Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Bayern Munich use breathtaking first half to crush Porto

MUNICH -- Three quick thoughts from Bayern Munich's 6-1 victory Tuesday over Porto in their UEFA Champions League second leg at Allianz Arena.
Any thoughts of Porto securing a spot in the Champions League semifinals were dashed by halftime.
1. Bayern serve up a breathtaking first half

Bayern's 3-1 first-leg loss at Porto had mixed things up at Bayern. Club doctor Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt, feeling blamed, left the club after 38 years, and there was a general notion that things could get really ugly should the quarterfinal be the end of Munich's Champions League campaign. There were some even suggesting that manager Pep Guardiola could be forced to leave the club if the unthinkable happened.

It did not.

Indeed, Bayern Munich looked nervous in the buildup, with all the side noise turning the Porto match into the biggest game of the year, a make-or-break affair. The supporters at Allianz Arena made last-minute changes to their choreography, as a huge "Never Give Up" choreo escorted the players onto the pitch.

Holger Badstuber replaced Dante -- whose recent blunders might have been highly entertaining for the opponents, but certainly not for Guardiola -- in the starting lineup, and Philipp Lahm returned, too.

It took Bayern Munich some 10 minutes to get things started. Badstuber took the role of Xabi Alonso in handling the buildup. The veteran Spaniard did not drop behind the back line like he has done for most of the season, but instead waited for the ball in midfield.

Their first play was initiated by Robert Lewandowski at the halfway line. His partnership with Thomas Muller has been one of the few rays of hope for Guardiola in the absence of wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. They linked up again, but Porto keeper Fabiano parried Muller's shot from the break, which would end up being Fabiano's last save until the 45th minute. Yet the Porto stopper only deflected the ball to Lewandowski, who came flying to the ball with a slide. It hit the post.

But attack after attack rolled toward the Porto goal. Two minutes later, Thiago Alcantara scored with his head when he beat Maicon to the ball after a perfect Juan Bernat cross. Ten minutes later, Boateng was on target with his head, and the third one came from Lewandowski. Fabiano never got his hands on the ball. His only job was to get the ball out of the net, and return it for the kickoff. At halftime, Bayern Munich were 5-0 up, with Fabiano making his first save in 35 minutes when he stopped Lahm's effort from outside the box just before the break.

They stepped on the brakes in the second half, and even began to look nervous after Jackson Martinez's consolation goal in the 73rd minute. But they had a stadium behind them, and they were not interested in handing Porto any more goals. Bayern deservedly brought the game home.

2. Thiago puts on a show

FC Porto were forced to reshuffle their back line, with usual starting fullbacks Alex Sandro and Danilo suspended for the match. Diego Reyes, in only his second Champions League appearance this season, and Bruno Martins Indi tried to deputise for them. But they were unable to defend Bayern's thunderous attacks.

Bernat and Mario Gotze were stationed on the left, and Rafinha and Philipp Lahm were on the right, and they ran rampant over the helpless Porto fullbacks. And it was all orchestrated by the superb Thiago, who in addition to scoring the opener, also had stakes in the third and fourth goals of the night.

Bayern singled out Porto's fullback positions as their main weak spot. Bernat, connecting with Gotze on the left, walked past Ricardo Quaresma, and sent in a perfect cross to Thiago, where the small Spaniard was bigger than Maicon, or so it seemed. His goal started Porto's downfall. As the game progressed, Porto were not able to defend Thiago's ideas, and were left as awestruck spectators of the show put on by the second-year Bayern man.

Before the third goal, the Spaniard, having only returned from a year-long spell at the sidelines, played a long ball to Lahm. The Bayern captain just reached the ball near the goal line. He needed one touch, spotted and found Muller, who artistically diverted the ball to Lewandowski, leaving him the chance to do what he does best: Convert from close-range.

The wings were the key for Bayern Munich, and Thiago proved to be the player needed to turn it around as they walked into a club record fourth straight Champions League semifinal. Given the performance on the night, Bayern Munich will be the team to beat in the semi. But football is a funny old game, and as we have seen in the two meetings between Pep Guardiola's team and Porto, things can change rapidly within a week.

Thiago opened the scoring and created two other goals to help complete Bayern's comeback.
Yet players such as Ribery, Robben and Javi Martinez are nearing their return and will increase Guardiola's options. They will need to avoid mistakes and they will need to remain calm, just like they have done amid the supposed crisis after last week's defeat in Portugal.

3. Porto a no-show in Munich

In the wake of Germany's historic 7-1 victory in the World Cup semifinal against Brazil, a video showing all goals -- with the hosts erased from the footage -- became a viral hit on the internet. The first half of this contest could now lead to an updated version. Porto were anywhere but on the pitch.

Quaresma, who had scored a brace in the first leg, was lucky to escape an early shower when referee Martin Atkinson gave him a lifeline, despite the 32-year-old putting his hand in Bernat's face. He was seemingly annoyed by the Bayern fullback, who earlier had left Quaresma looking like a schoolboy before sending in the cross that would eventually make it 1-0.

Thirty minutes into the match, Porto won their first corner. Two minutes later Porto manager Julen Lopetegui relieved Diego Reyes from his duties at right back and replaced him with Ricardo Pereira. It did not matter. Nothing would have mattered. They just did not show up. Fabiano fished the balls out of the net, Maicon and Ivan Marcano were shocking in central defense, and so was Casemiro in midfield.

Porto were never able to build up pressure on Bayern's midfield. Munich just played and passed right by them and into the Porto fullbacks. Overall, Porto looked a frightened side.

They got better as Bayern Munich slowed down things in the second half, and even managed to pull one back some 17 minutes from time. Jackson Martinez's seventh goal of the competition started a five-minute pressure period from Porto. And that was that. They were humiliated after humiliating Bayern at the Estadio do Dragao less than a week ago. Their first defeat of 2015 will be one they will not forget for a while.


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