Luis Enrique left the premises of the Camp Nou reveling in satisfaction after Barcelona’s far-fetched victory over Bayern Munich in the semi-final of the Uefa Champions League. Having employed a philosophical approach to his traditional manager-media romance on the eve of the spectacle he had tagged “Europe’s most attractive game,” the 44-year-old deservedly felt much better watching his side put 3 huge goals past the German champions- a team he has high reverence for (competition aside).
The tipping point; “a 15 passionate minute” which saw the untamable Lionel Messi reduce Bayern defence to a scary shadow of its previous self with two goals in the space of three minutes and an assist for Neymar in added time. The Bavarians had employed different tactics at truncating the volatile Messi-Neymar-Luis Suarez network at its best for as much as 77- testing- minutes, but just weren’t good enough from stopping the deadly trio, arguably the best attacking partnership in Europe this season, from taking their tally to 111 in all competitions; six less than the whole of the Munich club have scored.
As animated as possible, Pep Guardiola indulged in hour-long tactical ploy poised at unnerving the delicate Baulgranas back line in the wake of naming an ambitious starting XI parading a wishy washy three-man defence in a bid to dislodge the home side on all nook and crannies. The former Barcelona coach admitted after the match that Bayern “were more solid with four defenders than with three.”
“We lost control in the closing stages of the match- we always try to score. We had done well until the first goal but then we lost control,” Guardiola said.
It is rather rash than plausible to believe the game could have ended in clean sheet, not after Barcelona huffed and puffed at goal for most of the first half while the visiting team were lacking in ideas in their opponents end, more so being unable to earn their keep in their struggle to keep possession. Without Franck Ribéry, Arjen Robben and the pacy David Alaba, Bayern battled against a nonexistent extra man, while Thiago Alcantara and Bastian Schweinsteiger exploit in the midfield just could not keep the team together.
Bayern won the German top flight for a third successive season without the regular- if any at most- services of their star players, with Guardiola often having to rely on the rank and files of his uncontestedly endowed squad. In that light, the manager was not going to ponder too long on a huge list of players on the treatment table at Sabena Strasse; instead, he was thankful for the handful lots who added weight to his game plan while taking responsibility for all that did not go as planned.
“The bad things are down to me,” Guardiola quipped. “I can only thank these players. We knew who we were facing tonight. It has worked for me in the past to control possession and I cannot imagine football played any other way. But I congratulate Barcelona and we will see them next week in Munich.”
Enrique confirmed in his post-game spin that the Catalans will travel to Munich next week aiming to put finishing touches to their ambition of playing in an eighth European Cup final. As sacrosanct the desire of winning the La Liga title is on the Asturian’s agenda, the Spanish Primeira leaders are expected to field a second string side against Real Sociead this weekend with one eye locked on maintaining their two-point lead over Real Madrid and the other on Berlin.
Bayern have already wrapped up the Bundesliga title and could spare the likes of Thomas Muller, Robert Lewandowski and co from the game against Augsburg on Saturday. Moreover, the question is how to respond with three goals of their own at the Allianz Arena, not what a season it would be without a double. Judging by their recent feat, scoring goals has never been problem for the side, which came back from losing 3-1 at FC Porto to pummeling the Portuguese Giants 6-1 in front of their home crowd. Last night Bayern fought for an away goal but to no avail and that very much appeared the moment they signed off on the prospect of winning a sixth European Cup.
The only time Barcelona have eliminated Bayern from Europe dates back to 2009, when they took a four-goal lead to Germany and settled for a 1-1 away draw. Every finger now justifiably points the Spanish side’s way, but Enrique is not conceiving any thought of an easy path to glory in Europe’s elite competition.
“In a semi-final, small details make the difference,” the ex-Barcelona skipper said. “We have three extremely good players in attack – Leo won it for us. We pressed well, waited for the right moment and were very clinical at the end. I wouldn’t say we are through. We have seen all sorts in football. I failed maths at school so I am not interested in percentages. The prize is so big that my players will treat the second leg with the right intensity.”
Both managers were full of plaudits for the man of the moment, Messi, after his exquisite brilliance in Wednesday’s big match.
The Argentine broke the deadlock with a superb drive from 30 yards into Manuel Neuer’s left hand corner. He doubled that with a well taken belter, dribbling to the right of Jerome Boateng and then chipping the ball beyond Neuer with his weaker right foot.
Guardiola said: “After it went to 1-0 we lost momentum and the last goal was too much. Barça is Leo [Lionel Messi]. We were poorly positioned for the first two goals and the third was almost inevitable.”
“We have three extremely good players in attack – Leo won it for us,” Enrique said.
“Of course life is easier with Lionel Messi. He does all sorts of things. We see that every day. He is from another planet. Besides what we saw from Leo, all the other forwards, midfielders and defenders contributed a lot too.”