It was an intense contest that ebbed and flowed until Bayern picked up a red card on 61 minutes, after which Los Blancos stepped on the gas and dominated the game.
1. Arturo Vidal: the rough and the smooth
It’s all-action all the time with this guy. Arturo Vidal, “King Arthur” as he is known doesn’t know how to play except at 200 miles per hour. He is a frenetic and kinetic footballing phenom and tonight he was absolutely sensational against Real Madrid, well, with one exception.
It’s a minor point with a major effect. In first-half stoppage time, Bayern Munich were awarded a penalty somewhat fortuitously. A bit of Franck Ribery dancing and a shot got the Bavarians a penalty and Vidal stepped up… and blazed the ball over the bar. It was a miss that turned the tide of the match.
But that was the bad. The rest of Vidal’s game was pretty damn good. He absolutely bossed the midfield, tackling, snarling, passing, shooting. He bludgeoned a header into the back of the net to give Bayern the lead after 25 minutes and at that point, it honestly looked like the Bavarians could win it comfortably.
They didn’t, of course, but that was both not Vidal’s fault and almost entirely his fault.
If Madrid’s manager has one defining trait, one idea that permeates his team and the way they play, it is the cross. Often looked down upon as a simplistic tool, the kind of thing David Moyes (he of the 81 crosses fame) would do. And for sure, that’s exactly what it is, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a potentially lethal weapon in the right hands (or, feet).
And Real Madrid most definitely have the right feet for crossing. Dani Carvajal and Marcelo, two of the best full-backs in the world, are both capable of whipping in sublime crosses. Moreover their wingers are also killer, like the young Spaniards Lucas Vázquez and Marco Asensio.
And it was Carvajal and Asensio that made the difference today with two sublime crosses, one from each flank. Carvajal’s was straight as an arrow and
3. Don’t write Cristiano off just yet
Cristiano Ronaldo came into tonight with just 26 goals for the season, and only two of those were in the Champions League. He very clearly is “past it” and his performances so far have born this out. But you can never, ever write Cristiano Ronaldo off.
He didn’t really play well against Bayern Munich, in the sense that his touch was heavy and he played fairly selfishly. But in classic Cristiano fashion, he rolled back the years and rolled Bayern’s eyes into the back of their head with two utterly magnificent goals.
This was a masterclass in decisive expediency. His first goal saw him just wander into space in the middle of the box, but the finish he put on Dani Carvajal’s cross? Sublime. A gorgeously deft clipped effort, guiding it gently into the side of the net beyond the despairing Manuel Neuer.
MILESTONE: Cristiano Ronaldo becomes the first player in history to score 100 goals in UEFA European competition.
All-time legend. � pic.twitter.com/ZiVzAySPjQ
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 12, 2017
His second goal was much more emphatic, making a delicious run off the back of Juan Bernat and, timing his run perfectly with Marco Asensio’s brilliantly bendy cross, he stabbed the ball home with the sole of his feet. Almost tackling the ball into the net with the kind of thump that makes you think that the ball had the temerity to make fun of his haircut or something.
That goal, incidentally, was his 100th goal in UEFA European competition. He’s the first man to score that many goals. Even in the twilight of his career he is still utterly ridiculously beyond belief.
4. Manuel Neuer – The Man with the Golden Arms
There are people who think it’s actually a contest as to which goalkeeper is the best in the world. There’s no contest, my friends. Manuel Neuer is a ball-playing sweeper keeper, but that’s not why he’s the best in the world. He’s the best in the world because he’s the man with the golden arms.
Real Madrid had five shots between the 73rd and 77th minute tonight:
77' � pic.twitter.com/lcpeKsKYfq
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 12, 2017
Real Madrid won 1-2, but suffice to say that if it weren’t for Neuer, Los Blancos would have put five or six into the Bayern net. The gigantic German was flying all over the place. In the first half he made a frankly impossible save from a Karim Benzema header, palming it onto the bar. He also stopped the Frenchman dead in his tracks in the second half too, rushing out to block a free-shot.
In the second half he even made an absolutely unreal save from Cristiano Ronaldo; the Portuguese rocketed the ball at goal just to the side of Neuer, but the German was having none of it, lifting his arm and tightening every sinew in his arm and almost punching away the shot like he were the Iron Fist.
Of course, after all of that brilliance, it was inevitable that he would mess up to settle the game wasn’t it? And that’s exactly what happened, as the man with the golden arms couldn’t close his legs as Cristiano toe-poked the ball between his legs.
5. No Country for Old Men
Bayern’s excellent first half was contrasted so massively by their poor second half, even before Javi Martinez’s red card the Bavarians looked miles off their opening period prowess. What happened? Well, quite simply, they seemed to be tired. And they probably were tired, because they’re an old side.
Five of tonight’s Bayern Munich team, including both of their wingers, are over the age of 30. Four of those five are 33 or older. A further three players are 27 or older. In fact in the starting XI the only player under the age of 26 was David Alaba.
And it was that lack of youthful energy that disrupted their attempts to see the game out. They were overwhelmed by Madrid’s intensity and couldn’t rouse themselves to respond in kind, even when they brought on some young talent in Juan Bernat and Kingsley Coman. The core of the team was just too old to respond to what was a rampant Real Madrid. After Javi Martinez’s red card? It was over.