Clinical Neymar Exposes Bayern Frailties

Barcelona lost on the night but deservedly reached the final of the Champions League in Berlin.

Published: 13th May 2015 10:30 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th May 2015 10:33 AM   |  A+A-


Bayern Munich 3 Barcelona 2

Barcelona lost on the night but deservedly reached the final of the Champions League in Berlin on June 6 where they will face either Real Madrid or Juventus.

So the climax of the European season will be graced by Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, the Brazilian whose first-half brace left Bayern Munich with an impossible mountain to climb.

Barcelona's old coach, Pep Guardiola, won on the night, thanks to goals from Mehdi Benatia, Robert Lewan-dowski and Thomas Muller, but the feeling was only of bitter frustration. His failure to drill his defence better cost Bayern.

Even if he is staying on another season to complete his contract, as he insists, Guardiola really needs to tighten or strengthen that back line. Such immense support from the terraces deserved better than some of the naive defending.

In fairness to Guardiola, nobody would have survived the rapier thrusts started by Messi, carried on by Suarez and finished by Neymar.

Barcelona are such a force under Luis Enrique, but also grateful to their keeper, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, for some fine saves in the first period. Yet the initiative was always with Barcelona, leading 3-0 from the first leg.

Within half an hour, Bayern had needed a miracle, a Red Adair in a red shirt, snookers. They had trailed 2-1, their defence shapeless and hapless, victims of a merciless Barcelona. The visitors were not simply from another country; they were from another planet.

Messi was magical. Again. Truly, it is a privilege to be following football in the age of this fabulous Argentine. It is not simply the artistry, agility and intelligence that he brings to moves time and again, shredding defences and conquering keepers with such elegance. It is the work off the ball, hounding Juan Bernat and Bastian Schweinsteiger here, making sure Bayern laboured to progress down their left.

Suarez was selflessness personified, running hard, taking passes from Messi and creating both of -Neymar's first-half goals which really killed off the tie.

Bayern had done everything to stoke up the atmosphere, to try to make the wonderful Allianz Arena as intimidating as possible. The "one city, one dream" mosaic, the drums, the rhythmic clapping and the -bouncing up and down made the ground reverberate but it was always going to take more to shake the equilibrium and focus of Messi and company.

It was always going to need so much more than a fan standing on the fence, with No?12 on his back, screaming into a megaphone to disturb the composure of the stellar calibre of Messi, Suarez and Neymar. Many Bayern supporters were so in awe of Messi that when the Barcelona No?10 glided across to take a corner, they greeted him with raised cameraphones, capturing the moment when they were in the presence of greatness.

Bayern briefly believed, even taking the lead, making this magnificent stadium almost leap from its foundations in joy. After surviving an early scare when Ivan Rakitic drew a low save from Manuel Neuer, Bayern went for Barcelona, storming upfield. Muller and Philipp Lahm exchanged passes, Thiago Alcantara joined in but Gerard Pique blocked his shot. The noise rose.

Bayern kept pressing, forcing a corner curled across by Xabi Alonso. Barcelona's defending was wretched, gifting space for Benatia to head past Ter Stegen. It was the first goal Barcelona had conceded in 10 hours and 45 minutes, dating back to April 15 and Gregory van der Wiel's deflected strike in Paris. Game on? Not for long.

Bayern's fans kept expressing their unconditional support but their dream lasted eight minutes. In that brief, sweet period of hope for -Bayern, Guardiola's plan of suppressing his old team received some oxygen.

Sadly for Guardiola and his team, reverie was soon replaced by harsh reality.

Bayern's need for goals ensured they pushed up and their defence is simply not good enough to combat attackers of the quality of Messi, Suarez and Neymar. Few defences are. They form the sharpest of attacking tridents, stabbing away at opponents, ripping them apart.

What unfolded in the 15th and 29th minutes was both brutal and beautiful. On both occasions, Messi was the architect with the vision.

Espying Suarez's run, the Argentine picked out the Uruguayan and Bayern's back line was breached. Suarez could have gone for himself but he paused, then played the ball across for Neymar. The Brazilian instantly stroked the ball low past the diving Neuer. Bayern now needed four.

Barcelona celebrated and then set about chasing a second that would surely put the tie beyond Bayern. Again they broke swiftly. Again, -Bayern's defending was pathetic. Does Guardiola not drill them? Again, Messi was the instigator, rising high to flick the ball through for the alert Suarez to run on to. Again, Suarez was commendably generous, lifting the ball across for Neymar to demonstrate the ruthless nature of his finishing. The Brazilian chested the ball down and then, ignoring Jerome Boateng's vainful challenge, placed it between Neuer and the keeper's right-hand upright.

The clinical nature of Neymar's finishing contrasted with Bayern's. Lewandowski had a shot saved by the excellent Ter Stegen, who then collected a weak strike from Muller. Meeting a Bernat cross after 37 minutes, Schweinsteiger headed powerfully goalwards but Ter Stegen pushed the ball over. The former Borussia Monchengladbach keeper then did brilliantly to dive to his left and claw away an effort from Lewandowski on the line. With no recourse to the Goal Decision System, Bayern turned to the additional assistant referee, Andre Marriner, but he shook his head. He was right too; replays showed the ball had not fully crossed the line.

Bayern were given a glimmer of hope at the break when Suarez, who had been rubbing his back, was replaced by Pedro with Messi going central.

The noise levels remained higher, rising just before the hour when Lewandowski made it 2-2. The Polish international worked some space around Javier Mascherano and shot past Ter Stegen from the edge of the area.

The game briefly slowed, some substitutions disrupting the flow. Sebastian Rode replaced Lahm and Jeremy Mathieu came on for Rakitic but what never changed was the relentless backing of the Bayern fans. With 16 minutes remaining, Schweinsteiger teed up Muller, whose side-footed strike fizzed past Ter Stegen. Bayern needed three.

Even those Bayern fans in the smart seats were jumping up, punching the air, shouting encouragement. -Guardiola was hopping around like a mad marionette, castigating Neymar for some play-acting and time-wasting.

Barcelona were missing the central target of Suarez. Messi had gone back wide and Pedro tried to offer an option up front.

The traffic was mainly one way, flooding towards Ter Stegen's area. Enrique sent on Xavi to bring some control to the midfield on the occasion of his 150th Champions League appearance.

Guardiola made his last roll of the dice, sending on Javi Martinez and Mario Gotze for Muller and Schweinsteiger.

Muller's withdrawal seemed to perplex some Bayern fans who chanted his name loudly. They were still singing at the final whistle, still expressing defiance but it was Guardiola's old gang off to Berlin.

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