Apparently, when a club goes for an entire year without once having its primacy really threatened, there is a hidden motherlode of panicky drama to be unleashed at the first true moment of adversity.
It had appeared that moment for almighty FC Bayern Munich had arrived in the second half of the second leg of their quarterfinal battle with Manchester United. Patrice Evra gave the visiting Mancunians the aggregate lead almost nobody thought they would ever achieve. But before even the angstiest of Bayern bloggers could type “I am sick of tiki-taka,” Mario Mandzukic plugged the dyke with an equalizer. Just over a quarter-hour later, the Bavarians had logged two more goals, and everyone had gone back to laughing at the mismatch and pretending they were never really concerned and wondering at how much longer David Moyes would keep his job as the coach of Man U.
It turned out that the Moyes era had, indeed, been nearing its conclusion, but before the long-anticipated dismissal of “the Wrong One” was made final, the dam retaining the anxieties of those who concern themselves with the goings-on of the defending triple champions exploded spectacularly after last week’s 1:0 first-leg loss in Spain to Real Madrid.
And I do mean “spectacularly.”
The bulk of the blame for Munich’s loss has been saddled with coach Pep Guardiola. As Pep overtook a squad coming off a treble-winning season, anything short of an unprecedented successful defense of any of the three titles Bayern took last season under Jupp Heynckes was going to lead to intense scrutiny of every facet of his tenure with the club.
Considering the sheer volume of the scrutiny, it might be prudent here to point out that Bayern’s title defense is still intact. While leaving Madrid Wednesday with a one-goal deficit and without the benefit of even having scored an away goal was far from ideal, but a home victory is not outside the capabilities of this Bayern squad. Regardless of the standing between the two matches, Bayern was never going to approach Tuesday’s second leg with an eye on anything less than victory anyhow.
It is immaterial that they need to do it through either a clean sheet against a high-powered counterattack with Christiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale running down the flanks, or by converting their ball-dominating possession game into multiple goals. Bayern is facing a team well-equipped to win the Champions League based on their own collection of talent and how it has been leveraged by Carlo Ancelotti. The much bandied-about notion that Pep Guardiola’s tactics and style have suddenly become a hindrance to the greatness of FC Bayern necessarily obscures the possibility that the defending champions may have met their equal.
Real cannot be a true peer to the Bavarian juggernaut, can they?
In many ways, the answer to that is a heavily beer-bolstered “NEIN!” Clearly, Real is neither defending a treble of their own, nor are they likely to complete one this season, though the possibility does remain in play.
Fortunately for Ancelotti’s squad, Real do not need to be Bayern’s peer in the record books, rather just on the pitch and only for 90 minutes or so, at that.
If there is anything to have taken away from the first leg of this pairing, it’s that the match could truly go just about any way imaginable. Real had a few near misses that could have blown the entire match open in their favor, while Bayern’s huge edge in possession naturally contained plenty of potential for Bayern.
That the potential went unconverted Wednesday has been the stuff of much hand-wringing for five days. By the time the whistle ends play in Munich Tuesday night, all that worry will either have been put back into check for later reference or will be exacerbated into a hysteria the magnitude of which only FC Bayern fans are capable of creating at this point.
What is certain is that we are in for a momentous match one way or another. The historic run toward the first successful treble defense either is halted or reaches the point where just two victories separate Bayern from an historic accomplishment.
But everyone will have an opinion. That, you can wager on.