By Marcus Louison
Josep “Pep” Guardiola, chief orchestrator of many of modern football’s tours de force, steered his charges to yet another in Rome on Tuesday night, as FC Bayern Munich ran riot in the Italian Capital against Rudi Garcia’s AS Roma. The Giallorossi, motoring nicely in Serie A, as well as impressing at the Etihad on Matchday 2, were ruthlessly torn to shreds by a freshly-oiled Bavarian machine, in a performance sure to send shock waves right through Europe.
Garcia mentioned strategic errors in the opening half, as he feels the Italians lacked the tactical discipline to close crucial spaces, but even he would have to admit that Die Roten’s football; the fluidity of their passing, movement, and positional interchanging, created a suppression-challenge far beyond Roma on the day, and likely any other.
As the match began, and this is common with Pep’s teams, the tactical formation and player positions were difficult to decipher. After a few minutes, it became apparent that Bayern were playing with 3 center-backs. David Alaba, mostly deployed at left-back, and even sometimes in central midfield, was one of the three. The excellent Philipp Lahm, a full-back for the lion share of his career, was deployed alongside Xabi Alonso at the heart of midfield. The biggest surprise came on Bayern’s right-side, as wing-back duties were shared by Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller. 3-4-2-1 is probably the best description of the German set-up, but an attempt to label their formation would do them a massive disservice, such was the fluidity of their play in a display that was the epitome of Rinus Michels’ total football.
A quick one-two on the Bayern right between Robben and Gotze, sent the free-scoring Dutchman clear, and with Ashley Cole frantically backing off and seemingly afraid to challenge, Robben picked his spot as he sent a precise curler past the despairing dive of Morgan De Sanctis. 1-0.
Gotze, roaming all over the attacking third and central midfield, popped up just outside the 18 to play another one-two, this time with Muller, and the little ex-Dortmund man duly applied a tidy finish beyond the hapless De Sanctis. 2-0.
Bayern, now with their tails up and operating at full tilt, passed the ball quickly and crisply. Roma, clearly shell-shocked, began chasing shadows, as Pep’s brigade continued to seamlessly change positions, alter the angle of the attacks via swift switches of play, and continually split the Roman defence. Xabi Alonso, one of the world game’s best passers – over both long and short distances, resisted the temptation to shoot from 30 yards, choosing to reward the overlapping run of his compatriot Juan Bernat, and he crossed with pin-point accuracy onto the head of the perfectly placed Robert Lewandowski. 3-0.
Alonso, clearly in the mood, spotted Robben advancing again, and played an inch-perfect defence-splitting pass. The winger, seeming to get quicker with age, bore down on goal before Ashley Cole could spin. De Sanctis made a mess of a firm shot, and at 4-0, Rudi’s men were contemplating a damage-limitation exercise.
An extremely harsh PK decision from Jonas Eriksson led to Bayern’s fifth. Muller placed the ball past De Sanctis with the Italian failing to attempt a save.
0-5 at HT, and the match, as a contest, was over. The Giallorossi taught a football lesson of the very highest order.
The Roman Captain, Francesco Totti, hardly had a kick in the first half, and was replaced by the more mobile Alessandro Florenzi for the second, as Rudi Garcia aimed to add some spirit to the performance and respectability to the scoreline. Gervinho, a tireless runner and AS Roma’s biggest threat on the day, got his just rewards in the 66th minute with a powerful near-post header. The Ivorian was denied a run on goal by a terrible offside call; the ex-Arsenal man was inside his own half when the ball was played. It wasn’t Roma’s night.
Franck Ribery and Xherdan Shaqiri, on as substitutes, scored a goal a piece to give Bayern their biggest ever Champions League win. A feat made all the more impressive as FCB are without long-term injury absentees; Bastian Schweinsteiger – one of the world’s best central midfielders, Thiago Alcantara – Pep’s priority signing upon his arrival at Bayern, Holger Badstuber – regarded as Bayern’s best central defender before his first ACL injury and Javi Martinez – a 40M Euros signing from Athletic Bilbao.
Can any of Europe’s leading lights stop Bayern Munich in this season’s Champions League?