In knockout games, especially in the Champions League, small moments can decide a lot. One of those moments happened on Tuesday at Stamford Bridge when the FC Bayern forward appeared quite alone in front of the opposing goalkeeper. Well, he was not free in front of the gate, but slightly offset to the left at the second post and defenders were also in sight. But the position was good enough for the world-class striker to pull off himself. The striker was under pressure, a goal would have ended a series of seven goalless knockout games in the premier class.
So the striker would not have been to blame had he tried his luck. All the doubters and minute counters would have stopped. But the striker matched his teammate, who had previously served him the ball, who then only had to insert it to 1-0. It was a mature decision that Robert Lewandowski made in the split of a second in the 51st minute. And one that allowed Serge Gnabry to score. That evening in London, the decision was representative of FC Bayern’s adult performance.
In the end, the Munich team won 3-0 (0-0) in the first knockout round of the Champions League and can almost certainly plan for the quarterfinals, even if everyone involved said well that the next game would start at 0-0. The selfless Lewandowski also contributed a goal to the formidable result (76th). Previously, he had also prepared the 2-0 win by Gnabry (54th), it also resulted from a double pass of the two. The two offensive players now have 17 goals in the current Champions League season (Lewandowski on eleven, Gnabry on six) – no other striker duo in Europe has such a quota.
Gnabry, 24, thanked Lewandowski for the unselfishness after the game. “I’ve hugged him a couple of times,” said the winger Sky, “We are just happy, he was in a great mood and so we won today.” They had shown how well the two harmonized recently in the Bundesliga when Gnabry Lewandowski put on two goals and scored one himself. Now the Pole retaliated for the services.
That evening Gnabry also wrote the sequel to a story that started five years ago. At that time he was trained at the London club FC Arsenal, he had never scored a goal for the “Gunners” in the English capital. When he returned with Bayern last October, it worked four times against Tottenham. Against Chelsea, he now followed two more goals. “Arsenal might also be wondering why he suddenly hits London like clockwork,” said Thomas Müller at Sky. “But I am glad that he is only doing this now and not five years ago, because otherwise he might not be with us at all.” The double scorer could not really explain his marksmanship. “Many friends are still here, maybe they’ll give me strength.”
Bayern’s sports director Hasan Salihamidzic also liked the presentation of Gnabry and Lewandowski, but he didn’t want to focus too much on the goal scorers. “It would be unfair to pick someone out now,” said Salihamidzic. He saw much more “a sensational team effort” and praised the midfield around Thiago and Joshua Kimmich as well as the defense chain around the tireless Alphonso Davies, who appeared surprisingly grown up with his first knockout player.
The fact that the praise had to be distributed to everyone involved indicated that something could be observed in London that the Munich team has rarely managed to do recently: they played two halves at a very good level. In the Bundesliga they had allowed themselves sloppiness against opponents like Mainz, Cologne and Paderborn before or after half time. “We did a little better today than maybe in other games in the Bundesliga,” summed up Müller.
The Champions League seems to sharpen players’ concentration. “The plan we had worked out perfectly,” said Salihamidzic. The sports director hopes that his players “take highlights with them, take self-confidence with them, but then concentrate on the Bundesliga again”.
In London, however, the thoughts lingered a bit in the Champions League. It seems to be more present in the minds of the players, which should have something to do with the start of the knockout round – but also with increasing form and self-confidence under coach Hansi Flick. This in turn leads to a greater chance of winning the most prestigious competition.
“Are absolutely able to win the Champions League”
Manuel Neuer said that after the group phase with only victories, “it was very important to make a statement again”. Thomas Müller dared to go even further: “I have already deliberately stated that we are absolutely in a position to win the Champions League. It is not because of the result of today. It is only the consequence of our work the past few weeks and months. “
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge also likes what Flick, who is officially a trainer until summer, does to the team. The club boss gave him a retrospective gift at the banquet because Flick had his 55th birthday on Monday. “There is a pen in the red packet,” said Rummenigge, “and with Bayern Munich you sometimes also sign papers.” As a former world-class striker, Rummenigge also knows when to play a good template.