They were sharper, they were slicker, they were stronger and they were simply supreme. But, against many expectations, ‘they’ were Bayern Munich and not Barcelona as die Roten’s 4-0 win in the Champions League semi-final first leg at the Allianz Arena provided an evening that Bavaria will remember for years to come.
In so many ways, Bayern had everything Barcelona didn’t. The Catalans were ponderous and slow, whereas FCB had pace, power and a fair degree of panache. They looked the better side almost from the word go, and by the end the much-lauded Blaugrana had been left in a crumpled heap by a spectacular showing from the home side.
As early as the third minute Bayern were serving notice of their intent, with Arjen Robben getting on the end of a fluid move and testing Victor Valdes with an angled shot. But that would be far from the final test for the Blaugrana back line as Jupp Heynckes’ side forced the issue and showed just how weak the Catalans’ defence is without the leadership and organisational quality of Carles Puyol.
There was just no let up. Barca had large periods of possession, but the penetration was simply lacking. Bayern, on the other hand, were just too big, too strong and too sharp. Every time they threatened, the Spanish leaders looked likely to leak a goal.
They finally did on 25 minutes when Dante won a complete mismatch in the air against Dani Alves to steer a header across the face of goal towards the unmarked Thomas Muller. The Germany international turned in a finish that Valdes found too hot to handle.
Bayern’s second felt like something of a sucker-punch, with Muller nodding down a Robben corner for the offside Mario Gomez, but again the Catalans had been simply atrocious in the aerial challenge. By the letter of the law the goal should not have stood, but Barca deserved to be two goals down.
Robben made it three after a blatant foul by Muller on Jordi Alba, but the goal again came about after abysmal defending. The very fact that the left back was left to encounter a two-on-one situation should not be overlooked in the post-match ruckus over the legality of the strike.
By the time Muller tapped in a fourth, it was almost an inevitability. Barca had been battered, and deservedly so. This was a result aided to some degree by poor officiating, but the 4-0 scoreline was also massively conditioned by defending worthy of a much more damning adjective.
Some were quick to point out that Lionel Messi was well short of fitness, and that is certainly true. But when push came to shove, Barcelona simply had no answer to a fitter, stronger and ultimately better side.
Bayern will now go to the Camp Nou next Wednesday with as much of a strut as any away team can do when heading to the famous Catalan coliseum, while Tito Vilanova and his men will have a huge task on their hands to simply keep some interest in the tie. Die Roten are heading to Wembley. They may have choked before, but their demonstration of how to pick apart an ailing defence on Tuesday night is proof positive that they have what it takes to be clinical when it matters this time around.