This season’s Champions League has entered its final three rounds. In the first leg of the quarterfinals, Bayern Munich traveled to Sevilla.
This was one of those pairings the outcome of which seemed perhaps easier to predict than some of the others. The Spanish team had been written off by many, long before the ball was even kicked. However, Sevilla had other plans. They played Barcelona in La Liga at the weekend in what was a perfect training practice as they prepared to take on Bayern, and the Catalan giants can consider themselves extremely lucky to have gotten away with a point.
For this game the home team were arranged in a 4-2-3-1 formation. David Soria stood between the posts. Captain Sergio Escudero, Jesus Navas, Simon Kjaer and Clement Lenglet were at the back. Steven Nzonzi and Guido Pizarro sat deep in midfield, Joaquin Correa was on the left flank of attack, Pablo Sarabia on the right, and Franco Vazquez played behind the lone striker Wissam Ben Yedder.
After completely humiliating Borussia Dortmund three days earlier, it was surprising (to an extent) to see Jupp Heynckess pick a more defensive starting XI, an away game though it was.
Arturo Vidal, Thiago Alcantara and Javi Martinez formed their midfield, and that is certainly the most telling aspect of their initial approach in this game – all three players usually playing in deep roles, rarely going forward. Juan Bernat as the left back, Joshua Kimmich as the right, and the usual pair of Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng formed the back four, while up front, Robert Lewandowski was flanked by Thomas Müller and Franck Ribery. Sven Ulreich was in goal, just like throughout the season.
The first half – Upsetting the odds
Those who expected Sevilla to go out without a fight were probably surprised by the way the game started. Bayern dominated possession, but the home team were very aggressive, innovative and extremely disciplined in their play. Correa was giving the Bavarians a lot to think about. His combinations with Ben Yedder and Vazquez often forced Hummels and Boateng into some of their best defending. Sarabia on the right was also giving Bernat a lot of work all the time.
It was no great wonder to see players of high temper such as Vidal and Ribery lose their control in the 13th minute, when they committed rough fouls in quick succession which started a small commotion on the pitch. In the end, Ribery was booked.
Sevilla attacks were getting frequent. First, Correa got booked for an alleged dive in the box – though there had been contact from more than one Bayern player. Then a couple of minutes followed during which Sarabia stole the spotlight for himself. He broke in front of Ulreich and failed to hit the target, and then had a shot saved, before capitalizing on an excellent cross by Escudero and Bernat standing on his heels to score the opener in the 32nd minute.
Bernat’s frustration was evident a minute later when a needless foul earned him a booking, but he was not the only one. Kimmich, one of Bayern’s better performers, was lucky to escape a yellow card after an altercation with Correa.
From Bayern’s perspective, there was no denying that things weren’t working out. They were seemingly about to get worse in the 36th minute when Arturo Vidal left the pitch injured. As it turned out, it was a blessing in disguise.
James Rodriguez came on and the team immediately looked more balanced.
The equalizer came a minute later, and even though Rodriguez took part in it, luck was the key factor in this moment. Through James the ball reached Ribery on the left and the Frenchman took a shot, that was accidentally diverted past the ‘keeper by Navas.
The second half – Bayern are still great
Rafinha came onto the pitch for the second half instead of the indisposed Bernat – a bit of a risk from Heynckess to use up his second substitution at halftime, but as it turned out, he knew what he was doing.
Both teams returned from the break determined to grab the game by the throat, and for a while, chances and tackles were aplenty at both ends. Ribery missed a good opportunity, and an excellent team move from Sevilla was thwarted at the last split-second by a sublime tackle from Martinez. Three minutes later Vazquez stopped Ribery in the same manner.
But Bayern were slowly tightening their grip, and the difference in individual quality between the two sets of players was starting to show. The visitors pressed high and gave Sevilla a hard time in their own half, while the home team’s players seemed irresponsible at moments. This led to losing the ball in dangerous positions quite a few times and Bayern threatening with lightning-quick counterattacks.
Two minutes after Javi Martinez failed to score from a great chance, Ribery lobbed a cross to the far post from where Thiago tried to head back across the six-yard box. It would have probably gone nowhere but for the intervention of Escudero, who somehow managed to beat his own keeper – another own-goal, though it has officially been given to Thiago.
Bayern were now in full control for a while, as the turn came for Sevilla players to get frustrated and keep losing focus.
As the game entered its last 10 minutes, Sevilla manager Vincenzo Montela made a few surprising decisions. He took off Correa and Ben Yedder – two attacking players that were still the most likely to cause Bayern problems, and replaced them with Sandro Ramirez and Luis Muriel. These changes made very little sense as the two newcomers showed almost nothing.
Bayern coolly managed the game to its end.
If Sevilla’s chances of progressing to the semifinals were slim before, they are all but gone now. Bayern have a lead and they’ve scored two away goals, an advantage that would be extremely difficult to overturn at the Allianz Arena for any team in the world.
SEVILLA: Sorea – 7; Navas – 6.5; Escudero 6.5; Kjaer – 7; Lenglet – 7; Nzonzi – 7.5; Pizarro – 6.5; Vazquez – 6.5; Correa – 8 (78’ Ramirez – N/A); Sarabia – 7; Ben Yedder – 7 (80’ Muriel –N/A).
BAYERN MUNICH: Ulreich – 8; Kimmich – 8; Bernat – 5 (46′ Rafinha – 7.5); Hummels – 8; Boateng – 7.5; Vidal – 6.5 (36’ Rodriguez – 7.5); Thiago – 7.5; Martinez – 7.5; Ribery – 8 (79’ Robben – N/A); Müller – 8; Lewandowski – 6.
GOALS: Pablo Sarabia 32′; Jesus Navas (OG) 37′, Thiago Alcantara 68′.
YELLOW CARDS: Ribery 13’; Correa 15’; Bernat 34’; Müller 85’; Pizarro 90’.
RED CARDS: None.
REFEREE: Daniele Orsato (Italy)
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