Guardiola's UCL dream still alive as Bayern survive unforgettable night
MUNICH -- Three quick thoughts from Bayern Munich's sensational come-from-behind 4-2 win over Juventus in extra time at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday, sealing qualification to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals with a 6-4 aggregate victory.
1. Bayern go through on an unforgettable night
The Champions League will need no tinkering with if it continues to produce nights like this. Occasions of this drama and quality are to be treasured and, if defeat was bitterly cruel on a Juventus side that outclassed their opponents for long periods, Bayern Munich are to be praised for turning this seesawing tie round decisively when all seemed lost.
Thomas Muller's header in the first minute of injury time, leveling the tie at 4-4 on aggregate, had saved them -- and Pep Guardiola -- from a deeply awkward exit. Then came superb goals from substitutes Thiago Alcantara and Kingsley Coman in the second period of extra time to cap off an enthralling turnaround. Incredibly, Coman is on a two-year loan from Juventus but was allowed to compete in the tie -- a decision his parent club will now surely lose sleep over.
Juventus, on the back foot for much of the first leg, came out flying. There had already been some encouragement in their early possession when, six minutes in, Sami Khedira looked to play Stephan Lichtsteiner into the space behind David Alaba. The right-back had made a bursting run but Alaba still seemed favourite to cut out Khedira's chipped pass. The Austrian appeared to get his feet in a muddle, fluffing his clearance and allowing Lichtsteiner to take advantage. Manuel Neuer blocked the shot but Paul Pogba swept the rebound into the unguarded net from 18 yards.
Whether Neuer had needed to advance quite that far to deal with the danger was moot. Regardless, a tie that had seemed dead after an hour in Turin was now thrillingly alive.
Twenty-two minutes later, it had turned completely on its head. There was little danger on when Alvaro Morata received the ball from Khedira 10 yards outside his own penalty area, but a virtuoso blend of pace, power and skill took him all the way to the edge of the Bayern box, beating centre-halves Joshua Kimmich and Medhi Benatia in the process. If his pass for Juan Cuadrado, nudged to his right as three Bayern players converged, was timed perfectly then the finish was produced to match. Cuadrado made a fool out of Philipp Lahm, slaloming across the right-back as the Bayern captain slid in to block a shot that didn't arrive until two touches later, before thudding the ball inside Neuer's near post.
The tie would have been finished two minutes before half-time if Neuer, getting across goal rapidly, had not saved brilliantly from Cuadrado at point-blank range after more good work from the irrepressible Pogba. A response from Bayern could reasonably have been expected but Morata, shooting at Neuer before weaving through moments later to see a shot deflect inches over, had two presentable chances to seal things within 10 minutes of the break.
There seemed little prospect of a comeback despite Juventus finding themselves pushed deeper after the hour. Robert Lewandowski's 72nd-minute goal, a far-post header from Douglas Costa's cross, came from Bayern's first clear chance of the night. A couple of half-chances aside, their late pressure appeared to have fizzled out before Thomas Muller, who had endured an off-night, headed home a wonderful right-footed delivery from substitute Coman.
It was an exhilarating, unthinkable finale to the 90 minutes and the fear was that Juventus, who had pressed so relentlessly, might wilt. Lichtsteiner shot a good chance at Neuer in the opening exchanges of extra time and was made to pay when Alcantara slotted home coolly in the 108th minute after a give-and-go with Muller. Coman then ran down the right to curl past Buffon, and a night of barely believable drama was at last resolved.
2. Guardiola's Champions League dream still alive
Somehow, Guardiola and Bayern Munich pulled it out of the bag. And somehow, the Manchester City-bound manager's burning ambition of crowning his three-year spell in Bavaria with a Champions League title remains plausible.
That is presuming that they play infinitely better than this when the quarterfinals come around. This was a deeply unconvincing performance for long periods, and Bayern can be thankful that Juventus were not out of sight before they came to their senses.
Coman, introduced for Xabi Alonso on the hour, added an urgency that had been missing and provided two moments of quality that settled the game: the run into the box and exchange of passes for Alcantara's goal were, likewise, completely out of keeping with what had gone before. If his 101st-minute introduction seems a master-stoke now, it would be worth asking how he might have assisted his team from the start.
When the dust settles, Guardiola will wonder how, for two thirds of this game, his side were outclassed in every area of the pitch. Bayern can never have been as flat during his reign as they were here, a lack of their usual intensity in the press evident even before Pogba scored.
There was a strange nervousness about their approach, exemplified when Neuer, with the score 1-0, snatched a clearance straight to Khedira and was lucky not to be punished. Alonso and Arturo Vidal were comprehensively bettered in the centre of midfield while Alaba, who switched to centre-back after halftime, endured a torrid evening completely out of keeping with his usual assuredness.
Farther forward, Costa and Franck Ribery were restricted to pot shots and the malaise spread to Muller, too. Passes drifted out of play regularly, crosses were overhit and it is fair to point out that Bayern missed the dynamism of Arjen Robben, laid low with a heavy cold.
Yet winners always find a way, and Bayern discovered theirs by means rarely associated with Guardiola's teams. Juventus had proved impossible to unpick through the middle throughout normal time, and two right-sided crosses dragged them into extra time. After that came the moment of initiative from Alcantara that showed just how laboured much of Bayern's work had been.
3. Juventus suffer the cruelest of defeats
This was, for long periods, a sensational performance by Juventus but that will be of little consolation now. Few teams will put on as complete a show in this season's Champions League and the frustration that this slipped from their grasp may take time to heal. Had Cuadrado, Morata or Lichtsteiner converted their chances then we would be analysing one of the season's most special comebacks; instead, cruelly, it will go down as a footnote in May.
There was a degree to which this had felt like a free hit for Juventus. The Italian champions began without a sizeable chunk of their spine, and a glance at Massimiliano Allegri's reshuffled side suggested little of the initiative that would be required to knock Bayern off their perch.
They took to their task in exhilarating fashion. Patrice Evra had criticised a lack of "character and personality" after the first leg but a combination of the two gave Juventus complete control of the first half.
Pogba, playing an advanced role -- pulling out slightly to the left -- behind Morata, was on top of his game here, driving his team forward and regrouping swiftly whenever possession was ceded. One pluck from the sky in the first half, killing the ball and outfoxing Vidal in one movement, was sublime. A lung-busting run back to dispossess Ribery by his own corner flag 10 minutes after the break was no less impressive.
If Pogba set the standard, Juventus' physical and technical dominance extended well beyond him. Slightly behind him in midfield, Khedira and Hernanes were first to the 50-50 balls; Alex Sandro, selected at left wing-back with Evra joining Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci in a central three, worked tirelessly.
Juventus were dense and compact without the ball, bold and daring with it, and seemed on course to see things out comfortably before Muller's last-gasp intervention. They remained a threat until the very end, Neuer saving again from Stefano Sturaro at 4-2, but this was to be the hardest of defeats to take.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC, the Guardian, FourFourTwo and the Blizzard, among others. Twitter: @NickAmes82.