After much anticipation, the Champions League would finally get underway, with FC Bayern taking on English Champions Manchester City at a packed Allianz Arena. With all of the injury problems, many Bayern fans had looked at this game somewhat nervously, and there would be mixed feelings when seeing the lineup. Moroccan Mehdi Benatia would finally make his debut (in the Champions League, no less!) while Brazilian Rafinha would be back in the starting lineup after a two month lay off.
Joining those watching on the sidelines would be Franck Ribéry and Holger Badstuber, while Arjen Robben – not quite fully fit – would be on the bench.
The game would start in dramatic fashion, and pretty much set the tone for what would be a nerve-shredding evening for everyone in red and white at the Allianz. With less than a minute gone Mario Gotze looked to have set up Thomas Müller with an excellent chance, but would put the ball wide from close range. There looked to have been a slight trip by City ‘keeper Joe Hart, but the referee would just wave play on.
Bayern could very well have been away and clear before the break, as they continued to make chances. Hart would respond brilliantly to a Müller header after a smart cross from Juan Bernat, and just moments later Müller would almost get on the end of a neat through ball from Götze, who would also test the City ‘keeper.
The visitors would have their first real effort on twenty three minutes as former VfL Wolfsburg man Edin Dzeko curled a shot past Manuel Neuer’s right post, but Bayern would be by far the better side. David Alaba would send a shot narrowly wide on the half-hour mark before testing Hart with a well-struck drive moments later, seizing on a mistake from former Münch’ner Martín Demichelis. The Austrian would find Robert Lewandowski nine minutes before the break, but a poor first touch would let the Polish striker down, much to the disappointment of the home crowd.
The second half would see pretty much the same story, and it looked as though it was going to be one of those European evenings for Bayern. Lahm would shoot wide, Götze would hit the target but make it easy for Hart, and the referee would turn a blind eye to a blue-shirted defender grabbing a handful of Benatia’s shirt. The otherwise impressive Hart would make a complete mess of a speculative effort from Rafinha, but as Müller put the rebound wide the flag would go up for offside.
With fifteen minutes left Arjen Robben would come for Müller, and with it change the dynamic of the contest. We would be seeing those familiar darting runs, and on one occasion a jinking run that would end up with a fall in the box. Play on, said the referee.
There would be a scare at the other end as Benatia looked to have clipped David Silva, and on this occasion we could be thankful that the Spanish referee ignored the protests. To concede a penalty at that stage, as legitimate as it might have looked, would have cruel in the extreme.
Claudio Pizarro would replace Rafinha and Dante would come on for Benatia as Pep Guardiola continued to press for the win, and with just seconds remaining in normal time the moment would come. With the City defense unable to clear as their penalty area resembled a pinball machine, the ball would fall to Jérôme Boateng. Just moments before the big center-back had seen a well-struck effort turned around the post by Hart, but this time his shot would take the thinnest of deflections off Götze before crashing into the right side of the net.
Wahnsinn! After all of the pressure and the opportunities, Bayern Munich had got what they had deserved. Boateng charged to the touchline, and the crowd ramped up the volume.
There would be a heart-stopping moment deep into injury time as Sergio Agüero muscled past a static-looking Dante, but Neuer would do enough to put off the Argentinian and watch the ball roll harmlessly wide. When the final whistle blew, the atmosphere at the Allianz would be one of happiness and relief.
After some insipid displays in the Bundesliga in recent weeks, Guardiola’s side would save their best performance of the season so far for what was arguably the most important game up to this point. Yet still there are major issues. Players such as Mario Götze are disappearing for long spells, David Alaba is look far less comfortable in the middle of the pitch than at left-back, and Robert Lewandowski is looking nowhere near as clinical as he was last season with Dortmund. With more clinical finishing, City would have been finished off far earlier – saving us all the nerve-shredding, nail-biting tension at the end.
But then, one might argue that this is what football is all about.