Marco Asensio gives Real Madrid advantage against Bayern Munich

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Sid Lowe at the Allianz Arena

“The Champions League releases special powers in Real Madrid,” Toni Kroos had warned and there may be no power greater than the ability to resist, survive, and always advance, bruised perhaps but never beaten. Under pressure for so long, when Madrid left the Allianz Arena Raphaël Varane had a bleeding head and the team had suffered, just as Zinedine Zidane had warned they would, but they were victorious once more. It is not over but they are a step closer to a third consecutive Champions League final.

Jupp Heynckes said his team’s performance proved Madrid could be hurt, but it was Bayern that were here. At the end, their players stood exhausted, two of them having long departed, Arjen Robben and Jérôme Boateng forced off with injury, missing most of the night and likely to miss the second leg too, trying to grasp what had happened. What had happened was this: goals from Marcelo and Marco Asensio, both superbly struck, overturned Joshua Kimmich’s opener to give Madrid a win, their third in a row here, their sixth in succession against their great European rivals.

The goals were wonderfully taken, but Heynckes called them “gifts”. Mistakes defined this game as much as talent did, and Bayern’s were more decisive. One in particular cost them, a terrible error from Rafinha on the halfway line just before the hour sending Lucas Vázquez and Asensio running into space to slip in the knife. From the other end, Bayern’s players watched it unfold, their fate sealed.

Bayern had started the night attacking and they ended it attacking too, firing off 13 shots, but Madrid are a club that considers this competition their own for a reason. As for Bayern, while James Rodríguez impressed, the early departure of Robben left them lop-sided, everything going through Franck Ribéry. A constant threat, he nonetheless had to go it alone often. He also encountered Keylor Navas, at fault for the goal but redeemed after.

Bayern’s first chance came after just 25 seconds, when Rodríguez put presure on Dani Carvajal and the ball sat up for Robert Lewandowski, inside the six-yard box but at a tight angle. He hit the ball too hard to be a pass and too horizontal to be a shot but the tone appeared to be set and to begin with the pace was frenetic, the game quite direct, Bayern on the front foot.

It didn’t last, and nor did Robben. He was forced off after eight minutes and within half an hour Boateng had to go too. Bayern, though, enjoyed much of the ball and by then they had taken the lead when Rodríguez’s pass sent Kimmich racing up the right. Lewandowski ran alongside and Madrid’s goalkeeper was perhaps preoccupied with him, because as Kimmich slowed slightly Navas seemed to edge towards the centre. Instead of crossing, Kimmich hit the ball hard from a tight angle sending it flying in at the near post.

Bayern nearly doubled their lead immediately, a swift robbery sending Lewandowski clean through straight from the kick-off, only for Varane to step across, and then Thiago Alcántara giving Ribéry the ball alone inside the area where his touch was astonishingly bad, barely able to believe it as the ball slipped away. Heynckes called it a turning point.

 

Despite the lead, there was still a sense Bayern were not entirely comfortable although Madrid were worse in a game of surprising imprecision for two teams of such rich resources. Mats Hummels’s touch was almost as bad as Ribéry’s had been as he handed Luka Modric the ball, although he was soon involved again at the other end, volleying over from seven yards. Next, Kimmich and Ribéry made an opportunity for Thomas Müller, running in, to hit on the bounce, which Sergio Ramos blocked. But five minutes from half-time, Madrid scored. Ramos’s diagonal ball across was headed back by Carvajal and Cristiano Ronaldo leapt for an overhead kick. He made no contact but did put off Javi Martínez who backed off letting the ball bounce and Marcelo struck a superb shot into the corner.

Bayern had three chances in added time at the end of the first half. Rodríguez’s free-kick found Lewandowski leaping seven yards out, but he headed straight at Navas. Ribéry beat Carvajal and clipped to the far post, where Marcelo nodded away from Müller. And from the corner, Lewandowski’s header just evaded Müller by the post.

Concerned, Zidane sent on Asensio at half-time in place of Isco, who had taken a knock. Ten minutes later, Asensio scored a hugely significant goal. It came from a corner – for Bayern. The ball came out to Rafinha whose dreadful pass was intercepted by Asensio, who slotted it into Lucas Vázquez, two against one now, running free, Ulreich at their mercy. Vázquez gave it back and Asensio finished with class.

Ribéry, relentlessly running at Carvajal and, later, Vázquez, led Bayern’s bid to turn this round. Again and again he went at them. Twice he drew saves from Navas, before Müller and Lewandowski got in each other’s way a metre from the line.

As they poured forward, Ronaldo and Karim Benzema fired warnings, but Bayern had no choice. They also had no way through, Madrid waiting, resisting, every ball into the box sent sailing out again.

Lewandowski was slipped in late on but clipped wide. The flag was up, anyway. So was time. A moment later, beyond 90 minutes now, the ball was curled towards Corentin Tolisso, inside Madrid’s area. As he turned towards it, it bounced off the turf and over his head, Bayern’s evening defined.

 

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