Bayern Munich may well have taken Barcelona's mantle of Europe's finest football team. They have almost certainly taken their place in the Champions League final, with a first-leg mauling in a roaring Allianz Arena. They will also, as if to complete the annex, be taking Barcelona's old coach, Pep Guardiola, and dream target Mario Götze this summer.
But this gradual transfer was made real in one brilliant 90 minutes of football. The performance of the season, certainly, the best in the European Cup since the Barcelona glories of 2009 and 2011 and even one of the finest nights in the history of one of Europe's greatest clubs. Bayern played with the skill, bravery and ruthlessness of a team who have lost two recent finals but are desperate to win the next one. Thomas Müller, who scored twice, and Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben, who got the others, should not be disappointed again.
This was meaningful, violent and emphatic from Bayern, who exposed all of Barcelona's flaws relentlessly, making the team who won two of the last four titles look dated and unimaginative. Barça were soft and predictable on the ball, enjoying one brief spell of possession early in the first-half and another halfway through the second. But even then it was only ever possession on Bayern's terms.
The closest Barcelona came to scoring, and this is remarkable given the players they had on the pitch, were two moments when the ball fell to novice centre-back Marc Bartra in the Bayern box and he barely knew what to do with it. Lionel Messi hardly caught sight of goal once.
The real action, of course, was at the opposite end. Bayern attacked with so much more purpose and confidence than Barcelona could ever find. In the first hour, they exposed the visitors' vulnerability to crosses, playing with brisk width and muscularity and twice scoring from second balls from close range. For the final 30 minutes, as Barcelona chased the game, Bayern exploited their problem with pace, picking them off with goals on the break that more or less confirmed their place in the final.
Jupp Heynckes, the Bayern coach, said that it was a perfect team performance and it certainly was, every player perfectly following their defensive and attacking instructions, limiting Barcelona's space, creating attacks and taking their chances. But there are players who obey instructions naturally, like Bastian Schweinsteiger, and players like Robben, and it was the uncharacteristically selfless display from the Dutch winger that encapsulated Bayern's ferocious commitment.
Robben set up Bayern's first two goals, with a cross with his right and then a cross with his left, worked terrifically up and down the flank all evening and scored the third, charging forward and finishing low like he used to for Chelsea. He nearly opened the scoring with Bayern's first chance after just two minutes, passing to Javi Martinez, taking a backheel in return but shooting straight at Victor Valdes.
Barcelona had one of their soothing spells of possession but Bayern, far more purposeful and driven by the unmatchable engine room of Martinez and Schweinsteiger, soon started to push them back. They won the ball and spread it wide, and with quick full-backs and wingers Bayern were able to force corner and corner, playing with a physicality and simplicity which Barcelona did not enjoy. It was an approach which put them ahead after 25 minutes.
Robben, who might not have started had Toni Kroos been fit, received Müller's lay-off and crossed with his weaker right foot. Dante, towering at the far post, headed back across goal and Müller, with a sharper nose for goal than anyone in this team, headed past Valdes.
The second goal, three minutes after the break, was just the same. Another Robben cross, this time a left-footed inswinging corner. Another header across goal from the back post, this time from Müller. And another close-range finish, this time from Gomez, who was on the line and probably offside.
Bayern knew they could assure their place at Wembley with one more charge. So they went for it, running at Barça with glee and disrespect. Müller, Franck Ribéry and Robben all went just wide before the break which sealed the game. Schweinsteiger, driving through the middle, fed Robben on the right. He broke into the box, Müller blocked off Jordi Alba and Robben finished into the far bottom corner.
When giants tumble they do so with a crash. Barça had lost all control and Bayern finished them off with a fourth which should send them to the final. Another swift move ended with David Alaba bounding forward and whipping a cross to the near post. Müller, far more dangerous than Messi, ran in between Valdes and Alba and slid the ball in for the implausible fourth.
No one had ever doubted whether Bayern had the quality, given their performances in Bundesliga and earlier in the season. The question was whether they had the nerve. Just 11 months ago, on this ground, they had blown effectively a home Champions League final against Chelsea.
But the 68,000 crowd knew they were witnessing something special and transformative, a marker that the team who were runners up in 2010 and 2012 have something different about them this year. They erupted through the last eight minutes, cheering passes and singing about the final.
Man of the match Robben.
Match rating 9/10.
Referee V Kassai (Hun).
Second leg Wednesday 1 May, Nou Camp
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