thoughts

FC Bayern a cornered beast after losing to Real

With the 2:1 defeat by Real Madrid still fetid in the memory (fresh is too nice a word), FC Bayern fan historian Rick Joshua embarks on a trail of post-match random ramblings and meandering musings. Written as a fan, and nothing else.

Football can be glorious. It can also be so cruel. As supporters of FC Bayern München, we have had plenty of both in recent years. For every moment of triumph, there has often been a moment of despair lurking close behind.

In the first leg of their more recent encounter with Real Madrid, Bayern held all the aces. Unbeaten at home in the Bundesliga all season and coming into the game on the back of a sixteen-match unbeaten stretch in the Champions League, the whole of Bavaria was expectant. After the humiliation of 2014 and the 4:0 defeat at the hands of Los Merengues, it was time for La Bestia Negra to reassert itself.

For most of the first half at the Allianz Arena, it had all gone to plan. Madrid had been made to look ordinary, Arturo Vidal’s bullet header had buoyed the loud and passionate capacity crowd, and the Bavarians were rampant. Even without the talismanic striker Robert Lewandowski.

Right at the cusp of half-time, the home side would have an opportunity from the penalty spot to double their advantage. It was where the wheels started to come off. Cue their being reduced to ten men, the catalyst for a complete meltdown. Given the amount of emotional investment, it was just too much to bear.

Vidal signs of life?

Arturo Vidal will always be an enigma. When he first signed for Bayern, I had my doubts about his suitability, but over time he quickly started to grow on me. So much so that my most recent home Trikot purchase has his name and number on it. Passionate and unpredictable in equal measure, the Chilean can win a game single-handedly on one day, only to be sent off in a blur of red mist the next.

For many, the first issue will always be about the choice of penalty taker. So, why Vidal? Well, for me the answer was pretty straightforward. With regular penalty taker Lewandowski having to sit on the sidelines with a shoulder injury, the Chilean was the best of a selection of questionable alternatives.

Having been Bayern’s regular penalty taker for a number of years, Thomas Müller’s crisis of confidence in shooting from eleven metres automatically ruled him out. Arjen Robben could have stepped up, but the bad memories of 2012 still linger. Then, there were other alternatives like Thiago, Xabi Alonso or Philipp Lahm, all of whom have displayed a certain fragility in the past.

No, Vidal was the natural if not massively obvious choice. He had scored the opening goal, had been right in the thick of the action, and was brimming with confidence and fire. Unfortunately, he was too confident. Too bold, and too firm with his shot. His effort was clearly fuelled by adrenaline, which almost visibly drained away in the aftermath. In the second half, the Chilean was half the player he was before the fluffed spot kick. Still passionate and aggressive, but with little or no direction.

Vidal’s final act was a yellow card for a needless foul on James Rodríguez, and a little petulant nibble at Luka Modrić that was fortunately not spotted by the officials. Had it been, a transformation from hero to zero would have been complete.

Making the most of a lucky break. Or not.

Over the years, I have slowly become tired of the phrase Bayern-Dusel – Bayern’s supposedly curious ability to get a result from nowhere or score a crucial equaliser or winner deep into additional time.

In European competition however, it has been a completely different story. If there have been cases of Bayern-Dusel, it has never really happened in important matches. The finals in 1999 and 2012 stand out like sore wounds, but there have been a significant number of equally painful moments in quarter- and semi-finals too. Against AC Milan in 1990. Red Star Belgrade in 1991. Aberdeen in 1983. I could go on, but you can just read my Red Odyssey book and be amazed at just how many times it has happened.

Sometimes, however, you need to make your own luck. If you are given an opportunity, you simply have to take it. Especially against well-matched, quality opposition. In 2015 against Atlético de Madrid, Bayern had cancelled out a one-goal deficit from the first leg. With all of the momentum, they then had a chance to double their lead from the penalty spot.

Atléti were clearly rattled. Their coach Diego Simeone was apopleptic, and some of the players were showing the initial signs of complete mental collapse. A second goal would surely have finished them off. Then, the big let-off. Müller’s weak effort was saved, and we all know what happened after that.

Against the other Madrid, it was déjà vu. Bayern were a goal ahead, with everything going their way. Even the marginal decisions. When watching the replay, it was clear that the penalty was not even a penalty. Franck Ribéry’s shot had struck Dani Carvajal’s shoulder. When the Italian referee pointed to the spot, it was a bonus. One of those wonderful opportunities to put a nail into the heart of your opponents, and right at the cusp of half-time too.

