Real Madrid win again, Bayern Munich left to rue
It felt inevitable when the final whistle was blown last night at the Allianz Arena. Real Madrid once again had the advantage in the knock out stages of the Champions League. Once again they had beaten fellow European Royals, Bayern Munich in a result that will leave the Bavarians with some real concerns.
This was Bayern’s sixth consecutive defeat to Real, who will feel hugely confident of sealing the tie off in the second leg, however the Madrid giants really had to grind this one out. Bayern should have won it easy; they created a host of chances which were squandered by their misfiring star players. Robert Lewandowski and Frank Ribery were particularly wasteful with their chances, while in contrast Real were clinical. They scored two opportunistic goals; a half volley by the ever impressive Marcelo and a breakaway goal by Marco Asensio following a Rafinha error. The tie is still very much in the balance but Bayern have been dealt a huge psychological blow and lost two more players to injury in Robben and Boateng. Real have vulnerabilities at the back and an erratic goalkeeper, so this should give Bayern something to work on, but there was a sense of finality and frustration from Bayern supporters at the final whistle.
Bundesliga success, European stumbles
It’s important not to get carried away with a defeat, no matter how much it hurts as a fan. However, this result when put in context with recent failures at this stage of the Champions League, really does beg some questions as to whether Bayern can stay in a position of future contenders.
Criticism of a team currently twenty-two points clear in their domestic league seems ridiculous but there seemed a rushed, nervy undercurrent to Bayern’s performance last night. Yes a huge number of chances were created by Jupp Heynckes men, but their key players seemed hurried and panicky when they needed to apply the final touch.
This is a tie between two huge football clubs, but Real seemed switched on at the key moments as they took poll position to reach a third successive final. This kind of game comes naturally to them now and the posses a core group of players capable of sublime individual skill as well as gritty team performances. Bayern in contrast look set to lose their fourth Champions League semi final in five years. For all their status as a big club, have they now fell victim to their own domestic domination?
A cursory glance at the last few Bundesliga final standings will show you that Bayern have not only dominated the domestic scene in Germany for half a decade, they’ve strolled it. Winning the title six times in a row by ten points or more is couldbe a sign of how good they really are, or a damning indictment of the competition in that league. The answer is, as always somewhere in between. It would be unfair to right off Shalke, Dortmund or Bayer Leverkusen as poor sides, but the table standings don’t lie. They are nowhere near the Bavarians and unable to mount a serious title challenge.
This has left a strange situation for Bayern, they simply aren’t playing in enough big games that often. Whenever they have lined up against the second or third placed side in recent years, there has been nothing riding on it. They’ve been free and clear, so there has been real pressure on them. When you consider their recent exits in the Champions League, yes they have reached the Semi Finals regularly enough, but when they’ve come across a rival big club, i.e, Real Madrid, they’ve not been able to match them. Whether or not this is down to their domestic situation is open to debate, but it cannot be helping. In Contrast, Real Madrid feed of their rivalry with Barcelona in La Liga and Europe, also in recent years, Atletico Madrid have broken their domestic duopoly. More big games played and won, means a better knowhow in these pressure situations.
It’s interesting that their last European Cup win in 2013, came off the back of the last real title challenge they faced in Germany. Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund won successive titles in 2010-11 and 2011-12. Bayern lost the 2012 final to Chelsea, but won the 2013 competition against their Bundesliga usurpers. Had the domestic jolt of Dortmund galvanised them? They certainly haven’t done as well since their rivals have faded.
It’s only half time in the tie. Bayern could trash this article and turn it around to reach the final. They should certainly look to Juventus’s antics in their Quarter Final dual at the Bernabeu as inspiration. Real can be beaten. You can’t help but feel though that with Ramos, Ronaldo and Zidane on the touchline, Real are a different beast in this competition. They just know how to do it, and with Bayern’s injuries and deficit you wouldn’t fancy them.
There should be real concerns for Bayern though, looking beyond this tournament. Heynckes is stepping down in the summer and there are several key players now the wrong side of twenty-eight. It will be interesting to see whether or not these veterans can cope with the growing intensity and pace of the game. Domestic dominance has masked their ageing squad, as well as covering up their growing injury list. They will certainly be looking to recruit in the summer.
Domestic success looks set for a few years more unless something dramatically changes, but what of their chances in the Champions League? The last of the 2013 winners are fading out, and financial Super Powers, Manchester City and PSG will get it right in this competition eventually. Will they force Bayern down the pecking order? A club of their size will always be successful and a magnet to top talent, but, strange as it may seem, they need a domestic rival to bring them back down to earth and give them more genuine big games to think about. It certainly didn’t hinder them last time around.