At full-time in Lisbon on Friday night, Leon Goretzka was asked if he felt a little bit sorry for the visibly suffering Lionel Messi. “No,” the Bayern Munich midfielder replied. “I actually quite enjoyed it.”
It was nothing personal; Goretzka is anything but that sort of player, nor that sort of person. The 25-year-old is a professional who has a responsibility to do his job for 90 minutes, regardless of the score. That is the simple philosophy that Hansi Flick has instilled in this Bayern side.
“Ever onwards, ever forwards,” was how the Süddeutsche Zeitung broadsheet described the relentless Bavarians after their 8-2 hammering of Barcelona. “Continuing the destruction of an already destroyed opponent. It was nothing personal, nothing malicious, simply the result of Bayern’s irresistible style of play. They don’t know any different.”
It was the 16th time this season that Bayern have scored four goals or more under Flick – “Mercilessly good,” as Die Zeit put it. “It was one of those games which will be talked about for a long time to come.”
Press to impress
They weren’t alone in emphasizing the historical nature of the victory – the first time that a team has ever scored eight goals in a Champions League knockout game and Barcelona’s heaviest defeat since 1946.
“This night in Lisbon will remain in the memory,” said news magazine Spiegel. “It doesn’t happen often but when it does, the viewer recognizes that they’re watching history being written.” The more excitable tabloid BILD proclaimed it “The victory of the century!”, despite there still being 80 years to go.
On an evening of superlatives, it was difficult to pick out one single performer, one key moment. Flick described Thomas Müller as the “signal provider” in midfield, directing Bayern’s relentless pressing which forced Barcelona into so many mistakes in the first half, and didn’t let up in the second.
But one passage of play did stand out, “16 seconds of world class” in the words of Spiegel. “It was a scene which no one will forget: Alphonso Davies’ dribble will go down in history.”
When Davies picked up the ball on the left wing in the 63rd minute, Bayern were already 4-2 up. Luis Suarez may have pulled a second goal back for Barcelona, but the tie was already as good as over.
The Canadian teenager didn’t need to beat Nelson Semedo. He didn’t need to dribble to the byline. He didn’t need to cut it back for Joshua Kimmich to make it five. But he did, because that’s what these Bayern players do.
“I was almost a bit ashamed to celebrate because it was 99 percent Alphonso’s goal,” admitted Kimmich. “I only had to tap it in. World class.”
The move didn’t just sum up Bayern’s performance on the night; it summed up their entire philosophy since Flick took charge in Novemeber. The 55-year-old used three words continuously in his post-match interviews: “Intensity, mentality and quality.”
It’s infectious: even sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic was shown a yellow card after objecting to one refereeing decision a little too vocally. “You get caught up in the game,” he said. “I didn’t think it was a foul. I’ll take it.”
Bayern have now won 27 out of their last 28 games – the only “blemish” being a goalless with RB Leipzig, who demonstrated their own potency against Atletico Madrid on Thursday. Since the restart after the coronavirus-enforced hiatus, they have won every single game, leading football magazine 11Freunde to call Bayern “the team of the corona age” in which football is reduced to the game itself and nothing more.
Sympathy for ter Stegen
In the age of corona football, Bayern could not be further removed from their famous “FC Hollywood” nickname, a club of self-obsessed divas only ever one bad result or publicity stunt away from drama.
No, Flick’s Bayern, cut off from the outside world in their coronavirus bubble, seem immune to outside distractions. The players, like Goretzka, immune to such unprofessional emotions as pity for a defeated opponent. Well, almost immune.
“I’m sorry that Marc-Andre ter Stegen conceded so many goals,” admitted Manuel Neuer, seemingly burying the hatchet from last year’s long-distance spat with his rival for the Germany No 1 jersey. “I wouldn’t wish that on any colleague from the national team.”
Otherwise, sympathy was in short supply. Bayern have more important things on their minds.