Bayern Munich taught harsh European lesson as Real Madrid punish wayward finishing
After a gorgeous spring day in the Bavarian capital had been expunged by darkness and rain, a heavy sense of regret endured, like a particularly obnoxious smell.
Ugly words such as "disappointment," "anger" and "frustration" materialised from tight-lipped mouths. It was the familiar lament of countless of teams who had put up a brave fight against superior opponents but come away empty-handed, wondering why one of their better efforts wasn't quite enough against a routine showing from the best.
That's what happens at the Allianz Arena, the home of the serial Bundesliga champions who always get the breaks, and that's what happened on Wednesday night, with a small difference: Bayern Munich were the losers this time, having run into a more efficient, more tenacious versions of themselves in Real Madrid.
"They're sitting in the dressing room, not knowing how they won this game," Thomas Muller complained of a Madrid team who had done little of note but somehow emerged with a fine 2-1 away win that puts them well on course for the Champions League final in Kiev.
The Germany forward marvelled at the quality of the Spaniards' finishing ("They did really well for the two goals") but disagreed with the notion his team had tasted a dose of the very medicine they routinely dish out to lesser lights in the Bundesliga.
"I don't think other sides [in Germany] create as many chances against us as we did against Madrid today," the 28-year-old lamented. "We saw they are vulnerable. Unfortunately, we forgot to do the most important thing in football: to score goals. You can't win this way."
Muller was hugely annoyed with Bayern's inability to add to Joshua Kimmich's opener, a deliberate shot to outwit Keylor Navas, as the full-back explained later.
"I knew he was liable to to take a gamble [with crosses]," Kimmich said.
Jupp Heynckes had told his men they would have to be patient and controlled, ready to take the few opportunities they were likely to create but the game went counter to all expectations.
Without necessarily playing all that well, a depleted Bayern team shorn of Arturo Vidal, Kingsley Coman, Manuel Neuer and David Alaba -- further hampered by early injuries to Arjen Robben and Jerome Boateng -- threatened to score half a dozen of goals but failed to do so with uncharacteristically wayward finishing.
"I've rarely seen such a poor Real team in Munich, we should have won 5-2," said defender Niklas Sule.
Wrong, said Kimmich: "It should have been 7-2."
A few years ago, at the very height of the Pep Guardiola era, it might have been possible to blame Bayern's wastefulness on their utter dominance in most matches. Safe in the knowledge the next chance would come along, they didn't always apply the requisite ruthlessness. After Henyckes' return, however, a different, more traditional Bayern had emerged. They haven't played with nearly the same brilliance but have been rather sharp in front of goal. Until Wednesday night.
"Maybe it was that extra bit of pressure that comes in a big game," Muller said, adding that the return leg on Tuesday would show whether the team had "a backside inside the trousers" -- a German expression that translates as "cojones" -- or "a lack of mental quality, at the end of the day."
Muller's troublesome suggestion that some of his teammates might be lacking the composure and skill to perform in crunch ties is destined to be revisited if Bayern fail to overturn the deficit at the Bernabeu.
The time for such an inquest has not quite come, however. "We are 100 percent convinced that we can still qualify," Kimmich said, steely-eyed.
Muller recalled that German champions had managed to win 2-1 in Madrid to take last year's quarterfinal tie into extra-time and could so again if the wild swings the other ties in the current campaign were anything to go by. "Crazy things have happened in many of the knock-out rounds, everything is open," Muller vowed.
Perhaps he's right. But Wednesday night also served as another reminder there's one team seemingly immune to the madness that has engulfed elite football this season. Real Madrid concede chances and goals like a side that cannot possibly succeed at the highest level yet they simply play on, unperturbed, until they find a way to win.
What Bayern are in Germany, Madrid are in Europe: a squad fired by a supreme sense of infallibility. It will take a minor footballing miracle to knock them off their perch.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and author of "Bring the Noise: The Jurgen Klopp Story." Follow: @honigstein