Pep the Frankenstein to Barca’s Monster as Catalans claim 3-0 win
This clash between Barcelona and Bayern Munich marked more than just a Champions League semi-final. The Catalan club was welcoming back one of its favourite sons to the Nou Camp in Pep Guardiola for the first time since leaving his position as boss.
It was expected to be an emotional night for the man who was born and brought up in the region, then later was ball boy, rose through the famed La Masia academy, played for, captained and finally managed Barca.
However, it was to be an unhappy return for the Spaniard, as Guardiola became a victim of his own creation, with his former side (now 1/2 odds-on title favourites with Coral) cruising to a 3-0 victory late on.
This match promised so much, with arguably two of the most attacking teams in the world going up against each other, especially as the hosts have the most deadly front three around. South American superstars Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar had managed 108 goals this season in all competitions between them prior to this fixture.
Despite Barca’s obvious dominance in the first half, a combination of Manuel Neuer’s remarkable reflexes and poor finishing ensured a goalless opening 45 minutes. But the final quarter of an hour of the encounter finally resulted in a devastating blow for Bayern.
It didn’t quite match up to the hype in terms of goals in the opening half, but it was certainly joyous to witness Barca’s flowing and attacking play, as they tried to take advantage of Guardiola’s decision to initially play a back three.
The Spaniard, who is known to drill it into his teams to play on the front foot, soon realised his error, however, and reverted back to having four defenders, and things settled.
Suarez had the first effort on target of the match, although it was not hit cleanly so the German stopper swept it up with ease.
The Uruguayan had a far better chance just past the 10 minute mark, though, as the linesman kept his flag down to allow him to go one-on-one with Neuer, who brilliantly saved Suarez’s shot with his outstretched right foot.
Barcelona’s superiority was certainly noticeable from the start, and the former Liverpool star was at the forefront of most attacks. This time, he managed to weave his way through a couple of defenders before sending in an enticing cross to Neymar, whose effort was blocked.
Although totally against the run of play, Robert Lewandowski could and should have got onto the end of a fantastic low cross by Thomas Muller, but he completely scuffed it. The Pole was perhaps as surprised as Barca that he was allowed such a chance, given the hosts’ dominance.
Things settled soon after, but after 25 minutes Suarez had a headed effort go over the bar from a corner when he was left unmarked.
And nearly quarter of an hour later, Neuer had to be at his best again, as the World Cup-winning keeper (and his right foot) came to Bayern’s rescue once more, this time from Dani Alves’ shot.
That was to be the end of the the chances from the first half, and Guardiola would have been delighted his side managed to not concede so he could come up with a new game plan in the dressing room.
It seemed to work too, as Bayern came out much stronger after the break, although they had no meaningful efforts.
Luis Enrique’s men soon regained their rhythm, though, and Messi came close in the 58th minute, but his shot was straight at the impressive Neuer.
The sweeper keeper had to be on the ball again just after the hour mark, as he superbly read a pass, which he intercepted to prevent Neymar from latching onto it.
All the attention had been on Neuer for this match, until after 70 minutes, when his compatriot and young pretender Marc-Andre ter Stegen almost got caught out from former Nou Camp dweller Thiago Alcantara. The Italian-born Spain international’s deflected effort from out the area was going wide, but the German saved well.
Finally a goal was scored with less than 15 minutes to go, and if anyone was to break the wall that is Neuer, it had to be Messi, who fired in his 52nd strike of the season past him. The Argentine took his shot so well just on the edge of the box, as it found the left hand corner of the net.
Anything Messi can do, he himself can do better, and just one minute later he struck again with surely one of the goals of the season in the Champions League.
This time, the four-time Ballon d’Or winner weaved in and out of Jerome Boateng, who was so dazed and confused by the attacker’s masterful skills that he simply fell to the ground, like a tree that had been cut down. Messi’s shot then matched his run, as he effortlessly dinked a shot over Neuer and into the back of the net.
Just before the end, Neymar decided to get in on the act, and the Brazilian ran through on goal to score past the deflated keeper to make it three. It gave his side a great lead going into the second leg.
Guardiola would have at least wanted an away goal to take back from his former home, but it was not to be on a night that saw his current club get totally dominated from start to finish.
Barca are 9/4 shouts for victory at the Allianz Arena in 90 minutes and heavily odds-on at 1/50 to qualify for the final, while Bayern are 11/10 and 16/1 respectively.