There is no Bayern Munich Champions League visit to Stamford Bridge without the Chelsea songs recalling that final almost eight years ago that marked the high point of Frank Lampard’s playing career, and this match demonstrated the much changed status of the two clubs since then.
This was a night when Chelsea were made to look like one of the lightweights of the round of 16, for whom the rest of this competition seems destined to be played without. Two more goals in London this season for the erstwhile Arsenal prodigy Serge Gnabry, and another added to the mountainous goalscoring pile of Robert Lewandowski, mean that Chelsea go to Munich next month hoping for a miracle perhaps greater than the famous comeback of 2012.
They could not live with this Bayern side who cruised through the final stages against 10 men in the home shirts following the dismissal of Marcos Alonso for an arm thrust into the face of Lewandowski late on in the game. If elimination is to be Chelsea’s fate in Germany then these are the worst kind of Champions League knockout defeats, when the second leg feels like a formality and the tie itself has never really been in doubt across 180 minutes.
Bayern had more than 60 per cent of the possession, and that was accounting for a late rally from Chelsea who found themselves overwhelmed much the same way as Tottenham Hotspur had at the hands of the same opponents in the group stages. Gnabry has scored six goals in London this season alone which is more, it was pointed out, than Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette has scored in the city in the same period.
A bruising night for Lampard who tried to contain Bayern but picked a team that found themselves gradually ground down until the goals came for the away side in the second half. A question of where Chelsea’s season goes from here with a team that needs refreshing and lots of players whose time to leave is long overdue.
This tie was always likely to prove a test that Lampard’s hitherto young side, now very much reinforced with an older generation as the season starts to take its toll, would find among their most severe, and so it proved. Their manager stuck with the team that had beaten Tottenham Hotspur, which meant there were nominally three at the back but for the majority of the first half that became five as Bayern controlled the ball high up the pitch.
This is a strong Bayern team, as demonstrated by that 7-2 demolition of Spurs in north London in October and more recently unbeaten in their last 11 games in all domestic competitions. Jerome Boateng and David Alaba form an experienced and powerful centre to the defence and then in the middle of midfield it is Thiago Alcantara who makes the whole operation tick. It was he who asked the biggest questions of Chelsea in the first half with a long ball through to Robert Lewandowski that the great Polish goalscorer took early with his left foot, stopped by the chest of Willy Caballero.
There was no purchase in the game for Chelsea in midfield where they were hustled out of their shape every time they had the ball, and Lampard would often stand at the edge of the touchline trying to encourage his players to be calm in possession. There was no progress made down the flanks by Reece James or Marcos Alonso, the latter back in the team with Olivier Giroud as Lampard tries to give his side the benefit of some seniority.
Both of that pair would, ideally, have departed in the previous transfer window and there was something of the improvised about this side, even in victory over Spurs. Bayern, on the other hand, are a team in the advanced stages of their progression. They looked much more comfortable and they dominated the possession in the first half with 68 per cent of the ball. They also had the best first half chance when Thomas Muller connected with Serge Gnabry’s cross, a strange header which he allowed to strike the side of his head as he spun away from goal. It felt like the harder of the options open to Muller and although the ball eluded Caballero, it struck the bar.
Just one good chance for Chelsea before the break, when Barkley spotted a gap in the Bayern defence down the left channel and picked out the run of Mason Mount who dragged his shot wide. Mount had worked hard for his chances, of which there were few, and learned early on that he would be better not getting into a race with Alphonso Davies, the Bayern left-back.
The two Gnabry goals owed much to the sharpness of thought that he shares with Lewandowski, on both occasions the pair of them one step ahead of the rest of the pack. The first was created by Thiago in the middle of the pitch and went from Gnabry to Lewandowski and back again via a cut-back from the left side for the man latterly of West Bromwich Albion and others to score.
The second was another thrilling exchange in midfield after Lewandowski won the original header, received the ball back, and his throughball was brushed past Caballero and into the far corner by Gnabry. This was football at a very different level to anything that Giroud or Barkley were capable of conjuring up between them. In the minutes that followed Lampard tried again with the substitutes Abraham, Willian and Pedro all coming on from the bench.
In response, Lewandowski scored his 39th goal for Bayern in 33 matches this season, a goal most memorable for the run of Davies down the left wing when the Canada international was past two tackles in the blink of an eye. It had got to the stage where Chelsea looked frankly overwhelmed and that was before Alonso was sent off for an arm flapped in the face of Lewandowski.
The French referee Clement Turpin consulted the screen and decided that Alonso had indeed intended the contact with the Bayern striker. It was a bleak end for Lampard, who had to improvise a team in the closing stages that could barely land a punch, and it was all much too late anyway.