In the highly anticipated return of Pep Guardiola to Barcelona, Bayern were outclassed by the Catalans to the tune where the 3-0 win might actually seem as a good result for the Germans. The game was scoreless for 77 minutes, but then Lionel Messi almost singlehandedly put the tie just about out of reach for Bayern. The Argentine scored two goals and picked up the assist on the third to send a disappointed Guardiola back to the visiting dressing room.
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Luis Enrique surprised nobody with his starting eleven. In fact, he neither needed to, nor was forced to because of injuries. The only player that was in the conversation for a start but didn't get it was Jeremy Mathieu who was forced out with an Achilles injury. But Mathieu has been relegated to bench duty recently and it wasn't likely the Frenchman would've started anyway. Ten of the eleven Barcelona players in the starting lineup were actually the same they were on Saturday against Cordoba, with the only change coming in goal where Marc-Andre ter Stegen resumed his duties. Replacing Mathieu in the match-squad was Thomas Vermaelen who made his first bench-sitting appearance for Barcelona.
Bayern Munich, notably Pep Guardiola, had plenty of selection headaches but still managed to field a lineup that 99% of the clubs would be envious of. Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, David Alaba, Holger Badstuber and Sebastian Rode all missed the game through injury. Robert Lewandowski made a quick return from a broken nose and a concussion to start the game, albeit with a face-mask. Thiago Alcantara was also named in the lineup in his first game back at the Camp Nou. Despite missing all those world class players, Pep's starting lineup still featured the likes of Philipp Lahm, Xabi Alonso, Medhi Benatia, and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Players came out of the tunnels to a gorgeous, nearly 100.000 strong mosaic, signaling that Barcelona are ready for another European title. With 19°C (66°F) at kickoff and clear weather, conditions were perfect for a football match. The scene was set, the teams were ready - it was time for the Champions League.
Bayern Munich started the match from midfield, with Schweinsteiger hoping to catch Barcelona off guard with a run down the left side, but the Barcelona defense came prepared. But it would be Barcelona who would dictate the tempo. Bayern might've seen more of the ball in the early going, but Barcelona's directness caused Bayern many problems. As expected, Pep sent his team out with a high defensive line, something Barcelona quickly tried to exploit, using long balls from which the Catalans created some chances. Had it not been for a couple well set offside traps Barcelona would've had a few early one-on-ones, but twice they were caught just offside.
Lucho clearly prepared his players well for Pep's tactics as on numerous occasions Barcelona had odd-man rushes on goal. Somehow though, Barcelona managed to miss excellent chances to go into the lead. The Catalans' first shot came in the 7th minute, when Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez attacked, but Suarez's shot was too weak to threaten Manuel Neuer. Five minutes later Saurez reminded us of his early days in Barcelona, when he was still missing sitters. The Uruguayan was sent all alone on goal, with no player in sight for at least 10 yards, but Suarez managed to hit Neuer in the right ankle, and one of Suarez's best chances of the season went begging. Neuer also deserves some credit for the save as he took up a lot of the net with the way he positioned himself, but Suarez still should've finished the chance off.
In the 15th minute, Saurez tried to make up for his mistake as he extended Ivan Rakitić's long run and found Neymar in space in the middle. Neymar was left with what looked like a simple finish, as Neuer was out of position, but the Brazilian managed to direct the shot at Rafinha who cleared it out for a corner kick.
Three minutes later, it was Bayern's turn to miss an easy chance. Thomas Muller made most of the work on the right side, and with his cross threw both Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique out of play. In the middle, Lewandowski was left with a tap in, but the Polish international couldn't direct the shot on target.
So, after 20 minute of play, with possession being now close to 50%-50% and chances on both sides of the pitch, the match was still scoreless - mostly due to the ineptitude of strikers on both teams. Barcelona players also had some complaints about the refereeing of Italian Nicola Rizzoli, who seemed to have swallowed his whistle at some stages of the game.
But the referee's impact on the game was minimal, as both teams maintained high tempo of play. Though Barcelona couldn't get to Neuer with as much ease as they were able to in the opening 15 minutes of the game. The reason for that was a tactical change made by Pep. Bayern started the game with only three in the back-line, with neither Juan Bernat nor Lahm playing in defense. Pep realized he was playing with fire, especially considering how high the line was playing, so he pulled Bernat back to play left-back.
While Barcelona didn't get through as easily as they did before, the Catalans continued to be the more dangerous team on the pitch. In the 26th minute Barcelona broke through down the left with Jordi Alba making a strong run. In space, he sent a dangerous low ball into the middle, but Jerome Boateng managed to clear the ball before it would reach Messi. From the ensuing corner kick Rakitić found Suarez six yards from the goal-line, but Saurez's header sailed over the crossbar.
