LISBON: In the space of 90 minutes of devastating attacking football, Bayern Munich totally changed the narrative around this Champions League ‘final eight’ tournament and the impact of their 8-2 humiliation of Barcelona will have an even bigger resonance.
Manchester City were the bookmaker’s pre-tournament favourites but although Pep Guardiola’s side have yet to kick a ball, they have already lost that status to Hansi Flick’s Bavarians.
How could Bayern not be favourites after systematically ripping apart a team which has been the symbol of football excellence for most of the past decade?
City take on Olympique Lyonnais in the last of the four quarter-finals on Saturday but whoever emerges victorious from that clash, their celebrations will be tempered by the knowledge that the Germans will await them in the semi-finals.
One of the reasons that Bayern were considered merely one of the contenders in Lisbon was the sneaking suspicion that they have it too easy in the Bundesliga, where this season they won their eighth consecutive domestic league title and may not be battle-hardened enough for the European elite.
That seems a ridiculously fanciful notion now.
Quique Setien’s Barcelona is clearly not the Barca of Guardiola or even a match for the more modest teams of more recent years, but they still finished second in the Spanish league and beat Inter Milan, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli on their way to the last eight.
And yet, inspired by the rejuvenated Thomas Mueller, and playing a brand of aggressive, high pressing football, Bayern were simply too much for the Catalans.
“We started pretty well but the power of the opponents, in many phases of the play, overran us,” said Setien.
Indeed Bayern made Barcelona look simultaneously an old and jaded team and naive, as they tried to pass their way out against a relentless press.
Flick’s approach was to go for the kill from the outset.
Clearly sensing Barca’s defence was fragile and their midfield lacking the steel to compete effectively, Bayern swarmed players into the forward areas.
In the first half, that was all about the brilliant Mueller but it said much that their sixth goal was the result of a pass from their left-back Alphonso Davies finished by the right-back Joshua Kimmich.
Flick has not, until this game, been considered one of the new wave of German coaches epitomised by Liverpool’s Juergen Klopp, who won the Champions League last year and Paris St Germain’s Thomas Tuchel and RB Leipizig’s 33-year-old Julian Nagelsmann, who will meet in the other semi-final.
Before he replaced the sacked Niko Kovac in November, Flick was known for his detailed planning and meticulous data analysis but had no experience as a Bundesliga head coach, having been surprisingly appointed as Kovac’s assistant at the start of the season.
A former Germany assistant coach to Joachim Loew who helped guide them to the 2014 World Cup title, Flick had then gone over to a German Football Association sports director position.
When Kovac was sacked with the Bavarians outside the leading positions and the team in disarray, Flick’s promotion was merely to be a temporary two-game solution before a big-name replacement was found.
That search was postponed by Flick’s positive start which led to him earning the job on a full-basis.
He now has a record of 31 wins, one draw and only two defeats as Bayern coach.
Flick’s approach was summed up by Mueller.
“Today we wanted to dominate our opponents with our way of playing football right from the start. We were just brutally dominant, especially against the ball,” he said.
Barcelona might not be the only team in Lisbon who find Flick’s brutal domination just too much to cope with.