Barcelona duly completed a 5-3 aggregate victory over Bayern Munich in their Champions League Semi-Final, but not before surviving an early scare when Bayern defender Medhi Benati claimed an early seventh minute headed goal to offer the German team some hope of overhauling the 3-0 deficit from the first leg in Spain. Nobody could fault the efforts of the Bayern attackers in eventually earning a 3-2 second leg victory but it was the first half performance of Luis Suarez which was arguably the difference between the two teams.
Controversy has dogged the career of the Uruguayan striker especially with his well-documented biting incidents both at club and international level. After signing for Barcelona from Liverpool last year, his seasonal debut for the Catalan team was delayed due to an infamous incident with Italian Giorgio Chilellini during the 2014 World Cup, but he has since joined the formidable partnership of Lionel Messi and Neymar in the Barca attack.
On Tuesday evening, when Bayern Munich had claimed the early opening goal and the home fans in the Allianz Arena were sensing an unlikely comeback by their team, Suarez demonstrated not just his exemplary work rate in attack but also his ability to play off the shoulder of the nearest defender.
Bayern manager Pep Guardiola could perhaps be accused of allowing Suarez too much freedom by concentrating on an attack-minded formation but nobody could deny the role of the Uruguayan with his involvement in both Barcelona first half goals scored by Neymar. On each occasion, he timed his forward run to perfection to accept passes from midfield and then unselfishly guided the ball towards the unmarked Brazilian. At one stage during the opening period, Suarez flicked the ball over the head of his marker Benatia and then swivelled to run past the unsuspecting bemused Bayern defender.
As Barcelona sought to relieve the pressure on their own goal area, Suarez tended to provide the link between defence and attack and the inter-passing between Messi, Neymar proved a challenging task for the Bayern defence.
However, Bayern Munich did have their moments. Barcelona’s German-born goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen produced two fine first half saves to deny the home attack and when Suarez was replaced by Pedro at the interval, the German team assumed control of the match and claimed victory on the night with two further goals netted by Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller. It can be argued that Barcelona ‘coasted’ the second half such was their aggregate lead but they certainly missed the influence of Suarez in attack with Messi reduced to a role of onlooker at times as Bayern sought an improbable result.
Barcelona can now look forward to a Champions League final in Berlin while a domestic double is also still achievable assuming that a planned professional football strike in Spain can be averted. They will now hope that Suarez can recover from the minor hamstring strain which enforced his half-time withdrawal on Tuesday evening.