Power Serge Gnabry double fires Germans into final
Lyon 0 Bayern Munich 3 Gnabry 18 33, Lewandowski 88
If management is truly an advanced science, then how do you begin to explain the mystery of Serge Gnabry?
Last night the winger put Bayern Munich in sight of stitching a sixth European star into the famous red jersey, scoring his eighth and ninth goals of a stellar Champions League run to catapult his side into Sunday’s final against Paris St-Germain.
In dominating Lyon, he was, not for the first time in this longest of seasons, irresistible. And yet five years ago, Tony Pulis regarded Gnabry as surplus to requirements at West Bromwich Albion.
“But can he do it on a rainy night at Stoke?” is a question often asked of the game’s most extravagant talents. Pulis, ultimately, did not even trust him with a grimy shift at the Britannia. Not that Gnabry, with another wonderful strike here, should care unduly. His rebuke to unimaginative English management was to reach the final at Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz with a man-of-the-match performance.
Not that Pulis was the only offender in neglecting Gnabry’s talents, of course. Arsene Wenger mentored him for five years at Arsenal, eventually concluding that the German “lacked a bit”. This was an evening, then, for Gnabry to pour the most scalding scorn upon the Frenchman’s verdict.
Bayern, to be sure, are Europe’s most deftly-tuned machine under the aegis of Hans-Dieter Flick. A manager originally envisaged only as a caretaker after Nico Kovac’s sacking has restored the club to the glory years of Jupp Heynckes, when the Champions League triumph of 2013 sealed the rarest of trophy trebles. But his side seldom needed to move out of third gear to dispatch a fragile Lyon.
“We know that we need to defend better for the final,” said Flick, with 31 wins from 34 games in charge. “But we know our biggest strength is putting our opponents under pressure.”
PSG should be under no illusions as to the scale of challenge they confront. While their route to the final has been smoothed by Qatari billions, Bayern’s starting XI last night cost a mere £80million.
They have the pedigree to be ranked outstanding favourites. Any side that puts seven past Chelsea in two legs and eight beyond Barce
lona is one that should be deemed prospective winners. They have no discernible weakness, becoming the first to win 10 consecutive Champions League games.
Barcelona’s record of 45 goals in a single European season, set 20 years ago, could be theirs if they put four past the Parisians.
Alphonso Davies, their precocious left-back, is learning fast as an integral part of the Bayern juggernaut. “These guys have basically won everything, but they’re still excited,” he said. “They’re still hungry to win this one. Making it to the final is everything you can ask for.”
As they proved against Manchester City, Lyon have scant respect for reputation. Mindful that any chances given up by Bayern would be precious and fleeting, they eschewed caution, running at the German champions with pace and intent. It almost yielded early reward, as Maxence Caqueret slid through the perfect pass for Memphis Depay to split Bayern’s centrebacks. The Dutchman should have made the moment count, had he shown a shade more composure to round Manuel Neuer.
If this first slip-up was costly, the second was crucial. When Karl Toko Ekambi found his shot blocked by Davies, he had to score with the rebound, but his despairing reaction as he watched his shot crash into the near post spoke volumes.
Seconds later, Joshua Kimmich floated the ball over Maxwel Cornet to find Gnabry in space and the winger sliced his way infield and rifled a left-foot strike past Anthony Lopes with impeccable precision. “We struggled for the first few minutes,” Gnabry acknowledged. “My goal came at the right time to give us confidence.”
In that instant, Lyon’s mentality shifted from purposeful attack to a desperation not to concede a second. Bayern sensed blood and set about devouring their prey whole.
Ivan Perisic swung in a devilish cross for Robert Lewandowski, whose effort ricocheted off Lopes and into Gnabry’s path and the 25-year-old’s ninth goal of a stunning Champions League campaign could scarcely have been simpler.
To be sure, Lyon needed sharper instincts up front than those shown by the hapless Ekambi. Houssem Aouar squared a brilliant pass for the Cameroonian, who could only lash it into Neuer’s trailing leg.
Bayern were able to play out what remained of their semi-final essentially as a training game. Philippe Coutinho thought he had applied the final flourish only to be judged marginally offside.
It fell to Lewandowski, fittingly, to plunge the final dagger. The Pole, such a prodigious force throughout Bayern’s Bundesliga campaign, put himself in the perfect position to evade Marcelo and nod in at the far post. From the champions-in-waiting, it was another object lesson in how to make the exceptional look effortless.
Lyon (3-5-2): Lopes 5; Denayer 5, Marcelo 4, Marcal 4; Dubois 6 (Tete 67), Caqueret 5, Guimaraes 6 (Mendes h-t), Aouar 6, Cornet 5; Depay 5 (Dembele 58), Ekambi 3 (Reine-Adelaide 67). Subs Tatarusanu (g), Andersen, Da Silva, Traore, Cherki, Lucas, Bard, Diomande. Booked Marcelo, Marcal, Mendes.
Bayern Munich (4-2-3-1): Neuer 7; Kimmich 7, Boateng 6 (Sule h-t), Alaba 7, Davies 7; Thiago 7 (Tolisso 82), Goretzka 7 (Pavard 82); Gnabry 9 (Coutinho 75), Muller 6, Perisic 6 (Coman 63); Lewandowski 7. Subs Ulreich (g), Odriozola, Martinez, Cuisance, Lucas, Zirkzee, Hoffmann. Referee A Lahoz (Spain).
Joy unbounded: Serge Gnabry celebrates after scoring Bayern Munich’s first goal with a brilliant finish after a fine move against Lyon