After a flurry of late goals and some Messi magic, Barcelona walked away from the first leg of the Champion’s League semifinal with a 3-0 victory over Bayern Munich. Barcelona will now head to Munich next week with a comfortable lead and with one foot already in the finals.
The score line may seem deceiving since all the goals came in the last 15 minutes, but it was a fair result for Barcelona as they easily could have won the game in the first 15 minutes and Bayern, rarely, if ever, looked threatening.
In the simplest terms, the match was decided by two players—Neuer for Bayern and Messi for Barcelona. If it wasn’t for the German—proving how great he is—the game and the semifinals would have been over before it really began. And if it wasn’t for Messi—doing things only he can do—Bayern Munich may have escaped with a draw and the advantage heading into the second leg (not to mention everyone who was calling Guardolia foolish after the game would have been calling him a genius— and so it goes…).
Yet it wasn’t all just Messi for Barcelona. The defense did a stellar job of halting any forward movement of Bayern and any long ball was either won by Barcelona, contested so the ball came free, or closed down so quickly that the Bayern’s players had little or no options. The most common occurrence in the game was Bayern being forced to play the ball back to Neuer who was then faced with an extremely tight and organized pressing operation from Messi, Suarez, and Neymar.
This left Neuer unable to start an attack or counter and forced him to play the ball long (where Barcelona won it back) or to try to switch fields quickly where Barca’s front three were able to press and force another long pass. Barcelona’s excellent defense then set the tone of the match. Bayern could have the ball for spells but it would be only possession without penetration.
Barcelona’s defense ensured Bayern were never able to get going and despite holding over 50% of the possession looked disorganized and sloppy—adjectives never used for a Guardolia coached team. Credit then must go to Enrique for either coming up with that strategy and implementing it or motivating the squad to perform with that level of intensity and desire.
That type of pressing and organization has not been seen in the Nou Camp since the early months of Tito’s sadly short reign. Not coincidently, those first few months of Tito’s team was the last great Barcelona side until yesterday.
Despite Barcelona’s lead and its momentum after Wednesday’s emotional win the tie is not over. Bayern’s mission is improbable but not impossible. A quick goal (like with Porto) would blow the roof off the stadium, the guests may become rattled, and then the game will be back on.
It is not the smartest bet but stranger things have happened. Unfortunately for the Bundesliga champions they will still be without Robben and possibly Ribery (two players that were sorely missed yesterday) and face the daunting task of trying to break down Barcelona’s defense while also not leaving space for Messi, Suarez, and Neymar to exploit. Good luck on that lads.
Finally, the game—despite Bayern’s inability to get into a groove and missing their creative duo—was easily the most exciting and entertaining match of the year. Yes, preferably Bayern would have been at full strength but those are the breaks. Barcelona were the better team Wednesday with the better player and deserved the 3-0 victory. They have the best player in the world and in the end that made all the difference. Two more performances like yesterday and they may, once again, be the best team in the world.