If you’re having trouble establishing context on Bayern Munich’s mastery of Barcelona, that’s a good reason for that. Look back on the 57 years of European Cup competition and you’re unlikely to find a result that carries all the facets that make Bayern’s 7-0 (aggregate) rout of Barça historic:
- 1. Magnitude – Seven-goal results aren’t unheard of, but even when they happen in Champions League’s preliminary rounds, we take notice.
- 2. Two-legged tie – To dominate over 90 minutes is one thing. To do it over 180 minutes, home and away, giving your opposition time in between to make adjustments? It’s a higher level of difficulty.
- 3. Level of the competition – Bayern’s rout happened in the semifinals. Not in the preliminary round, where big versus little country matchups happen. And it didn’t happen in the Round of 16, where the second place team from a weak group could be matched with one of the competition’s favorites. This was one step before the finals, long after each team had established themselves in the competition.
- 4. Two established powers – It meant something that this was Bayern versus Barcelona. Two members of European soccer royalty, the clubs have a long and successful history to draw on. They also have resources few other teams have. I makes lopsided results like these (at least, from Barça’s perspective) that much more remarkable.
- 5. Uncertainty before the tie – And if people were expecting Bayern to role, that would put this result in an entirely different light. But there were a lot of people predicting Barcelona would go through over Bayern, lending to the shock of Wednesday’s result.
After thumbing through history, there were a handful of results that come close to matching Bayern-Barça. These three stuck out:
1965-66 – Manchester United 8-3 Benfica
Benfica had appeared in four of the five European Cup finals, losing the previous season’s final game 1-0 to Internazionale at the San Siro. Manchester United, in contrast, hadn’t been in the European Cup since the 1957-58 season, when plane crash on the team’s return from Belgrade, Yugoslavia let to the death of nine of Matt Busby’s Babes.
Meeting in the quarterfinals, United responded to José Augusto’s opening goal at Old Trafford with three goals in 22 minutes, with only a late José Torres goal bringing Benfica, by then two-time champions, back into the tie.
It was an impressive result against a team who, along with two-time defending champions Inter and five-time champions Real Madrid, were one of the competition’s favorites. In Lisbon, however, the Red Devils blew it open. Two goals from George Best in the first 13 minutes gave United a 5-2 aggregate lead. Busby, still managing United, saw his team tack on three more as well gift Benfica an own goal on their way to a five-goal romp.
Manchester United would have to return to Belgrade for the semifinal, losing 2-0 to Partizan en route to being eliminated on aggregate, 2-1. Real Madrid went on to win their sixth title, though two years later, United finally broke through, claiming their first European title at Wembley Stadium. Their opponent that day in 1968? Benfica, who lost 4-1.
1988-89 – Real Madrid 1-6 Milan
By April 1989, Real Madrid were 23 years without a title, but their semifinal tie against Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan was still the most glamorous of the season’s competition. With both teams coming off one-goal wins in the quarterfinals, there didn’t appear to be much between the squads ahead of leg one at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Forty-two minutes in, Mexican international Hugo Sánchez put the home side up, but when Marco van Basten equalized late in the second half, Milan had their result ahead of the return leg at the San Siro. There, Sacchi’s team got goals from Carlo Ancelotti, Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit, van Basten and Donadoni – all before the hour mark. Coming at the expense of Real Madrid, Milan’s 5-0 win stands as one of the more memorable matches of the last 25 years.
The victory announced the arrival of one of the greatest club teams of all-time, a squad that was nearly eliminated in each of the previous rounds. While the team would go on to win the next two Champions Leagues (and another in 1993-94), they needed penalty kicks to get past Red Star Belgrade in the Round of 16. In the quarterfinals, a controversial penalty (converted by van Bastern) was all that separated the Rossoneri from Werder Bremen.
After Sánchez’s opener at the Bernabéu, Milan turned a corner. They scored 10 straight goals over the next 210 minutes, defeated Steaua Bucuresti 4-0 in the final in Barcelona, and went on to become the benchmark against which we measure all great clubs that have followed.
1996-97 – Ajax 2-6 Juventus
Coming off quarterfinal wins over Atlético Madrid and Rosenborg, Ajax and Juventus met in a highly anticipated rematch of the previous year’s final. Then, Juventus took the defending champions to penalty kicks, eventually winning the shootout at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.
With two first half goals in semifinal’s first leg in Amsterdam, Juventus jumped out early, with only a second half goal from Jari Litmanen giving Louis van Gaal’s team a chance going to Turin. There, first half goals from Attilio Lombardo and Christian Vieri put the tie away by half time. Juve would go on to win the second leg, 4-1.
Juventus faced Borussia Dortmund in the final, but two first half goals five minutes apart from Karl-Heinz Riedle set BVB’s course for a 3-1 victory. Dortmund won their first European Cup, while Juventus was denied back-to-back titles.
Marcello Lippi’s team made a third straight final the following season, returning to Amsterdam to face Real Madrid. Unfortunately for the Old Lady, the Merengues went on to claim their seventh title, with Predrag Mijatovic’s 66th goal giving El Real a 1-0 victory.
None of these results have the sway of Bayern’s performance. Munich’s dominance wasn’t built on one, lopsided leg. It extended over the entire 180 minutes, and it was done against a team many considered the continent’s benchmark.
That they make it look so easy, not allowing a goal against such a vaunted attack, adds an element of shock. Nobody’s taken back by that Bayern won. It’s how they won.
Just as Milan’s late 80s-early 90s team because a benchmark with its Champions League performances, so did Bayern became a standard with today’s win. Now, whenever there’s a lopsided result in Champions League, the accomplishment will be compared to Bayern’s. Most won’t stand up.
Others that stood out:
1977-78 – Red Star Belgrade 1-8 Borussia Moenchengladbach
1982-83 – Aston Villa 2-5 Juventus
1998-99 – Bayern Munich 6-0 Kaiserslautern
2008-09 – Sporting CP 1-12 Bayern Munich
2009-10 – Milan 2-7 Manchester United
2010-11 – Schalke 7-3 Internazionale