Of the administrative bits to get out of the way before the Champions League mini-tournament gets under way, here was a box that may as well have already been ticked.
As expected, Bayern Munich qualified for the quarter-finals with a 4-1 victory over Chelsea to boast an aggregate score of 7-1. They will play Barcelona next Friday at Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, gunning for their sixth European Cup.
It was a victory signed, sealed and delivered by Robert Lewandowski. The forward not only scored his 52nd and 53rd goals of the season in 44 matches - his 13th in seven appearances in this competition - but also registered two assists. They can shy away from giving out the Ballon D’Or this year, but we all know who it belongs to.
For Chelsea, it was a second defeat in a week to confirm the 2019/20 season will close with no silverware. This blow will not hurt as much as defeat to Arsenal in the FA Cup, a more realistic shot at glory. But even if this result was something of a foregone conclusion, the nature of casual dominance Hans-Dieter Flick’s outfit showed will trouble Frank Lampard.
Perhaps not gravely: this felt like something of a nuisance given the need to overturn a 0-3 scoreline from Stamford Bridge back in February. The gulf was as stark then as it was here.
But though this was something of a free-hit – Chelsea named six teenagers on their bench, four of whom had no first-team experience - there was a tentativeness in their play and uncertainty in defence that was all too familiar. Granted, neither of those issues were going to be corrected by this match, and there is five weeks to groove what needs to be grooved. But here was a stark reminder of the scale of work required and the extra investment that many needed to right these wrongs
Again, none of this is new. The first leg back said enough about the gulf between the sides that felt almost cruel to reiterate here.
The newly crowned Bundesliga champions even without competitive action for five weeks are still, well, really good. Their opening goal was indicative of the kind of switch in tempo they can call upon at the merest sight of an opening. Once Serge Gnabry was aware of Lewandowski’s intention to beat the offside trap, he set him through to be taken down by Wily Caballero.
A penalty was given immediately but was momentarily taken away by the assistant linesman’s flag. The inevitability came two-fold: the forward was onside and converted from the spot.
One up after eight minutes became two on 24. Lewandowksi, this time, showing uncharacteristic selflessness in front of goal to square to Ivan Perisic to side-foot at the near post.
It came from yet another midfield misstep from Chelsea, as Mateo Kovacic was robbed of possession by Thomas Muller. This was a recurring theme throughout the match and one that you could put solely on Bayern’s energy on the night, never mind their superior quality.
Now needing five, the visitors seemed liberated now that the task had ventured into fantasy. A slick exchange between Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi saw the latter curl one from the edge of the box beyond Manuel Neuer. Those at the Allianz Arena know enough about Hudson-Odoi, after courting him for around a year before he stayed put in west London.
For a moment, the 19-year old had his “here’s what you could have won moment”. But it did not take long for VAR to take it off him as Abraham had traipsed beyond the backline earlier than he should have done.
Abraham would make amends by getting Chelsea’s goal, profiting off a spill from Neuer. But the single goal between them was at odds with the way the match was playing out and it was no surprise when that was redressed with 14 minutes to go when Lewandowski crossed for second-half substitute Corentin Tolisso to make it 3-1.
Another substitute would play his part in the third: Alvaro Odriozola crossing deep to the back post where Lewandowski rose and powered beyond Caballero once more. It moved the Polish forward to fourth on the all-time goalscorer’s list in the Champions League, just five behind Raul.
Even without two-legged matches from here on in, you would back Lewandowski to overtake the Spaniard in this campaign. Certainly going by his and Bayern’s expectation, and on the evidence of tonight, they expect to have three more games to go too.
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