SRINIVAS SADHANAND |26th February 2020

Serge Gnabry was at the front and center of a Bayern Munich blitz as the Bavarian juggernauts annihilated Chelsea in front of a Stamford Bridge crowd that ached for a repetition of the famous clash in the 2012 Champions League final. History, however, did not repeat itself as the seemingly indomitable spirit of this youthful outfit, spearheaded by youth products such as Mason Mount and Reece James was torn to shreds by the sheer footballing prowess of Germany’s finest.

Bayern proved to be everything Chelsea aspire to be- fluid, relentless and assured. This is no slight on Frank Lampard’s long-term Chelsea project, but rather a much-needed reality check during his short managerial career of the levels his side must aim to attain to climb the top of the European ladder.

Three goals to the good away from home, courtesy of a Gnabry brace and a Lewandowski tap-in as well as a late Marcos Alonso sending off to add to the Blues’ misery meant Hansi Flick and his band of boys are certified a merry flight back to Munich and more importantly, a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Unless of course, Chelsea pull of the unthinkable; something that isn’t far-fetched in a competition that’s as box-office as any.

‘Hoof it to Giroud and hope for the best’

Make no mistake about it, Chelsea have everything in their locker to play teams off the park. However, Bayern stifled the heartbeat of what has made the hosts tick this season; Jorginho and Mateo Kovačić pulling strings in midfield. Once that was over and done with, it was game over.

Numerically, both sides lined up with two-man midfields as Joshua Kimmich and Thiago Alcântara were presented as Bayern’s answers to run the show from the middle of the park. The difference proved to be a tireless Thiago, in particular who patrolled the back four with perfection from his deep-lying midfield role, topping the charts for ball recoveries in the game with 16 to his name along with the vigorous off-the ball work done by the likes of Serge Gnabry, Thomas Müller and Kingsley Coman; hounding Chelsea’s midfield quartet of Jorginho, Kovačić, Barkley and Mount in deeper areas which ensured that time and space were hard commodities to come by.

With Willy Cabellero hoofing the ball up to Olivier Giroud as Bayern’s concentrated packs of pressing snuffed out any attempts to play the ball out from the back, the Frenchman battled on against Jérôme Boateng in the air valiantly, but predictably to no avail. There were too many hopeful balls forward and to Giroud’s credit, he made the best of the limited service at hand.

After all, ‘hit and hope’ isn’t a vital tactic to overcome one of Europe’s elite and it proved to be gospel in perhaps the harshest possible way for Chelsea.

Serge Gnabry and London: Name a more iconic duo

Imagine saying that when Serge Gnabry was getting stick from none other than Tony Pulis at West Brom and you’d giftwrap Football Twitter with the ammo to vilify you in the ruthless online bubble where they call all the shots. Fast forward to 2020 and the German wideman is perhaps Die Mannschaft’s brightest hope at the European Championships this year after a second coming like no other at Bayern Munich.

In the first 45, Gnabry was quiet by his own standards, struggling to bypass the physical presence of Reece James. However, the former Arsenal man looked far from bogged down as he worked his socks off from the get-go, refusing to give Chelsea’s creators-in chief even a moment of breathing space. The fruits of his labor on the defensive side of things almost translated further forward when his peach of a cross was headed onto the post by the mercurial Müller. As the 2nd half kicked off, Gnabry had arrived and for all to see.

As Thiago clipped the ball for Gnabry, the Germany international slid through a terrific pass for Robert Lewandowski after César Azpilicueta slipped, with the Polish No. 9 returning the favor with an exquisite cut-back as Gnabry opened the scoring for Bayern. He wasn’t done, however as yet another sublime piece of link-up play between the pair saw Gnabry through on goal and finish expertly to sink Chelsea into what were already testing waters. While he could have even bagged a treble, not much can be said to deter Gnabry’s performance on an evening when he was simply unplayable.

With all his goals in the competition coming against Spurs and Chelsea, it’s safe to say that Gnabry saves his best for London.

Alphonso Davies: Best left-back in the world?

Serge Gnabry may be on the back pages of all the newspapers, but discounting Alphonso Davies’ display would be a disservice to what was an absolute masterclass. The Canadian prodigy’ has reveled in his newfound left-back role this season and in the biggest match of his short career, Davies showed the world that he not only looked the part but also played it in electrifying fashion.

Bombing up and down the pitch, Davies’ intricate give-and-go’s on the left-flank became a nuisance for Reece James to halt as the ex-MLS star’s pace was impossible to handle. Completing an astounding 6 dribbles, it was one of the 19-year old’s bursts, after a swift one-two with Phillippe Coutinho that left James for dead and Andreas Christensen on the floor as Davies set the ball on a plate for Lewandowski to make it three goals to the good for the visitors.

Defensively, Davies left no stone unturned as his speed and physicality came to the fore in particular when he chased down Mount when he was running through on goal. Finishing the game by winning 8 duels out of 10 in the bag, this was a complete performance and perhaps one of the best individual showings by a left-back in a long time.

Comparisons with Liverpool’s Andy Robertson will roll on and rightly so as Alphonso Davies has made the position his own this campaign.

Lewandowski turned provider

Prior to this game, Robert Lewandowski had 38 goals to his name in 32 matches this season; a staggering goal tally, but one that has come to be expected of the best No. 9 in world football. However, Lewandowski underwent a role reversal this evening as he was at hand for laying a pair of impeccable assists for Gnabry to put past Caballero.

For the first goal, Lewy’s assist was a lesson in decision-making. As Gnabry put the Poland skipper through, observers expected the ball to ripple the back of the net, however Lewandowski’s exquisite pullback was testament to a footballing brain that was designed for the elite. Lewandowski’s second assist was also one that any of Bayern’s midfield maestros would be proud of as he guided the ball in Gnabry’s path and the German made no mistake.

To cap off a fine evening, Bayern’s go-to-goalscorer did what he does best by finishing an incredible move as Davies run the Chelsea defence ragged.

Make that 39 in 33 for Lewa.

A harsh footballing lesson for Lampard to takes notes from

Frank Lampard has done a brilliant job in his first season as Chelsea boss and leading a youth-driven movement for the future, there’s bound to be slip-ups along the way and their 0-3 loss to Bayern proved to be their lowest low of the season. The simple fact of the matter is that the Bundesliga champions were head and shoulders above his side in all areas across the pitch and there is no running away from it.

Lampard held his hands up and acknowledged the undeniable state of affairs that ultimately decided the tie.

“The performance was poor and sometimes you have to be brutally honest. They outclassed us in every department and it’s quite sobering.”

The aim should be to dissect what went wrong, how to improve it, embrace the experience of the heat of a Champions League battle that his young team fought amidst and play with pride in the 2nd leg.