Munich: In a highly entertaining game in Munich, Barcelona lost the game by a score of 3-2, but advanced to the Final on a 5-3 aggregate win against Bayern Munich. Led by their attacking trio, Barcelona scored two goals in the first half, both by Neymar, after Medhi Benatia's opener. With the tie all but decided, Barcelona took their foot off the gas in the second half, giving Bayern a way back which they took through tallies by Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller, but it was far from enough for the Germans.
With the way Barcelona performed in the first leg it came as no surprise that Luis Enrique didn't make a single change in the lineup. Though with the return of Jeremy Mathieu to full fitness the Frenchman replaced Thomas Vermaelen on the bench. The remaining six substitutes were the same as in the first leg. It was surprising, however, that Pep Guardiola also didn't make any changes. He too fielded the same starting XI and only made one change in the match squad - Sebastian Rode returned from injury.
Barcelona started the match from midfield amid thunderous cheering from the Bayern Munich fans. But with Bayern in a deep hole it were the hosts who tried to dictate play while Barcelona tried to slow down the play. Both of those things were expected. It was also expected that Bayern would press Barcelona high up the pitch as that was just about the only area of play in which Barcelona struggled in the first game.
But despite Bayern's press it would be Barcelona who would create the first scoring chance of the game. Alves sent a delicious ball over the top to the onrushing Ivan Rakitić, but all the Croatian was able to do from a bad angle was force Manuel Neuer to make a good right-footed save. From the ensuing corner kick Bayern went on a quick odd man rush that looked very threatening, but the shot on the end of it was ultimately blocked by a diving Gerard Pique.
But that attack showed that Bayern would not go quietly into the night and that they would actually fight until the final whistle, something they were adamant about in pre-match press conferences. Those hopes received a massive boost in the 7th minute when Bayern had a corner kick. The cross into the area was perfect, but Barcelona's coverage was not as Sergio Busquets was left to cover two players. He chose to cover the wrong man, leaving Medhi Benatia all alone. A good header of the ball like he is should simply should not be left uncovered in the penalty area, because more often than not they make you pay. Benatia's aim was very good as he sent the ball into the bottom right corner to put the hosts in the lead as Marc-Andre ter Stegen's touch was not enough to keep the ball from crossing the line.
It was exactly the start that Bayern needed in order to have a chance of overcoming a three goal deficit. But their lead lasted only for eight minutes and with Barcelona scoring the all-important away goal Bayern now needed to win by a four goal difference. The Barcelona goal was created by the usual suspects - Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. The Argentine genius sent a stunning through ball to Suarez who unselfishly squared the ball to the wide open Neymar. Neuer left the line hoping to intercept the pass, but he was too late and too short, leaving Neymar with the simplest of tap-in finishes.
The goal stunned Bayern for a few minutes, but in the 19th minute Muller put an excellent header on target that looked destined for ter Stegen's top right corner, but the young Germen made an outstanding panther-like save to keep the game tied. That play lit a fire under Bayern's fans and the German players started to buzz around the Barcelona penalty area. But getting good shots on goal proved difficult for the Germans as their next one didn't come until the 27th minute when Muller caused problems on the left side of the Barcelona defensive line before passing the ball to Lewandowski. The Pole quickly put a shot on goal, but ter Stegen was excellently positioned to make the save.
The high tempo of the game continued as Barcelona quickly carried the ball to the other side of the pitch where Neymar and Messi outplayed Bayern's defense to the tune that Messi sent a good shot on goal, but Neuer was able to drop low to stop the ball in its tracks. Bayern quickly countered, but the Catalan defense held its ground. Ter Stegen restarted the play with a long ball to Messi near midfield who flicked the ball on to Suarez who escaped the offside trap - in a play similar to the one that also sent Suarez alone on Neuer in the first leg - but this time the end result was different. Suarez sent a lovely ball to Neymar on the opposite side who powered the ball just inside of the near post of a partially covered Neuer.
At this point Bayern needed a 6-2 win, a result Barcelona are quite fond of and Pep was already a part of in Barcelona's past. Despite the incredibly tall order of scoring another five goals against Barcelona, a team with one of the best defenses in Europe this season, Bayern didn't give up and they pressed hard to at least tie the game at two before halftime.
