Game Of My Life #01: VENI, VIDI, JAVI
Anything but Chelsea!, many FC Bayern fans may have thought recently when the UEFA Champions League round of 16 was drawn. The lost Champions League final in 2012 against the Blues obviously left a permanent mark and remains one of Bayern’s biggest traumas in recent history – despite winning the treble a year later.
But Bayern also had thrilling and exciting games against Chelsea with a happy ending. The UEFA Supercup in August 2013 is definitely one of them.
15 months after losing against Chelsea in the Champions League final in a dramatic penalty shootout at home, the two finalists were to meet again in the Supercup, albeit under different circumstances: Bayern Munich had finally clinched the Champions League title in 2013, while the Blues had won the Europa League.
With Pep Guardiola, who had replaced Jupp Heynckes as Bayern Munich’s coach, the team was dead set on not letting Chelsea take away yet another title from them, and every single fan longed for a little redemption, no matter how small.
Bayern started the 2013/14 season with three wins. But in the last game before the Supercup, which took place in the Eden Arena in Prague, they had only managed a 1:1 draw against Freiburg.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, the tragic hero of the 2012 Champions League final, was sidelined for the Supercup – he suffered an ankle injury against Freiburg – and thus, Pep Guardiola was forced to experiment. He began with a 4-1-4-1 formation: Toni Kroos took over the role as holding midfielder, and Philipp Lahm also moved into midfield. Rafinha started as right back.
Bayern’s start into this game was anything but ideal. In the 8th minute, the Blues used their first counter attack to score the opening goal: Alaba had moved forward and therefore left Andre Schürrle with too much space to pass the ball to Torres who finished emphatically. With the lead in their pocket, Chelsea let Bayern control the game and mostly waited for chances to hit them on the break.
As a result, Bayern had more possession of the ball but only few goalscoring opportunities because Chelsea’s defense remained solid – it was Franck Ribery, Europe’s newly chosen Player of the Year, who looked most dangerous in front of the goal. Bayern’s best chance in the game came in the 22th minute when the Frenchman took a shot at goal after a superb one-two with Mandzukic, but goalkeeper Cech was able to turn the ball away. In the 38th minute, Thomas Müller only hit the side netting after a fine pass from Robben.
Guardiola reacted quickly and directed Kroos and Lahm to switch positions, which was a better fit for Kroos because his defensive skills are not as refined as his ability to pass, cross and steer the game. Nevertheless, Bayern was one goal down by halftime.
Almost immediately after the beginning of the second half, Ribery rewarded himself for his efforts in the first 45 minutes by scoring a goal from 20 metres (47th minute). He sprinted to the sideline to celebrate his goal with Pep Guardiola. Their tight embrace almost resembled a wrestling match. Shortly afterwards, Martinez replaced Rafinha whose performance had been mediocre. As a result, Lahm moved back to his usual position, and the Spaniard took over as holding midfielder. That way, Kroos was covered defensively and Müller could interpret his role more openly. Bayern now controlled the game, while Chelsea focused on their defense.
However, as the game was about to enter its final phase, it became more and more nerve-wracking, with both teams creating good chances. In the 64th minute, Neuer made a stunning save, and in the 78th minute, Ivanovic’s header hit the bar. On the other side, Kroos missed the goal by inches in the 82nd minute. Three minutes later, Neuer once more proved why he is the best goalkeeper in the world when he saved David Luiz’s shot. In the 85th minute, Ramires was given the second yellow card in the game for yet another tackle and was sent off. Chelsea had to go into extra time with ten men only.
Even though the Blues were down one man, they started into extra time with a bang. Hazard channelled his inner Robben by cutting in from the flank, sidestepping Lahm and Boateng and scoring the goal that gave Chelsea the 2:1 lead. Afterwards, it was Bayern’s turn to press forward, and the players happily – or desperately – stormed towards Cech, continuing to do so in the second half of extra time.
Chelsea’s goalkeeper drove Bayern crazy by making one superb save after the other (Mandzukic in the 108th, Martinez – who by now played up front next to his Croatian teammate – in the 109th and Ribery in the 118th minute). It almost felt like someone had jinxed the game as the ball simply wouldn’t cross the line! It was only in the very last second that Martinez managed to score after an assist by Dante and thus helped his team to reach the all-deciding penalty shootout.
