There was plenty of pain to go around after Bayern Munich’s 2-2 draw against Real Madrid saw them bounced from the Champions League on a 4-3 aggregate score. The agony hit everyone on the field, not just those sitting in the stands or watching from home.
The pain and frustration surely smacked the following players the hardest:
- Rafinha, whose untimely giveaway in the first leg—a mistake he would normally almost never make—set the stage for a desperate effort at the Bernabéu.
- Sven Ulreich, who was so good for so long in taking over for Manuel Neuer, but made one regrettable decision that will likely haunt him for the rest of his playing days.
- Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski, who are normally so dependable to create offense and produce, yet were unable to convert a plethora of chances over both legs.
- James Rodriguez, the Real Madrid castoff, who missed a golden opportunity in front of the net, a sure thing gone awry.
- David Alaba, who worked so hard to return from injury and played so well in the second leg, only to let a three-second lapse in failing to mark Karim Benzema become one of the deciding factors in ending Bayern’s UCL season.
Worst of all, there was the torment of watching it all happen in spite of the best efforts put forth by Jupp Heynckes. In his tactics and squad selection, the man did just about everything perfectly to set up an injury-ravaged Bayern roster for success. Heynckes was handed a squad this week that was missing an astonishing five potential starters, yet still had them in position to beat Real Madrid not once, but twice. Heynckes did nothing short of will his team to outplay Real Madrid, the club widely regarded as the best in the world, who have the past two Champions League titles to prove it.
To see Bayern’s youth emerge on such a huge and important stage, can only mean great things are ahead.
- Joshua Kimmich was the breakthrough star of this tie. His status as one of the top outside backs in the world is firmly cemented. More than anything, the passion and hunger he played with on the biggest stage showed the leadership and desire required to eventually wear the armband in Munich.
- Niklas Süle burst on to the European scene with a standout performance. Sure, we’ve seen his brilliance at center-back over the course of the season, but now the world knows that he’s not just some lumbering brute. He’s a skilled, quick force on the back line with a long career ahead of him.
- Corentin Tolisso was thrust into the starting lineup—and yes, his errant pass back to Ulreich helped create the penultimate goal of the competition for Real Madrid—but he was a creative and offensively charged force in the lineup. His run into the box was instrumental in creating Bayern’s opening goal, scored by Kimmich. His ability will only grow with further seasoning.
Despite some excellent young stars, great uncertainty surrounds the veterans at Bayern as the team finishes out this season and builds toward the next chapter of the club’s history. Some of the areas that will create offseason buzz include:
- The midfield logjam of Arturo Vidal, Thiago Alcantara, Sebastian Rudy, and Javi Martinez. Niklas Dorsch has already stated that he will seek to move on, and Leon Goretzka will join the roster in mere months this summer. Where does that leave stalwarts like Vidal, Thiago, and Martinez, players who all have displayed fine quality over the year? What about Rudy, another player whose talent has started to shine through after a murky midseason slump? Perhaps most importantly, can incoming coach Niko Kovač find a way to keep whoever is left from that group happy?
- James Rodriguez may be seeking a relocation to Manchester United. If true, how will the club handle that situation given how he performed this season? If false (as may be likely), what role will he play on Bayern’s team going forward?
- Lewandowski has been rumored to want out of Munich. Certainly after being shut out in this tie he will have his detractors, but is letting one of the most productive strikers in the world leave going to make the team better? Worse, is keeping him here against his will going to become a distraction?
- Jerome Boateng has been rumored to be seeking a change of scenery. The evolution of Süle makes him a capable replacement should Boateng leave town, but another season featuring three starting quality center backs would be a nice luxury to have in pursuit of a Champions League crown. With Lukas Mai already signed and the club pursuing Mattijs De Ligt, it may end up being time to turn the page on Boateng after all.
- Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery are both at a career crossroads. Will they formally accept mentorship roles or will they seek to move on for one last opportunity to start?
- Manuel Neuer . . . will he ever come back? And will he still have the same great form that made him one of the great goalkeepers in the world.
The DFB Pokal final against Eintracht Frankfurt aside, the loss via aggregate scoring against Real Madrid may be the figurative end of the “big vision” for Bayern’s season, but it is not the end of Bayern.
The handball by Marcelo will go down in Bayern history as one of the great blown calls. It was a missed whistle of such magnitude that it likely cost the squad an appearance in the Champions League finale. But with such pain and disappointment comes the opportunity to show the fortitude and resilience that empower Bayern as a club.
The aforementioned agony of defeat and the frustration of watching it happen will subside and afterward there will still be Die Roten and Mia San Mia and Pack Mas . . . all of it. With just a few short weeks to go in the season, the sting of yesterday will be gone and the excitement of the World Cup and a subsequent new season will take over. Chances are many adult beverages of choice will have helped numb those thoughts about what might have been as well for a lot of fans.
And as those beers flow down, the energy of a new season will build, and Tuesday’s disappointment will fade into our memories. There will still be plenty to be optimistic about with Bayern and another season of excitement will be on the horizon. #MiaSanMia