Rarely can a team have qualified for a Champions League final as easily as Bayern Munich did against Lyon.
“Has anyone seen a Champions League semi-final?” asked one wag in the Stade Gerland media centre after Tuesday’s hopelessly one-sided semi-final return leg. “I was told there’d be one here but I couldn’t see it.”
Comprehensively outplayed in both legs, Lyon’s limp performance over the tie was an appalling advertisement for French football and in the grim post mortem of the after-match analysis there was no disguising the simple fact that Claude Puel’s side had been beaten by a far superior team. Time and again in his post-match press conference, a shell-shocked Puel returned to the theme of Bayern’s remarkable physical capacities.
“Their physicality, the quality of their play, their control of possession… They are a complete team,” he said. “They are physically strong and never let their rhythm drop. It became very, very difficult for us.”
Prior to the match, Lyon had vowed to take the game to Bayern by pressing them high up the pitch but in attempting to do so they were obliged to hold a dangerously high defensive line and Arjen Robben, Thomas Müller and Ivica Olić were quick to take advantage by galloping onto balls down the channels and the flanks. Forced to retreat by the frailty of their defence against such pace in key areas and physically dominated in midfield by Mark van Bommel and the all-action Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lyon became as helplessly trapped inside their own half as they had been at the Allianz Arena.
Lyon’s 4-2-3-1 was commendably enterprising but, as in the first leg, they lacked players with sufficient authority to take command of the game in the middle of the pitch. Lisandro López was once again isolated, César Delgado was practically non-existent in the playmaker role and Michel Bastos had a poor game that will not have filled Brazil coach Dunga with confidence about his ability to assert himself at the highest level.
Where Lyon were somewhat static, Bayern were constantly in motion. Lining up in a nominal 4-4-2 with wingers on either side, Hamit Altıntop’s ability to tuck in on the left and Robben’s predilection to raid forward down the right meant they often slipped into an assymetrical 4-3-3, while Müller intelligently dropped deep to harass Maxime Gonalons, negating Lyon’s numerical advantage in central midfield. Olić harried tirelessly and dovetailed superbly with Müller to create a constantly shifting point of attack.
Van Gaal, meanwhile, could scarcely hide his satisfaction at having so thoroughly nullified Lyon, who mustered a dismal two shots on target – both from distance – over the 180 minutes of the tie.
“I expected Lyon would play in another way,” he said. “I read the papers. They didn’t play very well in Munich, so it’s natural that a coach will change his team. I expected that they would play with a number 10 [Delgado]. My players were informed. We saw that our pressing in Munich was too much for them and we have also seen that today.”
Bayern’s high-energy pressing was a feature of both legs and van Gaal made no secret of the fact he has been instructing his side to ape the aggressive defensive approach of Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona.
“Since I arrived at Bayern 10 months ago, I’ve used Barcelona as an example,” he said. “They’re the best team in the world.”
Bayern will likely be second-favourites whether they meet Barcelona or Inter in the final, but in their almost contemptuous dismissal of Lyon and their dogged victories over Fiorentina and Manchester United they have shown themselves to be a top-rank team.
There is also a very modern feel to their style of play and a look through the team reads like a checklist of fashionable tactical apparatus. They play with overlapping full-backs (particularly Philipp Lahm on the right); a centre-back capable of stepping up into midfield (Martín Demichelis); ‘inside-out’ wingers (Robben and Franck Ribéry); and multi-faceted forwards (Müller and Olić) whose defensive contribution is as significant as the goal threat they pose. Tuesday’s hat-trick hero Olić is an archetypal modern forward, as important in defence as he is in attack, and his industry is replicated throughout the team.
There is nothing magic or particularly flamboyant about the way Bayern play and the manner in which they dominated a poor Lyon side was not even particularly entertaining. They are just supremely fit, hard-working and very difficult to beat. Typical Germans, you might say.