Pep Guardiola’s side fell in the Champions League semifinals for the third straight year. Athough there are mixed feelings about his reign, match-going fans didn’t seem to hold him responsible for Tuesday’s exit.
Bayern Munich’s second leg against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League was a match Jochen Selig was not going to miss. The 25-year-old season ticket holder from Aichach, a town about 60 kilometers from Munich, arrived not long after the gates opened, keen to see what Bayern’s season-defining match would deliver. He had witnessed first hand the semifinal defeats to Real Madrid and Barcelona in 2014 and 2015, and he hoped it would not happen again.
“I will be very disappointed [if Bayern don’t advance], but we believe we can get out of this round,” Selig told DW. “This is very important for us because we haven’t played well against Spanish teams in the last two years.”
The club’s last two semifinal losses are the two big stains on Pep Guardiola’s coaching career with Bayern. The Spaniard leaves to take over at Manchester City this summer and Tuesday night was his last chance to get Bayern to their first Champions League final since the club won the treble in 2013.
Despite a 1-0 loss in the first leg, hope was etched on the faces of the Bayern fans ahead of the game in the Allianz Arena. But so was apprehension and doubt as the fear of another semifinal exit hung in the air.
“We do not always understand the [team] he sends onto the field. Thomas Müller doesn’t play in Madrid, and we all want to see Thomas Müller.”
The public got what they wanted as Müller returned to the starting eleven, but in a cruel twist of fate it was Müller who missed the best chance to put both the game and the tie in Bayern’s control.
Guardiola keeping his cool
If Guardiola was worried about what this match meant for his Bayern legacy, he certainly did not show it. The coach stayed in the dugout for the first seven minutes of the match while his counterpart, Diego Simeone, was on the edge of his technical area.
When Xabi Alonso put Bayern ahead wiht a deflected first half free kick, the Bayern bench erupted in jubilation. In contrast though, the man in charge calmly emerged from his dugout, blew a kiss to someone in the crowd, and tentatively pumped his fist.
That sense of cautious optimism stuck with Guardiola, but the confidence of the home crowd behind him increased dramatically. The vast majority of the stadium celebrated every Bayern corner and unleashed an eardrum-piercing whistle every time Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak took his time over a goal kick. Whatever animosity the Bayern fans had about Guardiola was put on hold, for their coach seemed to have found the right formula to get their beloved club back to the Champions League final.
“This is Pep Guardiola,” Selig said at half time. “We always play like this. I have never seen Atletico in this much trouble in defense.”
Griezmann dashes hopes
The energy the home fans were producing came to an abrupt halt the minute Antoine Griezmann scored an equalizer. Fans that had previously had trouble sitting for more than a minute at a time were suddenly slumped in their seats. The optimism the supporters felt in the first half was sucked out of them as they recognized the two-goal mountain they had to climb.
WIth fifteen minutes left, Robert Lewandowski turned the volume back up but the fan’s resurgence turned to frustration as Atletico’s time wasting came into full effect. The discontent filtered down to Guardiola, who began giving fourth referee Serkan Ok an earful about several Bayern fouls. The calmness of the first half was a distant memory.
As the match came to its frantic end, Guardiola could only look on, much like Selig and the rest of the Bayern fans, as one scoring chance after another fluttered away for the home side. When referee Cüneyt Cakir whistled for full time, Guardiola was down the tunnel in a flash as disappointment radiated through a stadium of disheartened fans.
Guardiola’s all was enough for the Bayern fans
Dejected at this stage for the third year in a row, fans filtered back out of the ground. Some were so frustrated they kicked the flags that had been used for their pre-game choreography. But the hostile display of emotion was not directed at Guardiola. There was just a sense of sadness regarding the misfortune Bayern suffered in the game.
“I am very disappointed. We were so close to winning, and Atletico had one good chance. One good chance,” a visibly distressed Selig said to me afterwards. “Guardiola did nothing wrong today. It was not his mistake.”
Many Bayern fans might disagree, but when asked if the result would change his perspective on Guardiola’s time in Munich, Selig shook his head. “No, not for me, but it will change for many people. Everyone who saw the game today saw Bayern were phenomenal. At least we were only one goal away. On the whole, it was important for Bayern Munich that Pep Guardiola was here for three years.”
Guardiola looked resigned after the match, accepting the result and ignoring any talk of his Champions League shortcomings affecting his time in Germany. “I gave my life to these players in the past few years,” he said afterwards. “People can say what they want. I am very proud.”
Bayern delivered the performance, if not the result and so perhaps although Bayern lost, for many Bayern fans, Selig included, Guardiola might have won.