Updated: 2 days ago
Once revered in these parts, Robert Lewandowski returned to Munich in Barcalona colors. But it was not a happy homecoming as Bayern outmuscled Barcelona to show that life is still bright without their old talisman.
Hasan Salihamidzic, Bayern Munich's sporting director, had put his reputation on the line by letting the club's record goalscorer leave the club – so this victory against Barcelona and Robert Lewandowski in the Champions League was rich in symbolism.
Lewandowski's swift early-season return was met with a fusion of cheers and jeers as the Pole emerged from the tunnel for the warm-up, showing that while he may have once been footballing royalty in Bavaria, he was most definitely behind enemy lines here. By the time he rushed out of the stadium after the game, he didn't stop as he simply told reporters: "It wasn't so easy".
This early-season meeting was a chance for Lewandowski to demonstrate that he was right to dig his heels in for a move. For Bayern, victory against Barcelona, albeit a creaking version of the old giant, would be a milestone for all involved in the post-Lewandowski era at Bayern – not least for the man who sanctioned his sale.
- Advertisement -
"The plan was to make a lot of changes, to leave those two pandemic years behind us, but we had different ways of implementing it,” Salihamidzic told the Athletic this week. "It was obvious that (Lewandowski) was thinking about a move but without having top replacements available, we wouldn't have agreed (to let him go),"
A like-for-like replacement for Lewandowski was never going to happen, with Bayern keeping spending closely aligned to money recouped in player sales. "We couldn't spend money we didn't have before. We don't do crazy things at this club," Salihamidzic added. The hope was that the vacuum left by the Pole would allow the talents of Leroy Sane, Thomas Müller, Serge Gnabry, Jamal Musiala and new recruit Sadio Mane to be uncorked.
Bayern went into this one without a league win in three so the pressure was on to deliver at home. While there were some shaky moments for Bayern, this was generally a controlled performance. Barcelona's best two chances both involved Lewandowski; the first a back post header by the Pole that was repelled by Manuel Neuer, the second a slaloming run by Pedri and an exchange of passes with Lewandowski – but Pedri could only hit the base of the post.
Stepping out of Lewandowski's shadow
This was a game played at break-neck speed. It was an intense battle between two teams in transition, even if Bayern are far further down that path. Bayern's new-look forward-line ultimately eclipsed what Barcelona could muster, with Ousmane Dembele's pace and nimble-footedness threatening more than it actually delivered. Barcelona's attacks often started with promise but fizzled into nothingness, whereas Bayern had a sharp end to match the artistry of Musiala in attacking midfield. The teenager was outstanding again, now delivering time and time again in the biggest games.
- Advertisement -
Bayern seized control of the game in the space of five dizzying minutes at the start of the second half. First Lucas Hernandez powered in a header in true Lewandowski style, then Musiala played in Leroy Sane, whose measured finish took the game out of Barcelona's reach. By the time Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez brought on Ferran Torres and Ansu Fati in the hope of turning the tide, there was a sense that Barcelona were never going to score.
All that led to Salihamidzic smiling from ear to ear at full-time. While this wasn't another 8-2 or a seismic win against a vintage Barcelona, it was a victory of vindication for him and for coach Julian Nagelsmann on a night when Bayern stepped a little further out of the shadow of their iconic No.9.
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia