Villarreal’s Champions League run continues as Bayern Munich waste key chances

MUNICH, Germany – The Allianz Arena speakers blasted “Bitter Sweet Symphony” and “The Show Must Go On” as soon as the final whistle blew on Bayern Munich’s Champions League hopes of another season, but they would not have heard any of these sad songs in the small section that houses the Villarreal fans.

They were too busy celebrating their team’s overall 2-1 victory, which secured a place in the Champions League semi-finals. Once again, Unai Emery’s remarkable side had shocked a European superpower. Last week’s 1-0 win over Bayern at El Madrigal was followed by a 1-1 draw here in Germany, giving “Yellow Submarine” a semi-final date against either Liverpool or Benfica.

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Leading 3-1 from the first match in Lisbon, Liverpool are almost certain to confirm themselves as Villarreal’s opponents in the last four when they host the return against the Portuguese team at Anfield on Wednesday. Even the most cautious Liverpool supporter will celebrate Villarreal’s progress – just as bad as Bayern Munich were over the two legs, they are still the six-time tournament winners and multi-year Bundesliga champions. And Villarreal are, what they have always been, a team that beats far beyond their weight.

They are a club from a city with a population of only 51,000 – less than half the capacity of Barcelona’s Camp Nou – and had never won a major trophy before last season’s dramatic penalty shootout victory over Manchester United in the Europa League final in Gdansk , Poland. That win gave Villarreal last place in this season’s Champions League and they have certainly got the best out of it. Emery’s team surprised Juventus in Turin to eliminate the Italian giants in the round of 16 and they have now beaten Bayern.

“If you want to achieve anything in this competition, you have to beat the big teams,” Emery said. “We took the first step [in the last 16] with Juventus. With Bayern, we analyzed the match well. “

For Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann, no matter what he achieves domestically this season, his first year as Bayern coach will be considered unsuccessful because of this result, something he even admitted.

“We are out of the German Cup, out of the Champions League. I do not think this is good enough for Bayern. We had the semi-finals as our minimum goal and we did not manage to reach it,” said Nagelsmann. “It counts as one of my top three defeats.”

But Villarreal continues. In less than 12 months, this small club from a small town in north-eastern Spain has beaten Manchester United, Juventus and Bayern Munich – iconic clubs with 11 Champions League titles in between. So Liverpool – if it turns out to be Jurgen Klopp’s team – should be wary of underestimating Villarreal because they are a team that is exceptionally well run and organized. They are hardworking and committed and they have a taste for disturbing European football royals.

Arnaut Danjuma’s goal in the first match – Francis Coquelin got another goal excluded by VAR – gave Villarreal a small advantage in this match and it seemed like an impossible task for Emery’s team considering that Bayern with 30 goals in the competition season before kick-off, the top scorers in the Champions League were at a distance, with Manchester City in second place with 24 goals. Bayern create chances and score goals, but they did not score in Spain, and Emery’s game plan for this match was clear from the start – a tightly packed defense with barely touching distance between the four backs and midfield when defending. At one point in the first half, all Villarreal players were behind the 18-yard line as they tried to frustrate Bayern and the tactics worked.

But to increase the home team’s annoyance, Villarreal also took every opportunity to kill the match by running down time by wasting time or getting the most out of any challenge that would force one of their players to claim injury. Despite a number of attacking talents who saw them come out with five strikers, Bayern could not break through and Villarreal had the best chances in the first half – both wasted by Danjuma and Gerard Moreno. But when Robert Lewandowski put Bayern ahead and equalized the overall result by completing a Thomas Muller pass after 52 minutes, it seemed inevitable that the home side would win the victory by exploiting the gaps in the Villarreal defense.

Although Bayern made 24 attempts on goal, they could only manage four on goal. Bayern lacked cunning and were just as predictable going forward as Villarreal were with their defensive tactics. Thomas Muller missed an easy chance in the 71st minute and headed Leroy Sane’s cross past from six yards, but Villarreal were never exceeded. They never are. And they also had a counterattack, shown with devastating timing, as substitute Samu Chukwueze hit the offside trap to score from Moreno’s pass after 88 minutes.

It was play, set and battle for Villarreal, and Emery had drawn yet another tactical victory against a highly regarded coach. Emery, who lasted less than two seasons as Arsenal coach, has proven he is a coach of European descent by winning four Europa Leagues – three with Sevilla and one with Villarreal. Can he add a Champions League to his record this season? The odds are against him, but time and time again Villarreal have shown us that it is a risky business to bet against them, no matter how famous their opponents happen to be.

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