Cristiano Ronaldo sprinted toward the end line, his arms shaking and his eyes wide. Suddenly he stopped in front of a wall of Bayern Munich fans at the Allianz Arena, and held up 10 fingers. Then he dropped one hand and raised five fingers again.
His point was clear. Ronaldo, the Portuguese superstar, had just set a record for most goals scored by a player during a Champions League season (with 15 in 10 games, he subtly reminded everyone). Even more, his goal had sealed Real Madrid’s passage to next month’s final in Lisbon, where the club will seek to win its 10th European title.
So Ronaldo preened. He screamed and shouted and, later, when he capped Real’s destruction of Bayern with his 16th goal about an hour later, he jumped so high he could have cleared a pool table. The final score in Tuesday’s semifinal second leg was 4-0 and 5-0 on aggregate, and it could have been worse. Munich was blown out of its building.
Real, which also got two goals from Sergio Ramos, will face either Atletico Madrid, its intracity foil, or Chelsea, which is coached by the former Real manager Jose Mourinho, in the title match next month.
“It was our best game against a dangerous rival,” said Manager Carlo Ancelotti of Real Madrid. Ancelotti, who is chasing his third Champions League title (he won two with A.C. Milan), called it “a perfect game.”
For the Bayern players, the massacre was mortifying; the club was seeking to reach its fourth final in five years and had high hopes of successfully defending the championship (to become the first winner of consecutive titles since the Champions League replaced the European Cup) it won at Wembley in London last May. For Manager Pep Guardiola, the ease at which his German champions were dispatched was especially alarming.
Last year, in the semifinals, Bayern blasted Barcelona, Guardiola’s former club, which was still playing his possession-centric style. Bayern was a counterattacking juggernaut, pushing the ball forward quickly as soon as it gained possession.
This year, Guardiola, in his first season in Munich, has moulded Bayern’s style to closely match his Barcelona days. And while Bayern cruised to the German league title, Guardiola’s players were viciously undone in the Champions League by a fierce counterattacking side that sprinted forward with lethal purpose.
“This is incredibly bitter and disappointing,” said Philipp Lahm, the Bayern captain. “We did not play well tactically. We had an open game way too early.”
Some will be quick to say that this result should spell the end of the so-called tiki-taka, or stylish passing style made famous by Guardiola’s Barcelona teams. Ancelotti was quick to dispute the theory — “football never dies”, he said — but certainly Guardiola will be forced to examine how malleable his strategies must be.
More of the same
Real will simply keep doing what it has been doing: defending well in its own half and then push, push, pushing the ball as fast as it can with Ronaldo and Gareth Bale and others, including the creative Luca Modric, racing each other to the finish.
For Ronaldo’s goal, which began with Bale gaining possession of the ball in his own penalty area before sprinting 70 yards to ultimately lay the ball off for a cool finish, it seemed as if the entire team covered the whole of the field in three steps.
“This is why I wanted to come to the biggest club in the world,” said Bale, who left Tottenham to join Real last September. “To win trophies.”
‘The only negative for Los Blancos was when Xabi Alonso was booked for a hard tackle; he will miss the final through a yellow-card suspension, and Ancelotti said he was disappointed with the referee’s decision.
Beyond that, though, there was little to criticise from the Spanish team’s point of view. Bayern simply could not keep up with Madrid, which was surprising considering the buildup to the match. A 1-0 loss in the first leg was hardly a difficult mountain for Bayern, and the second leg was seen as the showcase game of the tournament.
As quickly as the energy crested, though, it fell: Ramos headed in his first goal in the 16th minute and when he added a second four minutes later, the Bayern goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, yelled angrily at his defenders.
Neuer had reason to be upset. Both goals were the result of poor zonal marking — something Ancelotti said Madrid had plotted to attack — and the breakdowns proved fatal.
“We didn’t have the players in the right positions,” Guardiola said.
It felt that way all night. Ramos soared. Real celebrated. The rout was on. Then came Ronaldo, legs pumping and veins pulsing, running at a sea of red behind the goal. He raised his hands. The Bayern fans could only drop their heads.