Miracle in Munich as the Pep Playbook Is Thrown out of the Window

One thing is for sure: this FC Bayern München side clearly know how to take you through the ringer. Having thrown away a two-goal lead against Juventus in the first leg of their Champions League second round tie in Turin, Pep Guardiola’s side tried again to hand the tie with a cherry on top to their Italian opponents at the Allianz Arena, before resorting to some good old-fashioned Heynckes-Fussball to earn a place in the quarter-finals.

It is debatable whether that place in the last eight was truly merited against a brave Juventus team, but it sure was dramatic. As a football fan one often experiences all sorts of emotions; the evening of 16th March 2016 put all of them together into one big pot that simmered, bubbled and finally boiled over the course of an at times surreal encounter spanning a touch over two hours.

Confidence was replaced by frustration, which in turn gave way to despair. The sense of continued irritation was superseded by anger, and then, just as everybody was all set to sink into despondency and start dreaming of next year’s campaign, the flame of hope was lit again. After that, relief followed by a soaring ecstasy. It could best be described as an emotional Eintopf.

The Bavarians came into the game as clear favourites, in front of their own fans with two away goals in the bag. While nothing could be taken for granted – they had, after all, rolled over in a similar situation in 2007 against AC Milan – there was a sense of optimism. Even the coach’s benching of Saturday’s two-goal hero Thiago Alcântara didn’t dampen the atmosphere.

The first leg in Turin had seen Bayern dominate from the start, establishing their two-goal advantage either side of half-time against a Juve side that was timid at best. It was all set to be the start of a smooth jog into the last eight, until the old lady finally decided to wave her walking stick at the beast in red that threatened to mug her on her own doorstep.

Suddenly, it was the men in red who were looking like the doddery old pensioner. The mistakes started to come, and the makeshift defence was torn open twice as the I bianconeri gave themselves something of a foothold ahead of the return in Munich.

It took just six minutes of the second leg to show that this was not going to be the same Juventus team that had started so meekly on their home turf. They had come to Munich to pick up where they had left off in the first leg, and Die Roten, usually so smooth and controlled in their passing game, were hassled and harried by the men in black and white. Then came the mistakes.

A ridiculous mix-up between ‘keeper Manuel Neuer and the careless David Alaba set up Paul Pogba to open the scoring for the Serie A champions, and with Bayern unable to get their game together it was looking like a case of men against boys. Gigi Buffon in the Juventus goal had not even been tested when his team doubled their lead, with Colombian Juan Cuadrado taking advantage of another defensive lapse to hammer the ball past Neuer and stun the 71,000 home crowd.

It could – and arguably should – have been even worse. A poor decision from the linesman ruled out Álvaro Morata’s lobbed effort, and truth be told Bayern should have been on their way out of the tournament well before half-time. Had Bayern been three down at the break – and needing an almost impossible four to progress – nobody would have argued with the result. Quite simply, the home side’s tactics had been poor, the defence had been shot to bits with Alaba and the static Medhi Benatia the major culprits, and Juve’s work rate had been outstanding.

The second half began and there were a few opportunities, but as the game ticked past the hour mark there was a growing sense of frustration among the home fans. The Südkurve were their usual loud selves from the start and kept up the volume throughout, but there were some whistles when the team started playing horizontal passes in front of their own penalty area.

Two goals behind, twenty minutes to go, and meaningless passes are being exchanged in front of the penalty area? Really?

It was all set to be another nightmare, just like the semi-final debacle against Real Madrid two years earlier – the game that had seen the Spanish champions take a massive bite out of the myth of La Bestia Negra. Twitter was awash with critical comments about the coach’s tactics, and the team keeping the ball on the ground rather that lump it forward to try and score a goal.

Goals, Pep, goals… The things that win football matches.

Maybe the coach was keeping up to speed with the criticism. The woeful Benatia had already been replaced by the more energetic and focused Juan Bernat, and the ineffective Xabi Alonso was replaced by youngster Kingsley Coman – still technically on the books at Juventus. The Frenchman’s introduction provided a clear injection of pace, and the team seemed to take it upon themselves to up their game.

With the crowd calling for the team to fight – auf geht’s Bayern, kämpfen und siegen – the men in red stepped finally stepped up to the plate.

The exit of the solid Sami Khedira and the mobile Morata saw Juventus slow things down, and Morata was not even settling back down on the bench when Bayern grabbed a lifeline. Douglas Costa had been one of Bayern’s better players during the insipid opening hour, and the Brazilian’s perfect cross was met brilliantly by the hitherto quiet Robert Lewandowski.

For all of the tight passing and overly complicated messing around, the Juve defence had been outdone by the good old-fashioned Flanke und Kopfball.

The chances started to come, but Buffon in the Juve goal remained solid. As the clock ticked into injury time Lewandowski’s goal was starting to feel like a consolation, but there was one more moment of magic to be had before the Swedish referee could blow for full time. This time it was Coman making room on the right, sending in another pinpoint cross.

The man there to finish it at the far post? None other than the inevitable Thomas Müller.

BT Sport commentator Derek Rae referred to Heynckes-Fussball, and I could only nod my head in agreement. Two crosses, two headers – it was like watching the pre-Pep Bayern in full, glorious flow. I was pleasantly surprised – no, shocked – at seeing two crosses finished off with two headers, as I genuinely thought that the Catalan tactical genius had more or less eliminated that skill set entirely.

Bayern had pulled the game out of the fire and saved their skins right at the death – and as the ref blew for the start of extra time one felt that there was only going to be one winner from that point on. It was now Juventus hanging on for dear life, with the momentum all with the Bavarians.

The first fifteen minutes remained as is with the game heading for a penalty shootout, but the replacement of the energetic but ineffective Franck Ribéry with Thiago four minutes before the change of end clearly tipped the balance firmly in Bayern’s favour. Just minutes after the break the Spaniard drilled the ball low past Buffon after a fantastic exchange with Müller, and Bayern were in front.

I could almost feel the noise from the crowd as I sat upright in front of the television, and my hairs were almost standing on end. I have always hated the overused term “emotional roller coaster”, but I think no other term could best describe it. Gänsehaut pur.

Just minutes later, it was all over. Suddenly it was like the treble-winning side of 2013; no slow possession-based buildup, but a fast break down the right engineered and executed by the dynamic Coman after the excellent Vidal had robbed Patrice Evra. After cutting back inside, Coman’s exquisite curling finish was reminiscent of a certain bald-headed Dutchman as he planted the ball with no little panache into the top left-hand corner of the net.

In truth, this was a game Bayern should have lost. The defence was a shambles, and in addition to their offside goal Juventus created a number of chances that on another day would have been put away. Their coach Massimiliano Allegri could be accused of letting Bayern back into the game, but in truth it really should have been all over by half-time.

Such is football. Bayern are now in the last eight, where another enticing tie awaits. Will it be Barcelona? Will it be Real Madrid? Or will there be a domestic derby against the tournament’s surprise package VfL Wolfsburg?

One thing is for sure: the show goes on, and I cannot wait.