Once again, though, Bayern were unable to grasp the reins of the gift horse. Having been a football fan for the best part of forty years and following Die Roten for most of that time, one knows that you need to take every opportunity you are given. Especially the unexpected gifts. Even more especially against the likes of Real Madrid.

As in 2016, it is easy to ask “what if”.

One man doesn’t make a team, but…

When Robert Lewandowski left Bayern’s final morning training session early, the collective gut among Bayern fans had started to tighten. When the team sheets were produced, there was a genuine sense of foreboding.

One man doesn’t make a team. There are ten others out on the pitch, after all. But there are those players, special players, whose very presence makes the team tick. The final piece in the machine that ensures its smooth and efficient operation. The Polish striker is one such special player. Just look at Cristiano Ronaldo for Real.

The usual approach is to try and roll with the punches. To get up, dust oneself down, and make the best of what is an uncomfortable situation. Well, this is easier said than done. In fact, the more one tries to rationalise things, the more the sense of unease and doubt seems to increase.

And so it proved.

Nobody is saying that Lewandowski would have scored a hat-trick in a spectacular 5:0 win. But his not being there made a major difference. Thomas Müller may have turned a corner in what has been a dreadful season, but there was no way we could have expected him to fill the Pole’s boots in leading the attack. Lewandowski’s energy, his physicality and ability to link up with the play has been one of the major reasons why Bayern have been so dominant.

Then there was, of course, the penalty.

The impact of the coach

Naturally, there will be more post-mortem pieces like this between now and the second leg in Madrid. Some observers have noticed that some of us who had been liberal in their scathing of Pep Guardiola have been rather quiet about Carlo Ancelotti. This isn’t really fair.

I had been fiercely critical of Guardiola during his three years in Munich, but always thought that I was balanced. Well, as balanced as I could be. Following the 4:0 defeat that saw the end of Bayern’s long and proud unbeaten home record against Real Madrid, I weighed in. Likewise, with the tactical choices made for the first leg of the 2016 semi-final against Atlético. But when the team came out fighting in the second leg only to be eliminated on away goals, it was clear that there was nothing else any coach could do.

A coach can guide, coax, cajole and encourage, but he cannot take a penalty for you.

In last night’s match, Carlo Ancelotti could only do so much. Everything had been running smoothly until Vidal’s penalty attempt. Short of stepping onto the pitch and taking the spot kick himself, there was nothing he could do about it. Likewise with the second yellow card shown to Javi Martínez. Yes, it would have been magical had Carletto been able to run out onto the pitch and hold down Javi’s flailing boot. Ronaldo would have just jumped over him, Bayern would have still had eleven men on the pitch, and we still could have won the game.

Once a team is down to ten men, there’s nothing many coaches can do against a team like Real Madrid. Even an experienced man-manager like Ancelotti. This wasn’t Hamburg, Bremen or Arsenal, but Real Madrid. A team packed with talented players, many of whom have the ability to completely alter the course a match in the blink of an eye.

Love him or loathe him, Ronaldo is one of these players. Having not scored a Champions League goal for over eleven hours, he finally decided that this was his moment to break his duck – scoring his one-hundredth European tournament goal in the process. He and his team could have had more, were it not for the almost superhuman heroics of Manuel Neuer.

The game is still on

In saying that Bayern still have more than a chance to make the last four, the coach was speaking for all of us. Bayern have been beaten at home and face a journey to the seething cauldron of the Bernabéu, but there is still a distinct feeling that things can be turned around.

The reality is that both teams are incredibly well matched. Nobody expected Real to come to Munich and win, but by the same token a full-strength Bayern are more than capable of getting the right result in Madrid. They have done so in the past, and there’s no obvious reason why they cannot do so again.

In fact, in a strange sort of way I feel more confident than if we had won the game by the odd goal in three. As it stands, Ancelotti’s men have nothing to lose. They can afford to throw everything and the kitchen sink at their opponents in the second leg, knowing that at the very least they will go down heroically.

Cornered Beast

In 1992, the Pakistan cricket team were at a low ebb at the World Cup. Having been saved from an ignominious group stage elimination by the rain, they turned all of the negative energy into a positive force. In an interview, their captain Imran Khan used the term “cornered tigers”. Had the Internet been around at the time, it would have gone viral. The Pakistanis never looked back, and stormed to victory in the final.

In much the same way, La Bestia Negra has been badly wounded. But unlike 2014, not mortally so. The players will need to pick themselves up, and the fans are hurting. It is the perfect opportunity to turn things around.

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