Bayern Munich, the runway champions of Germany, certainly had every reason to carry truckloads of military grade confidence into Spain.
Even so, the boldness by which Jupp Heynckes’ bunch attacked their task Wednesday, by attacking the suddenly shrunken Catalan giants without so much as a Spanish sardine tin full of awe, was still quite impressive.
From the opening kick in the Nou Camp night, Bayern pressed high, and effectively so. Barcelona’s heroes weren’t afforded a moment on the ball anywhere around the massive ground, not even near their own penalty area. It was unafraid and professional, serving to eventually finish off Barca with a warrior’s scream.
Borussia Dortmund, a bountiful bundle of youthful TNT, is certainly a deserving fellow Champions League finalist. But the younger and lesser accomplished of our Champions League finishers killed off Real Madrid yesterday on the back foot, with a far-less-impressive sigh of relief.
By being the aggressors early Wednesday, Bayern Munich prevented Barca from leaning into the attack the way a four-goal deficit demanded.
Bayern’s audacious approach was all such a wonderful contrast to the way Chelsea eliminated Barcelona last year, situated in a far less appealing defensive crouch. That was the same way AC Milan gave Barca so much trouble two Champions League rounds back, before Leo Messi dashed to the Nou Camp rescue.
We cannot argue the effectiveness of the “Barca rules” gambit; Chelsea prevailed in 2012, after all, and Milan very nearly made it work six weeks ago. But I always wince when high-dollar, highly talented clubs elect to go the meek, defensively dug-in route. It just doesn’t feel right.
It certainly did not seem right Wednesday for the Bundesliga swells, who refused to allow Andres Iniesta and Xavi to find those familiar hypnotic rhythms.
The visitors’ fearless tactics didn’t just serve to keep the Catalan’s out of that signature tiki-taka – Barca never even got to the “tiki,” much less the “tiki-taka” – the Bavarians even created the better early chances. Arjen Robben charged in behind Barca’s high line and nearly ended matters (effectively so, at least) in the 12th minute.
That was on a pass from Bastian Schweinsteiger. It was Schweinsteiger playing creator once again a few minutes later, electing not to shoot from a declining angle but leaving a ball for the rampaging, trailing Philipp Lahm.
Clearly, Bayern could be braver in its approach with the peerless Messi stuck Barca’s bench. But it’s hard to see Heynckes altering his tactics either way. Indeed, Heynckes may have been as surprised as anyone to see Messi unnamed to the Catalans’ starting 11.
Barca eventually dragged the visitors a little closer to their own goal, but they escaped the first 45 unscathed, and if a 4-0 deficit looked daunting over 90 minutes, then heading into the breach with just 45 minutes to close the gap surely looked impossible.
If it wasn’t then, it was five minutes after intermission.
Bayern Munich executed superbly over two legs – but just as impressive was the way they boldly leaned into the effort, undaunted in pressing a club that once looked unable to be pressed.