1. Bayern Munich can bench more than you
After two and a half years of Pep Guardiola, nothing should really surprise us, but today Pep found something new in his bag of tricks. Bayern Munich's lineup today featured its leading goal-scorer Robert Lewandowski on the bench. A sign of Pep's confidence in the victory? Perhaps, but perhaps not: Lewandowski struggled to break through against Benfica's defense in the first leg. This time, Bayern Munich's offense was fronted by the trio of Franck Ribery, Thomas Muller, and Douglas Costa, with David Alaba and Philipp Lahm interweaving on the left and right to create crosses for the Raumdeuter Muller - which is precisely how Bayern set up its first goal. Lewandowski came on the pitch only in the dying minutes of the game, notably squandering a one-on-one opportunity against Benfica's keeper Ederson Morales. Mario Götze, who also watched the game from the bench, came on in the final minute and did not record a single touch.
2. Midfield mastery
Bayern's greatest strength in this match came from the two players who locked down the midfield: Xabi Alonso and Arturo Vidal - who respectively played the parts of bad cop and bad-ass cop. Xabi dominated the defensive midfield, leading the team in touches (103) and taking second place behind Javi Martinez in accuracy (94 and 96 percent respectively). It was Xabi's defensive work, though, that really stood out: he led the team in tackles (6) and tied Javi in aerials (4). And finally, his two corner kicks were outstanding. But more on that in a moment.
Vidal played the hyper-aggressive counterpart to Alonso: Vidal's four tackles show his defensive prowess, but it was his offense today that stole the show, not least the goal he scored past Ederson to tie Benfica and bring Bayern back into the game. That was one of five shots Vidal took today, leading Bayern's offense by a large margin (Muller and Ribery both had only 2). Vidal's aggressive play paid big dividends today.
3. Dwarf magic
For much of the first half of the game, Bayern's offense seemed to rely entirely on the captain, Philipp Lahm. Again and again, the diminutive Lahm exchanged positions with Douglas Costa, received the ball deep in Benfica's territory, and delivered dangerous crosses to his teammates. Lahm was directly involved in Bayern's most dangerous opportunities in the first half and in their goal. The play unfolded precisely as planned: moving inside, Douglas Costa delivered the ball to Lahm racing forward ahead of him on the wing. Lahm collected the ball and delivered it inside to Muller lurking in front of Benfica's net. The ball was blocked and knocked back out, but fell to the feet of Vidal, who blasted it into the net.
4. Bayern score on a corner!?
BAYERN SCORE ON A CORNER! Clearly, the front office has taken note of my repeated complaints about set pieces. Today, they responded with two beautiful corner kicks taken by Alonso. The first one gracefully floated toward Benfica's goal, but was cleared away before Bayern could strike. The second, however, hit the mark - but not in the way one would expect. Alonso's elegant kick was headed by Javi not toward the goal but back toward his teammates standing in the center. Muller read the play perfectly and knocked the ball into the net. Now why can't we do that more often?
5. Disturbing defensive miscues
Bayern's defense today was essentially a back three consisting of David Alaba, Javi, and Joshua Kimmich, who received significant defensive help from Alonso. The collective performance of the trio was underwhelming. Kimmich came dangerously close to committing and own-goal of an early free kick by Benfica. Eliseu attempted to shoot low under the wall, snagging Kimmich's foot as he leaped in the air. Kimmich was lucky that the deflected ball mercifully went wide of the net.
Bayern's defensive luck eluded them later when a perfect assist from Eliseu found Raul Jimenez rushing toward the goal with Javi to his left and Alaba to his right. Manuel Neuer completely misread the play and hurled himself at an invisible ball next to Alaba, allowing Jimenez to head the real ball into an empty net. The defense nearly gave Benfica a second goal minutes later, when both Kimmich and Javi failed to intercept a cross from Eduardo Salvio to Jimenez. Neuer bobbled the ball after Jimenez shot, desperately leaping to smother it before the attacker received a second chance.
Javi was also at the center of Benfica's second goal, taking down Gonçalo Guedes just outside the penalty area and receiving a yellow card for his trouble. If the ref had decided Javi denied Benfica a goal-scoring opportunity, the card could have been red. Benfica made the most of the situation: Anderson Talisca scored a goal on a beautiful free kick from 24 m straight into the near corner. Neuer could do nothing about this shot.
Today was not Bayern's most impressive defensive showing, and the margin for error grows narrower as Bayern now advance to the semifinals. Will a returning Jerome Boateng be ready to stabilize the defense?