It wasn't he prettiest of performances that fans have seen from Bayern Munich this season, but they got the job done, beating Benfica 1-0 at the Allianz Arena in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal tie. They certainly would have preferred to take a larger lead to Portugal for the second leg, but they'll gladly take Arturo Vidal's second-minute strike and hope to put in a better shift next week.
The game got off to a frenetic start when Bayern scored just two minutes into the match, with Juan Bernat looping in a cross to the far post that Vidal ran onto and flicked home with ease. It was a disastrous opening to the game for Benfica, who had hoped to be able to hold out longer and try to catch Bayern Munich out in a mistake. Instead, they made a mistake quickly and were ruthlessly punished for it.
The game slowed down quite a bit after the goal, which normally would favor counter-attacking Benfica, but allowed Bayern to more effectively strangle possession and pick their spots. To their credit, Benfica did an excellent job of defending Bayern's attacks and keeping them at bay, but unless they found a away to change the pace of things, it didn't look good for their chances to level the scoreline.
Benfica would slowly start to pick things up a bit and start to try to find a way back into the match, but every chance they had went south in some way. Nicolas Gaitan would squib a pass or Jonas would sky a shot at close range or Kostas Mitroglu would shoot right at Manuel Neuer or a dozen other things would happen to keep Benfica from capitalizing on their chances.
Fortunately, they kept Bayern pretty well contained as well. Their defense did an excellent job at keeping Bayern at bay, constantly harrying and frustrating and forcing Bayern to do things they didn't want to do with the ball. The Germans looked wasteful on the ball, but the truth was that for the most part it was a result of how the Portuguese side played them -- their game plan defensively was to force Bayern out of their comfort zone, and it worked wonderfully.
No one gave Benfica a chance coming into this match, but they played the exact kind of game that got them this far and got a much better result than many expected for them. The 1-0 final score means the second leg in Portugal next week is going to be a closer and more heated affair than most thought we would see, and it's going to be must-watch football.
Bayern Munich: Manuel Neuer; Philipp Lahm, Joshua Kimmich (Javi Martinez 60'), David Alaba, Juan Bernat; Arturo Vidal, Thiago Alcantara; Douglas Costa (Kingsley Coman 70'), Thomas Müller (Mario Gotze 85'), Franck Ribéry; Robert Lewandowski
Goals: Vidal (2')
Benfica: Ederson; Andre Almeida, Victor Lindelöf, Jardel, Eliseu; Pizzi (Andreas Samaris 90'+1), Ljubomir Fejsa, Renato Sanches, Nicolas Gaitan; Jonas (Edward Salvio 83'), Kostas Mitroglou (Raul Jimenez 70')
Three things we learned
1. You can't give Bayern an inch of space
One tiny mistake in marking while the pace of the match was still building up was all it took for Benfica to give up a goal to Bayern. They were a step slow in picking up Vidal's run into the box from midfield, and that was all the opening they needed to take a second-minute lead. It was an unfortunate lesson for Benfica to learn as they played well afterwards, but you just can't give Bayern any window of opportunity at all.
2. Renato Sanches has a bright future
Despite being just 18 years old and facing off with one of the best teams in the world, Sanches never once looked overawed or out of his depth. He was consistently one of the best players on the pitch for Benfica, if not their best overall, showing a degree of calm and thought while in possession that you almost never see in a player so young in this kind of position. Many already thought Sanches had a bright future in midfield, but this match should have really opened some eyes with how strong he looked.
3. We now have a primer on how to contain Robert Lewandowski
Seriously just look at how Victor Lindelöf and Jardel handled Lewandowski in this match. They kept him almost completely neutralized all day long, and he was thrown so far off balance that even when he did get space and time for a shot, he was ineffective with it every time. The two Benfica defenders put on an absolute clinic in front of goal, and on the few occasions they weren't up to the task, Ederson was on the job between the sticks to clean things up. It was a very impressive defensive display, and one that Benfica should be proud of despite the result. If they can replicate it in the second leg, they might just have a chance.