Thomas Müller, the quintessential big-game player
Unconventional, awkward, and oh-so-lethal — Thomas Muller once again proved why he is the quintessential big-game player for Bayern Munich. Finally deployed in his preferred position behind the striker, der Raumdeuter showed versus Barcelona what the Bavarians have been missing in past Champions League games against top-tier opposition — the X-factor.
Two goals and one assist fail to describe the absolute havoc Müller wrought on the Barcelona defense, as he put the fear of God into the hearts of Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet. Blessed with the ability to know when to move into the right spaces, the 30-year-old veteran eviscerated a hapless Catalan back line with relative ease. It’s no wonder they couldn’t mark him — no player in the world exudes the spatial intelligence and tactical awareness of an on-form Müller. His form, his technique, his physicality are all lackluster, but Müller’s supreme footballing brain is an asset on par with Leo Messi’s dribbles or Cristiano Ronaldo’s clutch goals.
And the man we have to thank for this is Hansi Flick. It wasn’t long ago when it seemed like Müller was on his way out at Bayern. Under Niko Kovac, he was relegated to the bench and barely got a chance in the starting XI. However, things changed once Flick took over. The very first thing he said in his first press conference was “Müller will play.” That started the chain reaction leading to today’s thumping 8-2 victory over one of the biggest teams in the sport.
Hansi Flick, hold your head up high! You rescued a legend, and brought Bayern’s most special player back to the forefront.
Barcelona, a staggering waste of money
Barcelona (along with Manchester United, probably) is a case study of how NOT to spend hundreds of millions of euros. Antione Greizmann and Ousmane Dembélé, each of whom cost €120 million, didn’t even start the game. Luis Suarez, once a lethal striker, looked old and slow as he faced Bayern’s far fitter and better drilled defense. Meanwhile Frenkie de Jong, one of Barca’s stars of the future, looked out of his depth against a midfield that cost a third of the amount he did (Thiago Alcantara + Leon Goretzka + Thomas Müller = €25 million in transfer fees).
It must be worrying for Barca that, aside from Frenkie and Ansu Fati, they have no real young talent to speak of. And what talent they do have, they’ve squandered. Exemplifying this was Philippe Coutinho, the Barca loanee, who came on to assist Robert Lewandowski and score 2 goals of his own. That is not a feat the Brazilian had ever accomplished in his disappointing time with the Catalans.
Barca have just played a trophyless season for the first time in over a decade. WIth Leo Messi aging fast and major financial problems on the horizon, one must wonder how much longer they have left at the top. If they don’t arrest the slide before it happens, they could become another AC Milan story.
Bayern’s defense remains too shaky
While Bayern Munich only conceded two goals, and Alphonso Davies shone like a supernova in his blistering run-and-assist for Joshua Kimmich’s goal, Hansi Flick will be worried by his defenders’ momentary lapses in concentration.
Before Barca collapsed like a house of cards that had been set on fire, they actually managed some good through-balls that sliced through Flick’s precarious high defensive line. While the high line was a tactical choice by the coach to help offset Barca’s dominance in midfield (and it clearly worked — look at the scoreline), against a more technical team with better wingers, such as Manchester City, Bayern’s high line could leave the team exposed.
Especially worrisome was the acres of space left behind Joshua Kimmich as he bombed up the pitch to join the attack. While his attacking contribution is invaluable (he got yet another goal and assist on the night), Josh’s proclivity to push up leaves the team vulnerable on his side of the field, as he lacks Davies’ pace to recover. This allowed Barca a clear path to goal once they made it past Bayern’s midfield press.
The Bavarians were actually under the hammer for certain portions of the game, which the dramatic scoreline obscures. David Alaba and Jerome Boateng weren’t half as solid as they’ve looked all season, which might make Hansi reconsider the notion of starting Niklas Süle in the semifinals. In any case, the performance was not perfect by any means. Bayern Munich still have a lot more work to do. Let’s get it done. Mia San Mia.