Even though Barcelona created many more chances in the first half, Bayern were far from harmless. Oftentimes the Germans made their way to the Barcelona penalty area, but getting deeper was a problem for them. Barcelona's defense, even if it at times looked shaky, expertly dealt with all the danger that Bayern posed, limiting them to four shots in the half, one of which was blocked while the other three missed the target.
Barcelona, on the other hand, would have four shots on target in the first half, the last one in the 39th minute after Andres Iniesta beautifully found Dani Alves with an over the top ball. Alves controlled the ball brilliantly with his chest and got a good shot on goal, but once again, there was Neuer's right leg to prevent celebrations on the Camp Nou.
With no long delays in game Rizzoli would blow for halftime as soon as the clock would reach 45 minutes. Both teams would be kicking themselves for missing scoring opportunities in the first half, but Bayern would surely be happier with the result as Barcelona missed more of them and really should've finished the half not only with a lead, but a commanding one.
Neither team made any substitutions at halftime, and just like in the first Bayern tried to quickly create something. And create something they did as Alves made a very dangerous foul just inches outside of the penalty area. The free kick was in the perfect spot for Xabi, but the former Real Madrid midfielder sent the ball straight into the wall. Bayern continued with the early pressure, pinning Barcelona back for the opening five minutes. The only times in which Barcelona managed to get out of their defensive third was when the Catalans forced a turnover a bit higher up the pitch, resulting in quick counter attacks. But the visitors were much quicker tracking back compared to the first half, limiting Barcelona to very little time in attack.
Bayern also started the second half with very high pressure, something they did not do in the first. That led to many problems for Barcelona as the Catalans didn't have the time needed to look up the pitch to find an open player, which resulted in a few poor clearances as well as wayward passes. But Barcelona were able to survive the high press without allowing a single shot on goal - and then went on to put some pressure themselves.
Barcelona would take their first shot in the second half in the 57th minute when Messi was able to get his first look on goal, but his shot from 20 yards out went right at Neuer who made the easy save. A better chance for Barcelona came four minutes later when Messi sent a lovely ball to Neymar who went alone on goal, but Neymar's first touch was poor. Neuer also read the play brilliantly and left his area to clear the ball away from Neymar 35-yards removed from his goal. Neymar would have another chance in the 64th minute, this time after a pass from Rakitić, but his aim was absolutely terrible and the shot would've missed the target even if two goals were stacked one on top of the other.
A more active figure in the second half was also the referee, who showed four yellow cards after 25 minutes of play, two to each side. But because of new rules that UEFA implemented, these cards would have no lasting effect - only if a player picks up two in one game - as all players came into this game with zero yellow cards on their accounts.
Ter Stegen had to make the first save of the game, though he wasn't officially credited with one, in the 72nd minute when Thiago tried his luck from distance. His shot was deflected off of Iniesta, almost catching the German in Barcelona's goal wrong-footed.
With many stoppages in play and Bayern playing a bit more destructive, the tempo and the flow of the game couldn't live up to the first half. Neither team were able to create many chances, and with both teams pressing just about all over the pitch, passing of both sides struggled - both sitting uncharacteristically low - in the low 80s.
But as we all know, Messi doesn't need much, and with teammates missing chances left, right and middle, he knew it was high time he took things into his own hands - with some help from Alves. Alves stole the ball from Bernat in a spot where you simply shouldn't lose the ball - in transition from defense. Alves then dribbled past Alonso before tapping the ball to Messi who fired a shot that even Neuer couldn't keep out, to send the Camp Nou into delirium.
Guardiola immediately reacted to the goal, replacing Muller with the scorer of the World Cup deciding goal, Mario Gotze. But Messi was not done with his show. In the 80th minute Rakitić went with the "when all fails pass to Messi" plan and the Argentine genius took it from there. Messi absolutely skinned Boateng, who in the process took a seat. That was still not all as Messi then went to his bread and butter - the chip shot - leaving Neuer with absolutely no chance. And just like that Barcelona were leading by two goals thanks to two Messi goals in a three minute stretch.
Now it was Lucho's turn to react as he made all three changes in a span of six minutes. Rakitić, Iniesta and Mascherano all made their way the bench and were replaced by Xavi, Rafinha and Marc Bartra. With the substitution of Rafinha, Lucho also gave us a chance to see some brotherly
love rivalry on the pitch.
Two goals behind, Barcelona forced Pep's hand and Bayern opened up again in their search for the all-important away goal. But not only did Bayern not find that goal, Barcelona made them pay with a third. Suarez did well to control the ball in midfield before laying it off to Messi. Messi saw Neymar making a run down the left side and supplied him the ball in the last second, as Neymar would've been caught offside otherwise. Neymar didn't make the same mistake Suarez did in the first half, calmly slotting the ball through the legs of arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, to secure what can only be described as a commanding lead. While Bayern can never be counted out, even with a deficit like this, but it will be extremely difficult for them to overturn this result.