Bayern Munich scored a record eight goals in a Champions League knockout game to humble Barcelona and reach the last four in emphatic fashion. It’s the first time since 1946 that Barcelona have conceded eight in a game.
Thomas Müller and Hansi Flick know a thing or two about big knockout-stage performances.
In summer 2014, when Müller’s strike set Germany on their way to a 7-1 thrashing of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro in the World Cup semifinal, Flick was sat on the bench as Joachim Löw’s assistant.
On Friday night in Lisbon, Müller again opened the scoring as Bayern put Barcelona to the sword, winning 8-2 to progress to the Champions League semifinal for the sixth time in eight years.
Neither Müller nor Flick wanted to hear about comparisons with the Maracana, but the similarities were impossible to ignore.
This Bayern Munich performance, particularly in the first half hour, was characterized by the same tireless harrying of the opposition, the same precision of passing in transition, the same physical superiority, the same merciless finishing.
First Müller, finishing off after a delicate one-two with Robert Lewandowski, then Ivan Perisic, then Serge Gnabry, then Müller again, the latter three at intervals which almost had you rubbing your eyes to check they weren’t replays. It was just as absorbing, just as awe-inspiring. For Müller, even better than Brazil.
“In Brazil, we didn’t have the game as under control as we did tonight,” he said. “Tonight we wanted to dominate the opponent with our style. And we were brutally dominant.” And incredibly, despite leading 4-1 at half-time, the best was yet to come.
Much had been made before kick-off of the potential mismatch down the Bayern left, where teenage winger-cum-fullback Alphonso Davies would be tasked with marking Lionel Messi. But the young Canadian had clearly done his homework on the Argentinian. That became obvious not in the way he defended against Messi but in how he set up Bayern’s fifth goal in the second half.
Pinned to the touchline by Nelson Semedo, seemingly with nowhere to go, Davies feinted once, feinted twice, and suddenly dashed past the Barcelona fullback, dribbling into the box, the ball glued to his feet in the manner of Messi at his majestic best, before cutting back for Joshua Kimmich to get in on the act.
Robert Lewandowski made it six, his 14th in this season’s competition, taking him within three of Cristiano Ronaldo’s record, and Philippe Coutinho added number seven and number eight. Bayern have now won a ludicrous 27 of their last 28 games since December 7, securing an eighth consecutive Bundesliga title and second consecutive double in the process.
The caveat, of course, is that Bayern have out-grown their domestic league and that they can only really be judged in the Champions League against Europe’s very best. It’s not an unreasonable argument and it’s how a whole line of coaches from Felix Magath to Louis Van Gaal, Pep Guardiola to Niko Kovac have all been judged and ultimately found wanting.
‘Intensity, mentality, quality’
So where does this result rank in the great scheme of things for the current incumbent, Hansi Flick? What does it say about Bayern’s chances of winning a second treble after 2013?
Admittedly, this Barcelona team are not of the caliber of previous generations. This humiliation was merely a crowning indignity at the end of a season dominated by managerial changes, financial problems and the loss of their domestic crown to Real Madrid. With an average age of 29.6, they had the oldest squad in Lisbon.
But it was still Barcelona, still with Messi, Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal, and still with Marc-André ter Stegen in goal. Still with Ivan Rakitic and Antoine Griezmann sat on the bench. This was different to putting four past Wolfsburg, five past Düsseldorf or six past Hoffenheim. Different even, with respect, to beating Chelsea in the quarterfinal.
Speaking post-match, Flick constantly repeated three words: Intensität, Mentalität, Qualität. They don’t require much translation and they sum up Bayern Munich – not just here in Lisbon, but ever since the turn of the year and especially since the restart.
A potential semifinal rendezvous with Manchester City and former coach Pep Guardiola promises to produce a semifinal with just as much Intensität, Mentalität and Qualität and will surely pose a tougher challenge.
But Flick and Müller will be quietly confident that they can rise to it. After all, they know a thing or two about these sorts of games.