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Bayern Munich

The case for the three candidates

Ballon d'Or
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Humiliation in Munich as Pep's tactics exposed

The last minute of the return match set up the entirety:  Cristiano Ronaldo, granted a free kick in a very dangerous position at the top of Bayern's box, nutmegged the entire Bayern Munich wall -- driving low and near-post past Manuel Neuer -- under so many hopping Bayern boots that I wasn't quite sure whether to laugh at the comprehensive ineptitude of Bayern's play in tie two, or whether to cry about it all.

I've yet to shed tears, although I'm wearing waterproof mascara. You know, at this point, just in case.

All the things that I said MUST happen for Bayern Munich to go to Lisbon never, agonisingly, came to pass, save one. Captain Philipp Lahm reverted to his natural position at right-back, and he, along with Arjen Robben, were perhaps the only two positives in Pep Guardiola's Startelf.

- FC TV: Bayern Munich grades - Uersfeld: Bayern crash and burn

Javi Martinez subbing for an ineffective Mario Mandzukic was too little, too late for Guardiola as the Spaniard fully deserved a start at the "six."  His defencive presence in the second half tampered down the Los Blancos counters just enough to think that, after winning the ball back, his side would be able to provide something -- anything -- going forward.

Franck Ribery should have made way for Mario Goetze at the start -- not as a second-half substitution. Guardiola would say, pre-match, that an angry Ribery was necessary: "Franck needs this aggression. He needs to play angry. He keeps fighting, and that is why fans love him."

No, actually, that's why Bayern fans don't love him. His slap to Daniel Carvajal's face was another embarrassment borne out of frustration for the home team's poor form, and not the first time Ribery has been well out of line. The Frenchman is always playing best when he is smiling, not angry.

Recognizing that Carlo Ancelotti's Real Madrid was perfectly able to sit back with their tenuous back four of Carvajal, Pepe, Sergio Ramos and Fabio Coentrao -- despite giving up 32 goals in La Liga this season, and nearly 70 percent possession on the day -- wouldn't matter for Bayern Munich as they had no defensive coverage for their very high line and looked absolutely destroyed, and out of their element, on every single counterattack. It might have been much, much worse.  (Is that even possible?!)

Apathetic, boring, disgraceful. Guardiola's possession game just doesn't work anymore. When it was new -- and revolutionary -- it was something else. Barcelona had the homegrown talent to to prevail for the now-Bayern coach's desire, but in present-day football, everybody's got it figured out. I even have it figured out, and I haven't played competitive footy since high school.

Is this a tactical thing? Signs point to "yes," as nearly the entire Bayern Munich squad that competed at Wembley to win their fifth Champions League title just last May featured here on the day ... save one. But it would be highly unfair to solely fault Toni Kroos for Munich's fall from grace, although he was highly unremarkable on the evening -- save a long-range bullet in the second half.

So yes. It's tactics. Many Guardiola apologisers will, and have, made excuses for what's happened to Bayern Munich's form since winning their Bundesliga title in March. "The players deserve a rest," they say, or "The league doesn't matter anymore." While yes, not mattering points-wise, obviously, what the apologists fail to see is the detrimental effect consecutive shoddy results has on their beloved team.

What Guardiola predecessor Jupp Heynckes realized was this: Even though he fielded a record-smashing Bundesliga side, he'd refuse to rest on his, or his team's, laurels -- instead fielding a pretty straightforward, top-notch, starting XI throughout the rest of Bayern Munich's competitions. And this is, perhaps, the difference.

I've been pilloried for saying it, but winning breeds winning, while losing is a habit, too. And despite a couple of good results for Bayern against less-than-European-calibre sides, the team and coach have dug themselves into a hole of complacency that shows no signs of letting up.

Real Madrid played two very fabulous matches, and fully deserve their trip to Lisbon. Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are a pair of absolute terrors on the wings and should provide fits and starts for either Chelsea or Atleti, but meanwhile, in Munich, some questions will have to be answered.

Guardiola recently claimed that he'd need to understand German footballing culture better. His real final will now come against Borussia Dortmund in the DFB Pokal in May. The chance of a double-treble is lost, but a domestic double still stands. Can he change his theories? Or does Bayern Munich live and die by his unchanging tiki-taka?