Bayern were nothing but underwhelming over the course of two legs. It was like watching a technically gifted boxer go at it against a slugger and being dragged down to his opponent’s level. And there’s no team that can play rope-a-dope and land an ugly knockout blow the way this year’s Real Madrid can.
There was very little from Bayern to be impressed by. Goalkeeper Sven Ulreich may have inexplicably collapsed to the Bernabeu canvas on Tuesday night, but Jupp Heynckes’ side were staggering long before then.
The mistake would be to judge the club’s potential on those two performances. Indeed, they are something of a mystery to most fans except for when they come down from the hinterlands of the Bundesliga and compete in European competition.
Quietly, though, they have been vacuuming up some of the country’s – if not the world’s – best talent at a time when many other of Europe’s top clubs are either crumbling or stagnating.
The Champions League-winning era that saw Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery end many a full-back’s career is moving towards a swift conclusion and Robert Lewandowski, to whom scoring goals is as easy as picking daisies, is on Real’s radar.
There won’t be a mad dash to the market if and when they depart. That’s because the Bayern hierarchy have had the foresight to sign players long before they even need them.
Putting James Rodriguez to one side, the six other players that were signed in the last two transfer windows are not yet first-choice starters.
They broke their transfer record, though not the bank, for France midfielder Corentin Tolisso, 23, to the tune of €41.5 million. Kingsley Coman, the 21-year-old winger, also signed on a permanent basis, as did another one in Serge Gnabry – who was immediately loaned to Werder Bremen. Germany centre-back Niklas Sule, 21, and midfielder Sebastian Rudy, 28, also rocked up at the gates of Allianz Arena from Hoffenheim. And if they weren’t greedy enough, Bayern raided the same side again in the winter to land 30-year-old striker Sandro Wagner.
Next year another rangy midfielder in Leon Goretzka, who if you haven’t heard about yet you will have done after the World Cup, will make Munich his home too.
It’s a policy that Bayern have pursued for years, though never as aggressively as last summer. What makes it suddenly so intriguing is that all their insurance policies are in place while other European big guns are wondering where their next stars will come from.
Barcelona, for instance, were forced to pay well over the odds for Ousmane Dembele when Neymar left for Paris Saint-Germain. They can hardly be blamed for not predicting PSG would pull their expensive Brazilian rug from under them, but Barca were never exactly stuffed to the gills with depth either.
The Catalans also spent €100m plus on Coutinho – and their squad is still in desperate need of freshening up with Andres Iniesta on his way out too. The perfect replacement is Thiago … the one they let go to Bayern.
Thiago the only player capable of occasionally imposing some order on the chaos tonight. Admirable, and should be enticed home by Barça. Who should also sign Saul. Busquets, Thiago, Saul. There's your midfield culers.— Andy West (@andywest01) May 1, 2018
The same problem applies to Real. There is no truly promising young defender behind Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, or a striker behind Karim Benzema.
Marco Asensio is an exception in midfield yet Dani Ceballos, named the player of the Under-21 European Championship last year, barely gets a look in under Zinedine Zidane. The beauty of the Bundesliga for Bayern is that it is competitive without being energy-sapping – they can rotate their youngsters in and out at will while keeping the rest of the league at arm’s length.
As for PSG, the bullets may be gold, but their approach in the market has been scatter-gun. Why did they let young French talent like Tolisso, Coman and Dembele evade their clutches? Why was Paul Pogba lured from Manchester United by Juventus, not them?
The only squad in Europe that can match the almost bottomless pit of Bayern talent is Manchester City. They’ll be back as a Champions League force under Pep Guardiola. And as long as incoming manager Niko Kovac does not tear such a well-penned plan to shreds, so will Tuesday’s losers.
After the 2-2 draw in the second leg that saw Madrid advance to the final where they’ll vie for a third straight European crown, the Bayern boss claimed his team were superior in the semi-final.
“If you look at both games, we were the better team,” Heynckes said. “But unfortunately we couldn’t make the final.”
Whether Bayern were the better team or not, the only thing that matters is the second half of Heynckes’ statement.
Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes said as much, stating that their “opponent was given a gift”.
Heynckes, however, was also proud of his team’s ability to respond to the blunder, saying: “We shook ourselves off, fought back and played well.”
It wasn’t enough though as Real advanced to the final on a 4-3 aggregate.