Bayern Munich – The Group Stages

Arjen RobbenDespite the fact they must have been seething at losing the Champions` League Final on their own pitch just a few months earlier it didn`t show as Bayern Munich began their quest for redemption with the opening game of Group F at that same Allianz Arena against Valencia.

It was to be the perfect start for Bayern. Bastian Schweinsteiger scored with a fierce cross shot, which may have taken the slightest of deflections, just before the interval.

Tony Kroos then made it 2-0 with a stunning 25 yard strike in the second half before Valencia pulled a goal back with a Valdez header that beat Neuer just inside the post to ensure a three point haul for the Bavarian club seeking its third Champions` League Final in four years.

Munich were to be grateful for that winning start as Match day 2 didn`t go at all to plan.

Bayern dominated the first half and Tony Kroos hit a post but they couldn`t prevent BATE Borisov from racing into a 3-0 lead that stunned the visitors. Alyaksandr Pawlaw gave the Belarussian side a 23rd minute lead then Vitali Rodionow made it 2-0, 12 minutes from time. Renan Bressan completed the scoring for BATE and if Frank Ribery hadn`t managed an injury time consolation goal who knows what the consequences might have been for Jupp Heynckes` players. Bayern`s caution in sitting back because of the threat of BATE`s counter attacking was to be their undoing. The unexpected reverse ended Bayern`s nine-game winning streak, in all competitions and stopped them from achieving a new club record with ten consecutive victories.

Putting that shock set back behind them Bayern went to Lille where they could only manage a 1-0 win, courtesy of Thomas Muller`s penalty just short of the midway point in the first half. Philipp Lahn`s drive into the Lille penalty area `bought` what can only be described as a fortuitous spot kick award graciously bestowed by Premier League referee Martin Atkinson.

Week 4 of the Champions` League produced a more expected result against Lille than the game in France and Bayern ran out convincing winners, 6-1.Claudio Pizarro ran in a first half hat-trick, his treble came inside 15 minutes, and further goals from Schweinsteiger, Arjan Robben, both free-kicks, and Toni Kroos inflicted a heaviest ever defeat on Lille in European competition. Although the win took Bayern to the top of Group F their coach didn`t seem overly impressed. Jupp Heynckes admitted afterwards it had been a performance of contrasting halves by his players. `Outstanding in the first half, but our opponents were not really all there today`.

With both Bayern and Valencia seeking progress from the group, indeed the La Liga club were already there due to BATE`s defeat earlier in the day to Lille, it was no surprise that they played out a draw, 1-1, at the Mestalla in week five of the qualifying group. Despite losing Antonio Barragan to a first half red card Valencia went 1-0 up through Sofiane Feghouli 13 minutes from time but a late Thomas Muller equaliser meant both teams reached the knock-out stages.

With progress assured that left Bayern with just one job to accomplish, revenge for their shock defeat in the Ukraine on Match day two. The home side ensured, with ruthless efficiency, that there would be no repeat. Mario Gomez, one of seven changes on the night for the German side, opened the scoring for Munich with his first goal in the competition. Further goals from Thomas Muller, Xherdan Shaqiri and David Alaba ensured that Bayern went through as Group F winners, despite a 90th minute consolation goal from Egor Filipenko. Both sides finished with ten men as Jerome Boateng, just after half-time, for a bad challenge and Denis Polyakov, on 69 minutes, were both given red cards.

Despite earning more favourable opponents, and avoiding the likes of Barcelona and Manchester United in the Last 16, by finishing as group winners the Bayern achievement was lauded with an `air punching` response from Heynckes who said afterwards. “Our primary goal was to win the game and with it the group. We did that in an impressive manner. I think we can be satisfied with the performance.”