First, in the 38th minute, Bastian Schweinsteiger tried his luck in besting ter Stegen, but the Barcelona goalkeeper continued his excellent night between the uprights. A night that would get even better two minutes later with an outstanding save on Lewandowski. Lewandowski received the ball in space in a spot that strikers dream of and fired a good shot on goal. Ter Stegen guessed wrong, but was able to get his left hand on the ball, but his touch wasn't strong enough to steer the ball around the post, it only slowed the ball down. Ter Stegen jumped back to his feet, hustled back and dove into the goal to clear the ball away before it could completely cross the goal-line to keep the Catalans in the lead both on aggregate and in the second leg.
Bayern continued to attack the remaining five plus two minutes in the first half, but even though they caused some problems to the Barcelona defense the Germans were unable to test ter Stegen again.
Neither team was expected to make any substitutions during halftime, however, Suarez would remain in the Barcelona dressing room and was replaced by Pedro. The Uruguayan picked up a knock in the first half and was subbed off as a precaution, though he was seen sitting on the Barça bench, showing no discomfort.
The second half started similarly to the way the first one went. Bayern continued to press Barcelona high up the pitch while Barcelona looked for the quickest way possible from their half to Neuer's goal, even if it meant a ter Stegen pass straight to the forward. Though Bayern came out for the second half playing a more physical brand of football, quickly resulting in quite a few heavy challenges.
But after a few minutes it was evident the hosts didn't quite have the same jump in their step as they had when the game started which allowed Barcelona some more time on the ball. But that proved to be a double-edged sword for the Catalans as Bayern would tie the game in the 59th minute after a Sergio Busquets turnover in transition. Schweinsteiger quickly passed the ball to Lewandowski on the edge of the area who was left face-to-face with Javier Mascherano. Lewandowski was able to dummy El Jefecito to one side, leaving the Pole with enough space to take a shot. The shot was well placed, just inside the post, and with ter Stegen caught wrong-footed the score was two-all.
That brought life back into Bayern's play.
Four minutes later, Bayern would have another chance, this one after a long free kick from the left side, but from a difficult position Muller was unable to direct his shot on target. In the 66th minute Bayern again almost capitalized on a Barcelona deep turnover, this one by Mascherano, but after some dangerous moments Busquets was able to defuse the situation with a well-timed tackle.
Guardiola waited until the 68th minute to make his first substitution of the match when he replaced Philipp Lahm with Rode. Quickly thereafter Lucho made his second change of the game, taking Rakitić off the pitch and replaced him with Mathieu. This change clearly signaled that Barcelona would have only one thing in mind the rest of the way - defense. And that was also evident from Barça's play on the pitch as the Catalans defended in numbers and didn't send many men forward to create another scoring opportunity or two on the counter attack.
Barcelona's lackadaisical play was quickly punished with Muller restoring Bayern's second leg lead with a well-placed shot from outside of the penalty area. Immediately after the goal Luis Enrique completed his third substitution, with Andres Iniesta making way for Xavi.
Even with Xavi on the pitch Barcelona couldn't take control of the ball, with possession slowly inching to Bayern's side, which would've allowed Barcelona to quickly kill some time off the clock. But Bayern were relentless even though they still needed three goals in about 20 minutes left on the clock, added time included.
From one minute to the next the Barcelona defense looked more and more vulnerable, even with effectively two defensive midfielders playing in front of a back-four. It was a good example of how Barcelona, even with the much improved defense, still can't play exclusively defense - again exemplifying the old "the best defense is a good offense" saying, and with Barcelona not playing offense the defense struggled too.
But with time running out, Bayern also lost a step in attack, leading to a much calmer last stage of the game. Pep also gave Muller and Schweinsteiger to receive a well applause from the Bayern fans, substituting them off in the 87th minute. They were replaced by Javi Martínez and Mario Götze. The last chance of the game would go Barcelona's way, however, again on a quick counter attack. Neymar led the play with a long run and a couple nice moves inside the penalty area. But rather than taking a shot that could've resulted in a hat-trick, the Brazilian unselfishly tried to find a wide open Messi on the far post, but Naymar's pass was too heavy, resulting in a missed opportunity.
The final whistle was music to the ears to Barcelona plays and fans as it signaled a place in the Berlin UEFA Champions League Final against one of Real Madrid or Juventus.
Courtesy- SB Nation