Plucky Lyon succumb to pressure of Bayern water torture

Will Ford

Darren Fletcher likened Bayern’s progressive domination in the first half of their win over Lyon to tightening a screw – an analogy that makes perfect sense. It could also be described as Chinese water torture: their increasing attacking intensity inevitably forced Lyon to breaking point.

The French side should have been two up in the first 20 minutes. Memphis Depay put the ball the wrong side of the post having rounded Manuel Neuer; Karl Toko Ekambi hit the post from ten yards out soon after. Both really should have scored.

They felt like big misses at the time. Bayern’s high line is the root of their defensive problems, and Lyon would get more chances, but it’s also the key to Hansi Flick’s attacking ethos. The further forward Bayern can get their defence – and they were very high –  the closer they can get those that threaten to the opposition goal. And as a result, such is the weight of players in forward positions, and the quality they possess, they’re always going to create more chances than they concede.

Serge Gnabry sparked Bayern into life with the opener. He showed pace to get past the first challenge, strength and balance to squeeze through two more, before smashing it past Anthony Lopez with next-to-no backlift. He’s a very special player.

Robert Lewandowski missed a chance shortly after and Lyon were penned in their own half – tied down and panicking. As happened when Bayern beat Spurs 7-2 and Barcelona 8-2, the weight of pressure was getting to Lyon, more spaces were opening up and the chances became more frequent – the water drops now feeling like lumps of lead.

They had no time on the ball. Controls, touches, passes: they all had to be perfect. And it’s impossible to keep that up. Maxwel Cornet’s control was slightly off in the lead up to Bayern’s second. Gnabry pounced, nicking the ball off his toe, before laying the ball perfectly into the path of Ivan Perisic, who crossed for Lewandowski to fluff his chance before Gnabry tapped home.

Lyon – like almost all teams before them this season – did not know what to do. Perisic hit a tame effort when sent through one-on-one with Lopez, and Lewandowksi missed another sitter as he allowed Gnabry’s cross-shot to drift over his outstretched leg. Lyon were really suffering.

Bayern dropped deeper in the second half. Lyon’s players had less of an opportunity to get in behind, but that also meant more time on the ball in the middle of the park.

Houssem Aouar had the space to price himself out of a rumoured move to Arsenal. And Rayan Cherki – now the youngest player ever to feature in a Champions League knockout game – had just enough to time on the pitch to ease any worry that the Lyon production line will fail any time soon, bamboozling Alphonso Davies on the wing.

But as Owen Hargreaves said: “Bayern Munich just have so many weapons.” If Lewandowski doesn’t get you, Serge Gnabry will, or Thomas Muller, or Leon Goretzka. But it was the sniper in the arsenal that proved to be the final drop on Lyon’s tender brow. Joshua Kimmich’s delivery from the right was nodded home by Lewandowksi – his 55th of a remarkable season.

This Bayern team have now reached an enviable juncture that few teams manage. They can drop players in and out with little overall effect to the way in which the team performs – such is the strength of the squad, but more importantly, the game plan they have all staunchly bought into. Would Perisic have had the same impact had he secured his “dream” move to Manchester United instead of Bayern? Would he bollocks.

Flick has turned a bunch of very good individual players into a fantastic team. A team that will have to be well below par not to take home the Champions League trophy on Sunday.

 

Will Ford is on Twitter