Barcelona, the envy of European club football. Spain, the envy of European and indeed continental football. These two teams had proved to be a cut above every other team that came before them.
They were juggernauts of the game, imperious, irresistible, unbeatable perhaps. Possession, intricacy, simplicity and ruthlessness became the facets of their dominance and for almost a decade, they provided the benchmark and the yardstick upon which football was measured.
The thing about being on top is, everyone makes you their target, and this season has proved that the former team has been found out.
We thought Barcelona, the team who had won everything, would continue to haunt Europe’s elite. And that Spain’s World Cup and European Championship winning crop would be unstoppable for years to come.
Chelsea, Celtic, AC Milan, their arch-nemesis Real Madrid and even Deportivo la Coruna have all decimated Barcelona recently.
It has been a downward spiral in Catalunya since Pep Guardiola’s exit but in all truth, the cracks had already begun to show way before that happened.
The match against Deportivo saw Barca winning 5-4 away with a sensational hat trick by Lionel Messi, earlier this season but that match was the beginning of Barca’s downfall.
Conceding goals has been Barcelona’s Achilles heel this season. Celtic beat them in Scotland, scoring twice an almost won at the daunting Camp Nou, Real Madrid have thrashed them 3-1 at home,
AC Milan scored twice at the San Siro and if it wasn’t for a Lionel Messi masterclass once again, it would be the Italians progressing. Then came Paris Saint Germain who rocked Barcelona in both ties, scoring three goals in the process while missing a whole host of chances. But none of these results would even come close to what happened in Germany on Tuesday.
Barcelona entered the Allianz Arena limping but left it crawling. Bayern Bayern Munich, the most in form team in the whole of Europe finally pulled the last leg from under the table. What happened to Barcelona on Tuesday, and the scrutiny that has followed, was encapsulated by the headline "Fin de Ciclo," in a Spanish newspaper, the AS. However ironically this did not feel like the end of a dynasty, it felt like the beginning of a new one.
Bayer Munich hustled, harried and battered Barcelona into submission. They were relentless from the get go. They stifled Barcelona of possession in their third of the pitch, were strong yet accurate in the tackle, capitalized on their physical advantage on set pieces and most crucially, kept Lionel Messi on the fringes.
The debate as to whether he was fit enough to play may rage on for years but as we saw against Paris Saint Germain, a half-fit Messi is still better than most. Their reward for a performance full of desire, industry, hard-work, team ethic and ruthlessness in front of goal was a resounding 4-0 victory that shook the entire world of football.
Bayern, to recap, have a 20-point lead in the Bundesliga, a plus-76 goal difference and were confirmed as the champions of Germany in the first week of April.
At the point when other teams start citing fatigue, they seem to be getting stronger. Jupp Heynckes's side, the first to beat Barcelona 4-0 since Dynamo Kyiv in 1997, have scored 55 goals in their past 10 games.
No team since the introduction of the away goals rule has overcome a first-leg deficit of that score in European competition, none. If Bayern get one in the Camp Nou, Barcelona will need six.
It is more than a year since the last occasion they did not manage an away goal. Exit Bayern Munich, enter Borussia Dortmund.
BvB 09, as they are known, the only unbeaten team in this season’s UEFA Champions League, came up against familiar foes, the defending La Liga champions, Real Madrid. Los Blancos had already been beaten once by Dortmund in the group stages and required a last-gasp equalizer at the Santiago Bernabeu to snatch a draw.
They already had the scalp of Real Madrid once, could they do it again against the ‘Special One,’ Jose Mourinho, who is rarely beaten twice?
Borussia Dortmund matched Bayern Munich’s brilliance against Barcelona with a stunning show of their own. Robert Lewandowski took his chance and capitalized on the spotlight to show just why almost everyone is after his signature.
His four goals encapsulated an all-action display by Dortmund as Jose Mourinho’s men fell apart in devastating fashion. Dortmund pressed intensely in their own half, were fluid in their opponent’s and the front three of Gotze, a stellar Reus and the deadly Lewandowski worked like a well-oiled machine.
Real Madrid lacked width what with Angel Di Maria arriving late after his wife gave birth, lacked intensity and a true number 10 in midfield. Luka Modric was disappointing in that role; Xabi Alonso’s defensive frailties were exposed by Ilkay Gundogan’s dominance and freedom in the middle of the park to influence proceedings.
There was such a contrast between Robert Lewandowski’s performance for Dortmund as the lone striker and Gonzalo Higuain’s for Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo was crowded out anytime he got the ball, similar to what Bayern did to his Liga-mate, Messi.
Marco Reus tore down Madrid’s backline time and again with his driving runs, something neither Cristiano Ronaldo nor Mesut Ozil were allowed to do. Similar to Pedro and Alexis Sanchez for Barcelona 24 hours earlier. Coupled with the fact that Dortmund’s team cost a fraction of Real Madrid’s makes it all the more astonishing.
The fearless nature by which Bayern Munich and especially Borussia Dortmund played with against the supposed ‘big-boys’ of Europe was something to behold.
It will live long in memory. The class, sheer disregard of the opponents, organization, teamwork, work ethic, industry, artistry and ruthlessness - all traits associated with Germans were on display.
It was almost something of folklore. Germany put eight goals past Spain cumulatively and may well have laid down the gauntlet for the beginning of the German era in European club football.
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