May 1, 2013, 4:53 PM EST
Barcelona was never equipped to challenge, and it showed. It showed with every inept attack thwarted by Bayern Munich’s commanding defense. It showed in every frantic challenge needed to prevent Munich’s first goals. And ultimately, embarrassingly, and historically, it showed on the scoreboard.
Down 4-0 to visiting Bayern Munich at kickoff, the Lionel Messi-less hosts scarcely put up a fight, with Bayern’s three-second half goals turning a walk into a rout. After their 3-0 loss at the Nou Camp, Spain’s champions-to-be exit Champions League with an embarrassing 7-0 aggregate loss, a result sure to leave European soccer in awe of the juggernaut this Bayern team’s become.
After a goalless first half, Bayern winger Arjen Robben opened the scoring with a 48th minute left-footed finish into the far netting from the right side of the box. In the 72nd minute, Gerard Piqué’s failed clearance of a Franck Ribery cross left the Barcelona defender with an own goal. Completing the rout, Thomas Müller scored his third goal of the tie, heading past Victor Valdes in the 78th minute.
The victory sets up last week’s inevitable. For the third time in four years, Bayern are in the UEFA Champions League final, this time set to face dethroned Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund in the competition’s first-ever all German final.
Dortmund confirmed their place yesterday with an unexpectedly close call at the Santiago Bernabéu, with late goals from Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos leaving Real Madrid one goal from advancing come full-time. But with Barcelona leaving Messi on the bench and Sergio Busquets out of the team, a starting XI that was also deprived of Carles Puyol, Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba never came close to exhibiting the quality required to overturn a four-goal deficit.
Instead, it was Bayern providing a muted version of last week’s onslaught. Barcelona again held much of the ball, yet it München provided all of the threats, with only sliding tackles from Piqué preventing the visitors from padding their lead early. With Alex Song fully embracing a libero’s role, Barcelona tried to go wide-to-in on Bayern’s defense, but with Davi Alves unable to make headway against David Alaba, Barcelona were no more dangerous than last week’s inept showing in Munich.
But it was Alaba who made the game’s first meaningful impact, a beautiful diagonal ball from just inside his attacking half dropped into the foot of Robben. Robben was allowed to cut inside to use his only weapon, his left foot, and curled a ball into the side-netting from 16 yards out.
Attacking from wide also created Bayern’s final two goals, both through Franck Ribery. In the 72nd minute, a ball played wide by Luiz Gustavo (who had come on for Bastian Schweinsteiger) saw Ribery drill a high ball across the top of the six-yard box. Piqué misjudged the cross. As he tried to put a clearance up and out of play, he saw the ball hit off his knee and easily beat a defenseless Valdes.
Six minutes later, a ball sent out by Mario Mandzukic allowed Ribery to loft a perfect far post cross for Müller, who need only elevate to meet the ball and score from one-yard out.
Demoralized, Barcelona played the final 15 minutes more worried about an escalating embarrassment than any futile attempts to save face. Whatever semblance of pride that could have been salvaged was scattered by the flight of Piqué’s own goal. Having entered the round with a flock of believers convinced they were still the world’s best team, Barcelona leave the competition beneath the seven-goal burden of their reality: They are far adrift of Europe’s best, proving much closer to Paris Saint-Germain and Milan then another European Cup.
If the last two days have proved anything, it’s that Bayern Munich deserve the mantle of Europe’s best. After a 7-0 win, the discussion ceases to be interesting. If Borussia Dortmund upset Bayern at Wembley, it should be seen as a significant upset, because whereas Bayern’s German rivals struggled to maintain the three-goal lead they carried into the Spanish capital, Bayern capped a performance for the ages, the lopsided nature of which may ultimately do them a disservice in history’s eyes.
Years from now, when people see 7-0 as the tie’s final score, they’ll assume Barcelona was a shadow of their former selves – a team who’d fallen from the ranks of Europe’s elite. Only half of which is true, of course. Barcelona are clearly not the team they were two years ago, but their walk through La Liga leaves them credentials as strong any non-Bayern team in Europe. They may be closer to PSG than Bayern, but almost any of Bayern’s challengers are. Barcelona are still very formidable opposition.
Yet Bayern embarrassed them, an achievement which, in time, we’ll hopefully come to see as a symbol of München’s greatness, not Barcelona’s failures. Though Barça’s not playing at their same Champions League-winning levels, after today, it’s unclear even the great teams of Cruyff or Guardiola could derail this Bayern Munich juggernaut.
At least, after completing a 7-0 rout at the Nou Camp, it’s worth a discussion.
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