Against Bayern Munich, You Can't Miss Your Chances

Lyon had two golden opportunities to score in the first 17 minutes against Bayern Munich but missed them both. Some 16 minutes later, Bayern was up 2-0, and their Champions League semifinal had been decided.
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There was no third surprise for Lyon. Much like in the quarterfinals, there were some early scares for Bayern Munich, but it emerged a comfortable 3-0 winner over Lyon, following the French side's eliminations of Juventus and Manchester City. After four straight Champions League semifinal defeats, Bayern Munich is through to the final again at last, where it will face Paris Saint-Germain in Sunday’s final, looking for a sixth European crown.

Wednesday's triumph made it 28 wins and a draw in Bayern's last 29 games. This is a totally different side to the inconsistent, scratchy Bayern that lost 5-1 to Eintracht Frankfurt in October, leading to the dismissal of manager Niko Kovac. Hansi Flick was only supposed to be a temporary appointment, the long-time assistant keeping the seat warm for a more established name, but he has restored organization and swagger and could end up like Tony Barton or Roberto Di Matteo, the caretaker thrust into the limelight winning the Champions League in his first year in the job. Except that Flick already looks like far more than a caretaker who got lucky. He may not have been a front-line coach since leaving Hoffenheim in 2005, but he has Bayern playing with a verve it has not since the departure of Pep Guardiola in 2016.

The only question is whether there may be rather too much verve. The high line that Bayern employs is always a risk. The general level of defending at the highest level of European football is not high, but other superclubs often at least try to control games. Bayern, though, seem entirely happy to get involved in shootouts, willing to concede chances on the logic that it will always create more.

Just as Barcelona in the early stages had opportunities in the quarterfinals, so, too, did Lyon. Memphis Depay, having gotten behind the back line and played through a pair of defenders on a counter, shot just wide after rounding an onrushing Manuel Neuer. A couple of crosses flashed across goal, and then Karl Toko Ekambi, having jinked into the right side of the box, hit the post from close range. 

But even as the thought began to crystallize that Bayern might not be quite at its best–a couple of passes misplaced, a couple of poor decisions taken–it took the lead. Joshua Kimmich’s 18th-minute ball down the right channel seemed largely inconsequential, but Serge Gnabry gathered, set off infield and then lashed an astonishing left-footed shot into the top corner.

In that 58 seconds between the post being struck and the goal being scored, the game was effectively done. Lyon is a very good team at frustrating an opponent and striking on the break, but when it is called upon to chase a game, it is rather less effective. Its main hope came in the fact that Bayern was so prepared in the first half to leave 2-v-2 at the back. A needless risk, perhaps, but on the other hand it meant Bayern always had an additional option going forward. Whether it can afford to be quite so cavalier against a forward line as good as PSG’s is another issue.

Bayern's second goal arrived 15 minutes after the first, turned in by Gnabry after Lewandowski, who had an unusually profligate day in front of goal, had fluffed Ivan Perisic’s cross. For a player who could barely get a game at Arsenal or West Brom before joining Werder Bremen in 2016, it was another stage in a remarkable evolution in Gnabry's career.

And yet while Bayern in the second half never really looked in danger of going out, its attempts to slow down the game were less than successful. Ekambi has never scored a Champions League goal, and as he spurned two further chances, it was impossible not to wonder what a more ruthless finisher might have done.

But at the same time, Bayern also had further chances. There was an odd sense in which it hadn’t played particularly well. Lewandowski missed two sitters before heading in his 55th goal of the season in all competitions to ice the match. Muller, resurgent this season, had one of his quieter games. Thiago Alcantara misplaced an unusual number of passes. And yet Bayern still won with a degree of comfort.

PSG will present a much stiffer test. Bayern will have to be sharper than it was to prevail on Sunday. It can’t have so many players having off days. It certainly won’t keep a clean sheet if it is so sloppy at the back. But, equally, like PSG, it won’t be too bothered how it reached the final: after those four straight semifinal defeats, progress comes with a measure of relief. A 3-0 win in a semifinal will never be a bad result.