Champions League: Real Madrid stuns Bayern Munich in semifinal romp
Three goals in the first 34 minutes, two of them from Sergio Ramos, gave Real Madrid an insurmountable 4-0 aggregate lead against Bayern Munich, and a final nail in the coffin from Cristiano Ronaldo ensured the Spanish side progressed to next month's Champions League final in Lisbon -- its first final since 2002 -- on a stunning 5-0 aggregate. These were the highlights from Bayern's surprising collapse, and Real Madrid's surprising dominance at Allianz Arena in Munich:
Man of the Match: Angel di Maria, Real Madrid
It was Sergio Ramos who effectively settled the tie with his two headers in the first 20 minutes, exposing shambolic marking from Bayern -- first pulling away from Thomas Muller, and then finding space between Dante and Mario Mandzukic (Bayern, it's worth remembering, had 15 corners at the Bernabeu and failed to create a meaningful chance from any of them) -- but again Real Madrid's domination was based in its midfield and the tactical intelligence of its play.
Luka Modric, whose corner led to the first goal, was again superb, but the decisive influence was Angel di Maria.
It was his free kick, flicked on by Pepe, that brought the second goal, but more important than that was his role as the conduit for the counterattack. There may be no better player in the world at the moment at judging when to carry the ball forwards, when to hold his position and when to attempt a long forward pass, the link he provides from back to front what makes him so vital both for Madrid and Argentina.
His pass to release Karim Benzema, who played it forward to Gareth Bale, who then set up Cristiano Ronaldo for the third, could not have been shaped or weighted better. A 69th-minute cross almost teed up another chance for Ronaldo, and another after 81 minutes created an opportunity for Raphael Varane.
But perhaps the greatest example of di Maria's excellence was an absence. Nobody embodies Bayern and the Guardiola way more than Philipp Lahm, whose link-up with Arjen Robben is such a key attacking threat. Yet Lahm was hardly involved in the attacking sphere, stifled by di Maria, constantly having to ensure the Argentinian wasn't creating havoc.
Moment of the Match: Bayern gets rattled early, sets tone
Three minutes in, Franck Ribery chased a ball down the Bayern left. Daniel Carvajal stepped across him and shepherded the ball out of play for a goal kick. Ribery had been desperately poor in the first leg unable to impose himself on the Real fullback and, perhaps attempting to assert himself, he shoved Carvajal to the ground.
The Spain international probably made more of it than he needed to, but as he hit the ground he gave a little glance back, a look that suggested he knew exactly what was going on and was in control of the situation.
Pepe, as he always will, came charging across to add his opinion, at which Mandzukic raced over, hands raised. The symbolism was clear: Bayern was rattled, already seeming frustrated, and Real Madrid was toying with it. Ribery later -- unseen by the Portuguese referee Pedro Proenca, who, not for the first time, was overly fussy but lost control of the game, slapped Carvajal, as clear an admission of defeat as you're likely to see.
Bayern's capacity to wind up opponents was an understated element of its success last season -- Robben and Ribery are masters of manufacturing fouls and manipulating the tempo of the game through the exaggeration of injuries, Thomas Muller a whiner and pressurizer of referees -- but here it was the victim. That's not praise Real for its gamesmanship -- a better referee would have stamped early on its time-wasting -- but it is to highlight how rapidly the biter was bit and Bayern's composure was lost.
That the needle and play-acting was less pronounced after halftime was merely an indication of how dominant Real Madrid was.
How Real Madrid stacks up against Chelsea or Atletico Madrid
Whichever team Real Madrid faces in the final, the narrative is enticing.
Either it will face Atletico Madrid, its city rival, a team to whom, up until September 2013, it had not lost since 1999, but against whom it has picked up a single point in two league games this season. The two met in the European Cup semifinal in 1959, Real winning after a replay.
Or, it will face Chelsea, pitting Carlo Ancelotti against his former club and, more sulphurously, Jose Mourinho against the side he left amid much acrimony last summer.
Whether Chelsea or Atletico makes it through on Wednesday, Real will almost certainly find itself as the proactive side, having the bulk of possession and trying to break down opponents who sit deep and look to play on the counter. What will be fascinating is whether Ancelotti accepts being placed in that position, given how his side has excelled on the counter against Bayern.
Not only are Bale and Ronaldo, with their pace and technical ability, ideally suited to playing on the break, but his midfield -- Modric and di Maria in particular -- has excelled protecting the back four.
One issue Real will have to deal with is the absence through suspension of Xabi Alonso, banned for the final after picking up a decisive yellow card for a needless foul on Bastian Schweinsteiger. Sami Khedira, who suffered knee ligament damage in November, is back in training, so there is an outside chance he could return, but more likely is that Asier Illaramendi comes in for Alonso.