Nasty flashback for Bayern as Real masters make them suffer again

Nick Ames at the Allianz Arena on 25 April 2018

It was Thomas Müller, contorting himself to swipe at an open goal from a matter of feet midway through the second half before missing the ball completely, who confirmed the impression that the die had been cast. Over-familiarity could have bred contempt between two such practised, garlanded powers; instead a chess-like opening 30 minutes gave way to a see-sawing and at times pinball-esque affair that, for all its apparent concessions to chance, came to appear eerily like a flashback.

Barely a year has passed since, in a quarter-final first leg at the same venue, Bayern Munich threatened to put Real Madrid to the sword before falling to a mixture of their own profligacy and their visitors’ sheer gumption. The pattern repeated itself almost to the letter here; nights like this lend the impression that memory is as important a tool as any in football and as a bright Bayern performance eventually faded, it did not take an overactive imagination to perceive the ghosts of failures’ past taunting them in front of the Sudkurve posts.

The Champions League trophy was pitch-side in the hour before kick-off, and if that did not seem presumptuous in itself there had been little escaping the narrative that this was the final before the final. You knew what they meant, even if Liverpool have probably done enough to temper any overconfidence in this tie’s victors.

If Anfield was wild on Tuesday night then the Allianz Arena, bathed in golden spring light as the teams warmed up, was its usual inimitable mixture of gravitas and confidence. This was serious Champions League stuff for serious Champions League people: two winning machines for this level, unabashed in their self-importance but perfectly entitled to it too.

While the sheer exhilaration of the previous evening never quite seemed likely in a meeting of two such familiar foes, the names on display provided a comfort blanket from the off. Here, four minutes in, was a 35-year-old Franck Ribéry, wagging his finger at the referee, Bjorn Kuipers, in search of a non-existent spot kick. There, five minutes later, was Sergio Ramos stepping out of defence before crunching through both Robert Lewandowski and ball, a premeditated early calling card that temporarily left the centre-forward in a heap.

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This particular collection of old masters wage battle against one another semi-regularly, quality and sheer force of personality lying behind their ability to rise to occasions like this, but the day is nearing when they will yield to the less familiar. Arjen Robben’s injury-enforced substitution after eight minutes was a stark reminder that some treasures are best savoured while one still can. Robben has yet to sign a new deal and looks a fair bet to move on; at 34 there is a chance this was his last Champions League appearance and should that be the case, it was an unworthy end.

Robben would have enjoyed himself in the subsequent 40 minutes. Real’s left flank was non-existent when Joshua Kimmich outfoxed Keylor Navas to open the scoring and in the period immediately after that Bayern buzzed with menace. James Rodríguez, unwanted by his opponents, has been a figure transformed under Jupp Heynckes – trimmer, zippier, his touch and occasionally extravagant range matched by a willingness to put the yards in.

Real Madrid
Real Madrid’s Marcelo is congratulated by Sergio Ramos and Isco after scoring the equalising goal. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

He and Robben’s replacement, Thiago Alcântara, wove patterns and teased black-clad defenders out of shape; Müller and Lewandowski provided more brawn and the former, from one of several headed chances, should have done better than nod straight at a grateful Navas before half-time.

By then, though, Real had done what Real do. There was to be no Juventus-style miracle from Cristiano Ronaldo, a harmless first-half header and a 48th-minute shot that squirted out for a throw-in the sum of his efforts this time, but in Marcelo he has a team-mate whose mettle for the big stage goes under-appreciated. Marcelo had been exposed during that flurry of Bayern pressure but, like Kimmich, made no mistake when the half-chance presented itself.

Marco Asensio’s goal, which came within moments of another opportunity for Lewandowski, thus contained a sense of grim inevitability. Asensio is not yet a Real Madrid grandee and certainly not yet a 30-something; his finish displayed something of his older team-mates’ dead-eyed instinct though and while Müller writhed and Bayern strained, the spectres of April 2017 readied themselves.

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