Mario Gomez wasn’t having the best of matches, but he’s one of those players that doesn’t do much but score. Eventually, after 89 frustrating minutes for the prolific striker, he came through with his usual perfectly timed half fluke of a goal, giving Bayern Munich a 2-1 win over Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League Semi Final clash.
Enough to make it through and return to Munich for the final? Chances will be against them as they head to Madrid for the second leg. Real, despite the loss and their not-too-impressive performance, are still favorites to go through, enjoying a vital away goal that came from one of their rare attacks in the second half.
Jose Mourinho played it careful, cautiously, as he usually does at these stages, especially away from home. He gave up on his usual strikers trio, giving Angel Di Maria a chance to start. Maybe to see how well he can handle the big match, heading into the Clasico. Maybe he thought Di Maria would give him another player who can keep possession. The Argentinian player was one of the weakest on the pitch, taken off after 79 minutes.
Bayern needed a bit more then 10 minutes to take control, but after the initial Real pressure on their back four and midfield, Bayern started moving the ball well, through Schweinsteiger and Ribery. Ribery himself was fantastic, fluid and free to leave the wing and simply roam wherever he pleased. The usual Bayern format of two wingers was a bit more flexible this time, and Ribery scored the opening goal after moving to the middle.
All this time Bayern and all through the first half Bayern were clearly the better side, the dominant team. Still, fearing the Real Madrid counter attack, Bayern never sent too many players forward, failing to capitalize the momentum by not creating enough pressure on Casillas for more than brief moments.
Adjustments? Bayern felt a bit more free to attack, knowing they need a second goal to arrive a bit more confident to Madrid. That cost them. Boateng and Badstuber ventured forward, and lack of concentration, leading to bad coverage, gave Real Madrid their away goal. Cristiano Ronald had a very bad match, but his effort by keeping the ball in play and finding Ozil deserves a lot of credit. Only that.
The rest of the way was pretty similar to the first half. Real moving back, as Mourinho threw in Marcelo and Granero to add a more defensive dimension, while Bayern struggled to create constant pressure on Casillas, Pepe and Sergio Ramos. Toni Kroos moving backwards while Schweinsteiger left in favor of Thomas Muller didn’t do much. Muller hasn’t been in great form of late, and failed to put his mark on the match.
Philipp Lahm may be the best wing back in the world today. He just didn’t join Robben enough on the day. Maybe playing on the right wing, along with Ribery, would have benefited Heynckes more, as Robben had enough support from Kroos and Muller who always drifts to the right. Alaba didn’t join the attack too often until the very end, when Bayern were forced to send more and more numbers.
Eventually, it was Lahm’s attacking prowess combined with another marking failure by a Real Madrid player that gave Bayern the winner, as Gomez broke loose and connected well with Lahm’s cross. Marcelo avoided a red card thanks to a lenient Howard Webb, who had one of his best games in recent years, making every single big call in a match full of divers and complainers.
Thoughts taking us a week forward? A lot depends on how Real Madrid manage in the Clasico. Maybe more than anything. Bayern hardly have anything to play for in the league, and can afford to rest those in need of it. Still, unless something outstanding happens at the Camp Nou on Saturday, meaning the thrashing Real fear (for good reason), Mourinho is the favorite to come out as the winner from the two legs, making his way back to the Champions League Final.