The first was scintillating, the second mesmerising, Bayern Munich’s defence had just been made to look like a Charlie Chaplin Sketch. Guardiola had gone from “tactical mastermind” to a “one trick pony” in the flick of a left foot and the chip of a right.
It wasn’t so much a battle of Barcelona and Bayern or even Guardiola vs Enrique but more of Lionel Messi and physics. This game would have made a fitting Champions league final, it is unlikely we will encounter better this year.
The first half was constant, one team relentlessly pressing and the other persistently attacking, except not in the way you would expect. Last time these two came up against each other it would have been the other way around, but Guardiola has spent the past three years Catalonianising Bayern Munich while Luis Enrique has spent the last year redefining the concept. While the midfield was once Barcelona’s goldmine, with Iniesta and Xavi dominating play and Messi operating deeper as a ‘false 9’ they now utilise their attack, with emphasis upon transition between defence and attack.
If Messi was Barcelona’s architect then Manuel Neuer was Bayern’s saviour. Guardiola’s seemingly naive back three formation caved just 12 minutes in as Messi’s header sent Suarez through one on one with Neuer. Any other goalkeeper in the world and Suarez would have scored, but Neuer was positionally perfect denying a first goal with his outstretched right leg.
It was far from a one sided affair, Bayern Munich could of taken the lead themselves had Robert Lewandowski managed to poke Thomas Muller’s cross past the German Ter Stegen.
Both teams continued but it was Barcelona who were perpetual. Robbed of the talents of mercurials Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben Bayern lacked an equivalent to Barcelona’s attacking trio. They continued to press but as Bernat lost the ball to Dani Alves and Lionel Messi dragged it across his body to drive it in-between Medhi Benatia and Phillip Lahm to Neuer’s right Barcelona got one hand on the final.
It would be a lie to say we saw it coming, Lionel Messi had began to look bored prior to christmas and Ronaldo had just beaten him to another Ballon D’or. The second half of the season has seen him transformed and the astonishing rate at which Jerome Boateng and Neuer went from world class to Sunday league standard sent shiver’s down the spines of even the most adamant Ronaldo fan. Messi’s first touch was exquisite as he took it to one side of Boateng, his second was mystical as Boateng collapsed and his third made it 1-0.
At 2-0 Bayern had every chance of turning it around in Germany but when Messi sent Neymar into an empty Bayern half to tuck the ball past Neuer there was a feeling that it was a dead end for the German champions.
Had Pep Guardiola’s comments before the match stating that Messi was “unstoppable” been purely admiration then Messi had only proved him right. Had they been an attempt to unsettle and flatter ‘friend’ Messi into having a quieter game against his former manager then Messi had misunderstood.