It was the night Bayern Munich’s treble dream died, but the sight of Arjen Robben limping from the field 16 minutes into his comeback may well be the longest-lasting legacy from Tuesday’s penalty loss to Borussia Dortmund.
While Barcelona was busy banging half-a-dozen goals past Getafe, Bayern’s DFB Pokal run was ended at the semifinal stage after a comically poor showing in the shootout. More crucially, Bundesliga champions have now lost their Dutch star just a week before facing the Catalans in the last four of the UEFA Champions League.
It really couldn’t have gone any worse for Josep Guardiola.
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"We are a different team without Robben and Franck Ribery fit, but we have to adapt to the current circumstances," said Guardiola recently as his two wide men stepped up their recoveries from respective abdominal and ankle problems.
Following the controversial recent exit of club doctor Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt, the last thing the Spaniard needed was another notable injury. And especially not now. Robben’s return was meant to be a step forward. It was supposed to be a turning point for the better as Bayern looked to peak at the business end of the season having clinched the Bundesliga title at the weekend.
But their campaign could crumble in no time at all. A league title is all well and good, but realistically speaking it is the minimum requirement given their resources in comparison to the rest of Germany. They must also throw their weight around in Europe to placate the critics. So it was no surprise that there was a collective groan of despondency at the sight of Robben sitting disconsolately on the turf clutching at his calf. The home fans could barely bring themselves to clap as the Dutchman left the field soon after.
Despite their precarious treble hopes being on a knife-edge with the score tied at 1-1, the result was no longer the most important part of the night. Robben’s exit and the inevitable spell on the sidelines to follow were all that mattered, and the supporters had every right to think beyond the match still unfolding in front of them.
Because while the DFB Pokal is always a target — Bayern had won the last two editions — the Champions League crown will always be a bigger goal, and the outcome of next week’s clash with Barcelona will command far more column inches than this setback when the reviews of their 2014-15 season come to be written.
It was perhaps fitting that the final images of the evening were of Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso prone on the turf, mimicking the fate of Robben earlier in proceedings. Bayern is out of the DFB Pokal and have just one more target left to reach, but a Champions League success has never looked further away than it does right now.
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