Recent encounters have seen Real Madrid prevail over Bayern Munich in the Champions League. With Jupp Heynckes back and the team playing to its strengths, die Roten are ready to set right the injustice.
It is difficult to describe my feelings regarding Bayern Munich’s semi-final right now. Yes, there is the anticipation of a big occasion coupled with the nervousness against a big opponent. Think about it long enough, and I start enacting my reactions to various situations: the celebrations, the managerial gestures, the tense walk, the shake of the head. Who says fans do not have to prepare?
There is, however, an added layer of disillusionment, one which has developed over the past four years. Most Bayern fans will, almost as a matter of fact, say that the team should have added to the Champions League title of 2013.
There always seemed to be a reason it did not happen- injuries, coach’s philosophy, referees, luck – but the fact remains. Bayern have come up short in the last five years. Who’s to say it will be different this time around?
A case of injustice?
Looking back, the image of each defeat is crystal-clear. The crushing 2014 loss to Real, termed the “the biggest f**k-up of my life” by then-coach Pep Guardiola. The injury-ravaged team struggling to compete with Messi and Co. in 2015. The frustration of Pep dropping Thomas Müller against Atlético de Madrid in 2016 and, of course, the referees of 2017.
The injustices are understandable, even valid, but not the whole story, especially in the last two seasons. Bayern came quite to losing to Juventus in 2016. Refereeing decisions did play a part in the second leg of the 2017 quarter-final, but in the first leg, Manuel Neuer denied Cristiano Ronaldo multiple times. Is it realistic to complain about one half without acknowledging the other?
Facing the second wind of Ronaldo
Real Madrid, in contrast, have rendered luck irrelevant in the Champions League. Much of the credit goes, begrudgingly, to a reformed Cristiano Ronaldo.
In many ways, watching a special player in his later years is as enjoyable as his prime. The peak years are all about winning trophies, breaking records, collecting individual awards and gaining recognition.
It is at the end though, when a once-in-a-generation player reveals those unquantifiable, abstract qualities which made him special in the first place. In Ronaldo’s case, it is his instinct for goals.
Jérôme Boateng observed a change in Ronaldo’s game last year, which is “more difficult to defend against.” It has led to an extraordinary upturn in Real’s CL fortunes. After losing consecutive semi-finals from 2011 to 2013, Los Blancos have since won three out of four titles. Twice, they have beaten Bayern along the way.
This leaves very little doubt as to who are the favourites come Wednesday. Bayern would do well to stop Ronaldo. There can be no room for errors, no brooding over injustices.
In Herr Heynckes we trust
In a way, Jupp Heynckes is “responsible” for my feeling of dissatisfaction. The treble win of 2013 was like a drug, a promise of prolonged ecstasy made by a young team with an energetic style and an intent to dominate. Four years on, the withdrawal has been painful.
Throughout these four years, the shadow of Heynckes has loomed large over Bayern’s failures. Would he have stuck to the possession game as religiously as Guardiola did? Would he have allowed the defensive vulnerability present under Ancelotti? Every time Bayern lost, the question was the same. What would have Heynckes done?
With the return of our beloved manager, those rumblings are gone. I am no fan of astrology and therefore, of the theory of stars aligning. But I do believe that when a group of humans move in one direction without hesitation or resistance, the output is maximum.
That is the greatest quality of Heynckes. His arrival has united Bayern at every level. No more do we see division among fans, disharmony in the squad or opposition from team doctors. Such is the club’s belief in his ability and commitment, that ego has become a non-factor. All that matters now is the objective at hand.
And thus, my creeping sense of disillusionment is replaced by cautious optimism. Yes, the team has its weaknesses and yes, we are up against serial Champions League winners. However, there will be no second thoughts this time. We will cheer safe in the knowledge that the team will play as well as it can tactically and leave everything on the pitch.
This time, Bayern Munich are ready.