Friday 19 October 2018

Asensio sees ruthless Madrid take command

Bayern Munich 1 Real Madrid 2

Real Madrid’s Mateo Kovacic is fouled by Bayern Munich’s Thiago Alcantara leading to a yellow card. Photo: Michaela Rehle/Reuters
Real Madrid’s Mateo Kovacic is fouled by Bayern Munich’s Thiago Alcantara leading to a yellow card. Photo: Michaela Rehle/Reuters

Jonathan Liew

Real Madrid are a team with terrible manners. If they were a house guest, they would loudly slurp your whisky, spend the whole evening whining intolerably about their privileged lives, and then casually slip your best cutlery into their pockets as they left.

For all the regal trappings of the Bernabeu, with its braying robe of noise and ambassadorial entitlement, somehow it is away from home, and on nights such as this, that Real really come into their own.

Here, they wore their black shirts like a paramilitary uniform, gleefully trampling on the dreams of Bayern Munich and laying one boot in the Champions League final, delighting in the fact that once again they had triumphed without really getting out of third gear.

Marcelo and Marco Asensio got their goals either side of half-time, and superbly taken they were, too.

Bayern's Corentin Tolisso, left, Real Madrid's Marcelo, center, and Bayern's Niklas Suele challenge for the ball. Photo: Kerstin Joensson/AP Photo
Bayern's Corentin Tolisso, left, Real Madrid's Marcelo, center, and Bayern's Niklas Suele challenge for the ball. Photo: Kerstin Joensson/AP Photo

Still, playing Real Madrid is hard enough without giving them presents, and when Bayern debrief this game, they will still find it hard to work out just how they managed to lose it, having spurned a number of fine chances and handed them their winning goal in a party bag.

And ultimately the turning point of this game - if not the tie - was the careless sideways pass by Rafinha just before the hour that handed Real a two-on-one breakaway, seconds after defending a corner.

It was the moment a thousand nightmarish prophecies were made flesh, the moment when you suspect even Bayern began to wonder whether it might not be their night.

In what is European football's most frequent fixture, Bayern have now failed to win any of their last six against Real, unless you count the Audi Cup final, which nobody does.

There was always the potential for this to happen, given the sparklingly attacking line-up named by Jupp Heynckes, with Javi Martinez as the single pivot in midfield behind an expansive front five.

Influence

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, center, heads the ball. Photo: Kerstin Joensson/AP Photoson)
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, center, heads the ball. Photo: Kerstin Joensson/AP Photoson)

Pressed ferociously by Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in the first hour, Martinez failed to have the desired influence on the game, even after Arjen Robben's early injury allowed Thiago to slot in alongside him.

Jerome Boateng also limped off before the first half was out, leaving Heynckes with just one change remaining, and as Bayern wearily groped at the door, it was certainly a factor.

Franck Ribery, who missed at least three good chances, was one who looked like he could do with a rest by the end.

Still, a team of Bayern's experience would have backed themselves to control the game after the early lead given to them by Joshua Kimmich.

It was an uncharacteristic sequence of errors by Real that led to the goal: Casemiro and Kroos drifting towards the ball at exactly the wrong moment, Marcelo enjoying a gourmet picnic about 40 yards further up the pitch, Keylor Navas lurching off his six-yard line anticipating the cross but instead finding himself totally flummoxed as Kimmich fired straight at goal from a tight angle, like a man missing his bowl of cornflakes and pouring semi-skimmed all over his worktop.

Bayern had the chances to win the game there and then. Ribery took a leaden touch when put clean through by Thiago, and you remembered why he hadn't scored a Champions League goal in three years.

Thomas Muller - poor all night - miscued from six yards. But suddenly it was Real looking unsure of themselves, Bayern looking closer to their lethal Bundesliga best, like a team made of pure knives.

At which point, Real did what they usually do at moments like this: they scored. As Dani Carvajal headed the ball across the 18-yard line, you could see Bayern backing off as Ronaldo sized up another immense overhead kick.

Instead he pulled away, and in the momentary confusion the ball sat up for Marcelo to smash an unstoppable low shot into the bottom corner. Ronaldo, you suspect, would claim the assist.

Bayern looked like they had been snapped in half. And yet they still should have gone into the break ahead, as Robert Lewandowski put a header straight at Navas from six yards.

They began the second half better too, even as Zinedine Zidane replaced Isco with Marco Asensio to give them more legs on the break.

Just before the hour, though, Zidane's switch paid off handsomely. Rafinha gave the ball away, and from there it was a Real training exercise, and not an especially taxing one, either: Lucas Vazquez and Asensio swapping passes before the buried finish from Asensio.

At which point, Real Madrid simply slipped into obnoxious champion mode, pulled up their velvet sedans and made Bayern fan them with palm leaves.

They massed behind the ball, cleared to touch as often as possible, and when nothing else worked, simply sat on the floor and decided they were injured.

Sergio Ramos - a man fluent in two languages: Spanish, and defending 2-1 leads away from home - was his regular roguish self in defence.

Meanwhile, Ronaldo was denied his customary Champions League goal by a handball decision which he took with his usual grace and good temper, and definitely not by shaking his head without cessation for the next 10 minutes.

Two-one, then. It was the same scoreline Bayern came so close to overturning at the Bernabeu 12 months ago, only to succumb in extra time, and perhaps the number of golden chances they passed up in the last 20 minutes - Ribery, Muller, Lewandowski and Ribery again - will be a source of encouragement to them in the Bernabeu next week.

But the task ahead of them is gargantuan. Ahead of the game, Xabi Alonso predicted that they would have to be prepared to"suffer". And the dispiriting fact for Bayern is that their agony is not halfway complete yet. (© Independent News Service)

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