.
Both coaches stuck with the same line-up as for last week’s first leg at Camp Nou with Guardiola’s team playing a 4-4-2 with Muller and Lewandowski up front. Bayern’s high back-line was exposed as early as the fifth minute when Alves’s long pass sent Rakitic into the area only for Neuer to make a good save. The pace was electric and the Germans reacted immediately with Muller crossing low for Thiago and Piqué had to fall to his left to block the ex-Barça midfielder’s shot with his chest.
The last thing Barça needed was to concede an early goal but just a minute later Bayern won a corner on the right, Alonso sent in the cross and Benatia escaped Busquets’s attention to send a firm header from 12 yards that Ter Stegen could only touch on its way inside the post. Suddenly, the Bayern comeback looked very possible. Barça looked nervous and Lewandowski dribbled in the area before Busquets dispossessed him. Then Schweinsteiger shot wide from 25 yards and the fear factor crept it.
At these times character is needed and it came from Neymar with the help of his strike partners. The game was still only in the 15th minute when the Brazilian set off on a dribble before finding Messi who was now in a bit of space thanks to his team-mate’s run. Messi sent the pass through the gap for Suárez who beat the offside and when Neuer came out Suárez squared for Neymar to score from close range.
Bayern now needed four goals to go through but they showed little sign of throwing in the towel. Ter Stegen needed to make a flying save to keep out Muller’s header and the Barça keeper was also alert to stop Lewandowski’s toe-poke from 15 yards. Barça responded with Messi firing a volley straight at Neuer then a Thiago dribble opened space for Muller on the right but his angled shot was comfortably saved by Ter Stegen.
Bayern’s high defence was exposed again immediately after as Ter Stegen gave the ball to Mascherano who sent a long ball from defence which was headed on by Messi sending Suárez away. This time the defenders were catching the Uruguayan so he crossed to Neymar who had time to control before hooking the ball past Neuer at the keeper’s near post.
Barça seemed to be coasting now and there was time for Suárez to show his brilliance with a flick over Benatia’s head. However, the Germans wouldn’t lie down and Ter Stegen had to make an excellent save to tip Schweinsteiger’s diving header over the bar. Then in the 39th minute Thiago set off on a run after robbing Iniesta and managed to force the ball through to Lewandowski. The striker turned and shot from 15 yards and Ter Stegen took some sting off the shot with an outstretched hand but the ball rolled on towards the goal only for the Barça keeper to scramble back and scoop it off the goalline. There was still time before the break for Benatia to head another corner over the bar but when half-time arrived with Bayern needing five goals the tie seemed to be over.
Pedro replaced Suárez at half time as a precaution for a tight hamstring and the second half began with little incident as Barça looked to keep the ball while it seemed at first as if Bayern were content to avoid a bigger defeat. However, Bayern weren’t prepared to allow Barça to put the game to sleep and the German high press would eventually reap dividends in the 59th minute when Lahm found Lewandowski who side-stepped Mascherano before beating Ter Stegen from the edge of the box.
Barça failed to find the counter-attack throught the second half with Benatia particularly impressive in keeping Messi under control. Rode replaced Lahm to add more energy to Bayern’s midfield and Luis Enrique responded by bringing on Mathieu for Rakitic. The move was intended to deal with Bayern’s final push – surely they couldn’t score four in nineteen minutes. Then just three minutes later Schweinsteiger set up Muller who scored from 20 yards (Ter Stegen appeared unsighted) and once more the German crowd had a glimmer of hope.
Perhaps, more than a glimmer of hope for Bayern, there was a renewed fear for Barça of possible catastrophe. Yes, Bayern still needed three goals in just sixteen minutes and whatever referee Mark Clattenburg decided to add. But hadn’t Barça scored three goals in less time in the first leg? The Allianz crowd roared on as Luis Enrique barked frantic orders from the touchline.
In the end Barça woke up for the final minutes with Xavi on to try and add some order. Bayern managed a couple more shots off target and another Benatia header over. The Barça fans in the stadium were too nervous to be heard until a rendition of the Barça hymn in the 90th minute. The scare had been brief and now was time to celebrate. Barça nearly grabbed a last minute goal but Neymar’s final pass just eluded Messi. The defeat on the night will matter little for culés as we reach our first Champions League Final since the 3-1 win over Manchester United in 2011.
Just three victories now separate Barça from a delicious triple. In La Liga we have two bites at the cherry, against Atlético at the Calderón on Sunday followed by Deportivo at Camp Nou the following Saturday. We then have a Copa del Rey Final against Athletic Club with the climax to the season coming in Berlin against real Madrid or Juventus. Anything can happen in football and nothing is won until it is won. However, we are in a splendid position after a superb second half to the season. We have every reason to hold our heads very high right now.
Bayern: Neuer; Rafinha, Boateng, Benatia, Bernat; Lahm (Rode m68), Alonso, Thiago, Schweinsteiger (Javi Martinez m87); Muller (Gotze m87), Lewandowski.
Barça: Ter Stegen 7.5; Alves 6.5, Piqué 6, Mascherano 5.5, Alba 6; Rakitic 6 (Mathieu m71, 6), Busquets 5.5, Iniesta 5.5 (Xavi m75, 6); Messi 7, Suárez 8 (Pedro h/t, 6), Neymar 7.5.
Goals: m7 Benatia 1-0, m15 Neymar 1-1, m29 Neymar 1-2, m59 Lewandowski 2-2, m74 Muller 3-2.
Yellow cards: m40 Rafinha, m45+2 Thiago, m64 Rakitic, m76 Lewandowski, m81 Alonso, m84 Rode, m85 Pedro