There it was – another penalty shootout against Chelsea. This time, however, Bayern’s penalty-takers were as cool as a cucumber: Alaba, Kroos, Lahm, Ribery and Shaqiri all scored. David Luiz, Oscar, Lampard and Cole did the same for the Blues, but Neuer was able to save the last and deciding penalty from Lukaku, and Bayern won the Super Cup in a thrilling and dramatic game.
Javi Martinez was sitting on the bench because he wasn’t fully fit, so nobody actually expected him to play. But Guardiola had other plans and sent him on the pitch despite his groin problems and a serious lack of match practise. Martinez was supposed to stabilize the defense after the experiment of putting Kroos and Lahm into midfield together had failed – and he had to do so without his congenial partner Schweinsteiger who witnessed the game from the stands.
After a nasty foul by Fernando Torres, Martinez lay on the ground, his face contorted with pain. For a moment, it looked like he had to be substituted. Luckily, he gritted his teeth and continued because in the end, he became the hero of the night when he scored a goal in the very last second of stoppage time and secured his team a spot in the penalty shootout. Martinez’s reaction and that of his teammates demonstrated the importance of this game – although it was a rather insignificant one on paper.
Javi Martinez already showed last season that he was worth the 40 million Bayern had invested in his transfer. With his passionate performance in the UEFA Supercup he silenced the remaining critics (if there were any left!) and played himself into the hearts of Bayern’s fans.
One could almost feel sorry for Pep Guardiola: to become the new coach of a club that had won the treble with Jupp Heynckes in the previous season is a thankless task – but in the Supercup it became obvious that the Spaniard had already begun to instill his game philosophy into the team.
Under Heynckes, Bayern mainly played in a 4-2-3-1 formation. With Guardiola at the helm, the system of play varies more often: sometimes, he uses a duo in defensive midfield, at other times, he relies on a single holding midfielder in a 4-1-4-1 formation. The team enjoys more ball possession with a more attacking strategy – which makes them more vulnerable to counter attacks that have to be intercepted by the defenders.
It is not merely the system that has become more flexible under Guardiola, but also the players themselves. Lahm played in defensive midfield, and towards the end of the game, Martinez suddenly became centre-forward: Bayern’s new flexibility is an asset.
This time around, the players also showed strength of nerve. Every single penalty-taker scored. In the end, it was 20-year-old Romelu Lukaku who couldn’t convert his penalty and gave away the victory to Bayern.
In the 2012 Champions League final, it was Bayern and Chelsea that had to face each other, but back then, both teams still had different managers, namely Jupp Heynckes and Roberto di Matteo. At the Supercup, they had already been replaced by Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho – a rather controversial encounter, also on the sidelines. The longstanding feud of these two managers went into the next round, this time, however, with a better end for Guardiola.
Mourinho was not capable to hold back his anger after the defeat and was quick to find blame elsewhere by singling out the referee and the UEFA. He complained that the better team had lost. He also could not resist making a snide remark about Pep Guardiola: “He is a lucky man that he was again allowed to play eleven against ten.”
Guardiola, on the other hand, remained unfazed by Mourinho’s comments and praised his predecessor instead: “Jupp Heynckes is the architect, and I would like to thank him for this final.”
Well done, Pep!
Bayern was (and remains to this day) the only German team to win the UEFA Supercup. While it was nice and well deserved that the club could finally complete its collection of titles, the game against Chelsea was more important on an emotional level.
Of course, winning the Supercup will never outweigh the lost final in the 2012 Champions League. Nevertheless, it did help to heal the wounds, at least a little bit, especially since the two games showed some similarities. Losing against Chelsea on penalties again – no, that would have been unbearable!
With Guardiola as team manager, Bayern was able to maintain their dominance from the previous treble-winning season. They were already confirmed as German Champions on matchday 27 – no other team has ever managed to clinch the title this fast. In the DFB Pokal final, Bayern beat Borussia Dortmund 2:0 and thus won the double for the tenth time in the club’s history. Unfortunately, Bayern were not able to defend their Champions League title: in the semi-finals, they faced Real Madrid and lost 0:1 in the first leg, while the second leg resulted in a 0:4 defeat – at home!
Nevertheless, winning the Supercup marked the beginning of a highly successful era under Pep Guardiola – a time that many fans still miss dearly today. Although the Spaniard wasn’t able to win the Champions League with Bayern, the team played such dominant and impressive football under his leadership that they were almost untouchable in the Bundesliga and became one of the best teams in Europe.