Rarely are teams of Bayern Munich’s stature happy to be held to tepid goalless draws in their own backyard.
But at almost exactly the same time as Cristiano Ronaldo was deliriously flexing his muscles on the Santiago Bernabéu touchline — while a small army of match officials attempted to drag a ranting and raving Gianluigi Buffon down the tunnel towards the dressing rooms — Jupp Heynckes was busy telling those who had stopped to listen how delighted he was with a nondescript stalemate.
“Sometimes you just need to keep a clean sheet,” he beamed after his side’s draw with Sevilla, which sent them through to the last four 2-1 on aggregate.
“That’s what I told the players and that was enough tonight. You have to keep a clean sheet in games like that and so I am very happy we did not concede because that’s something I demanded from my team. The goalless draw was enough for us to go through and I am happy.”
In the absence of any drama to talk about — Sevilla did hit the bar through Joaquin Correa but faded after a bright start and can have few complaints — talk quickly turned towards the semi-finals. Ever the diplomat, Heynckes declined to acknowledge whether or not he had a preferred opponent.
“No coach ever has a preference,” he insisted. “Just look at what happened to Barcelona yesterday. The games will be tight. You saw yesterday in Manchester and Rome that anything can happen and clearly you cannot underestimate any team that has qualified for a semi-final. But of course we are ambitious and want to reach the final.”
There is a strong argument that this has been the most dramatic week in the history of the Champions League. Liverpool and Roma’s unlikely victories set the stage on Tuesday night, before Ronaldo’s histrionics stopped dead a Juventus fightback that would have gone down in history as one of the greatest ever. But Bayern have reached the semi-finals on the quiet, efficiently rolling through the competition rather than setting it alight.
They have also been lucky. A 3-0 loss to Paris Saint-Germain away from home meant they only reached the knockout stages of the competition as group stage runners-up, but they were handed a kind draw against Beşiktaş, which they eased their way through when Domagoj Vida was sent off after just 16 minutes of the first leg. Sevilla offered up slightly more resistance, although they were guilty of spurning several fine chances across the two games as Bayern edged through.
As such it feels difficult to know exactly how good Bayern really are. As usual they have walked the Bundesliga this year, wrapping up their 28th title with a 4-1 win at Augsburg on Sunday, but a complete absence of challengers coupled with the poor start which cost Carlo Ancelotti his job meant that the weekend’s celebrations were muted. Borussia Dortmund, their fiercest challengers over the past few years, were dispatched 6-0 two weeks ago.
“What we have experienced over the past six years is a dream, Jupp has done a phenomenal job” the club’s CEO, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, said this weekend, as the squad enjoyed a quick drink in celebration before turning their thoughts to the Champions League. “And yet the merry-go-round continues, we still want more [trophies] this year.”
The club are in curiously successful state of flux, compounded by Heynckes’ apparent decision to walk away from the job for a fourth time at the end of the current season. But the prospect of yet more success has brought focus to a club with mounting off-the-field issues, with a repeat of the famous treble winning season of 2012-13 still very much a possibility.
Behind Real Madrid they are arguably now the favourites to win this year’s Champions League, although both Liverpool and Roma would certainly cause them problems. And the thought of Jurgen Klopp returning to Germany to take on the club he has spent so much of his career attempting to thwart is certainly a tantalising proposition. In fact, Klopp is just the second German coach to reach the semi-finals of the competition with a foreign team, after Heynckes lead Read Madrid to the title in 1998.
It is unusual for a team such as Bayern Munich to be the jokers in the pack but, ahead of tomorrow’s draw in Switzerland, that is effectively the role they play. There is a feeling that this is an ageing, largely untested team there to be got at — but they are also the sole side remaining in the competition who will win their domestic league this season. They are winners, and as such cannot be discounted.
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