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Real Madrid v Bayern München - UEFA Champions League
Image: Getty Images/D. Ramos

UCL: Ulreich the fall guy as Bayern succumb to Real

May 2, 2018

Sven Ulreich has exceeded expectations as Manuel Neuer's long-term replacement at Bayern Munich. But one ghastly moment at the Bernabeu will haunt him as Bayern Munich fall short in the Champions League once again.


If Bayern Munich felt they were mugged last week, they must now feel that they willingly handed over their PIN to their assailant, after a howler from Sven Ulreich ended the German champions' hunt for another treble on Tuesday night in Madrid.

There was to be no fairytale ending for Jupp Heynckes, who bows out from Champions League football at the hands of the club with whom he first tasted success in the competition. Instead we were left with the most entertaining of horror stories, with Ulreich at its heart.

Read more: Benzema double dashes Bayern Munich's treble dream

A game that had all the quality lacking in last week's clash, along with generous helpings of chaos and comedy, ended 2-2 and puts Zinedine Zidane's side on the cusp of a third straight Champions League and Bayern having lost their last four semifinals in the competition.

"If you look at both games, it's apparent we were the best team but we were unable to reach the final, I'm very disappointed," said Heynckes after the match.

First blood to Bayern

The hosts started at a standstill, allowing the visitors to peg them back and conceding in the third minute when Joshua Kimmich scored against Los Merengues for the second successive game.

Champions League Real Madrid - Bayern München Benzema 1:1 Ulreich
Bayern concede just eight minutes after taking the lead. The Bavarians were guilty of isolated defensive errors in both legs.Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Gebert

But the men in white are in possession of a rare resilience and reacted to the setback not with blood and thunder but with control, composure and, after 11 minutes, an equaliser. The goal was born of a similarly sweeping move to Bayern's opener that ended when Marcelo picked out Karim Benzema, who nodded in at the back post.

The Bernabeu erupted. But there was an uneasiness in the steep, packed stands. Bayern were on top for long swathes of the game and Zinedine Zidane was prowling the very edge of his technical area, almost stepping on the pitch to intervene when Raphael Varane was brought down just before the break.

Ulreich blunder

Enter Ulreich. The back up keeper has excelled during Manuel Neuer's absence but will now be remembered for that moment just after half-time. The 29-year-old considered picking up a back pass before changing his mind too late and allowing it to drift idly by him. He could then only turn, stumble and watch - like a man seeing the door slam after realising he'd left his keys in the house - as Benzema tapped in to an empty net. At least he'll know how Rafinha feels now.

"He has actually played a marvellous season," said Heynckes of his keeper. "He had a little blackout, he got confused and wasn't sure he could pick it up with his hands. Then he realised he couldn't and got nervous. It's a terrible thing for a player to live through such a moment."

But, like Rafinha, Ulreich will have to live with it. For Bayern, this pulsating contest was a lesson in how costly mistakes can be when margins are so fine. The Bavarians were the better side over two legs and looked likely winners after James Rodriguez' equalizer, but must now hope Niko Kovac can succeed where Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti and Heynckes have failed and win a first Champions League since 2013.

Uncertain future

The Eintracht Frankfurt boss may have to do it without some of this team's most consistent performers; the futures of Robben and Ribery are unclear and rumors persist that Robert Lewandowski will be playing much more of his football at the Bernabeu soon.

Heynckes is right to believe that, despite their injuries, his charges did enough to win the tie. But it's Zidane's men that actually got the job done. They are the masters of somehow doing just enough.

"If you're unable to get through the difficult moments you can't win," the French boss said in his post-match press conference. "And when you do win after suffering the difficult moments, it's great. It's true it's a bit tough on the heart...but we'll have time to rest later on."

Fußball Champions League FC Bayern - Real Madrid
Lewandowski has failed to win the Champions League with Bayern, who have now lost their last four semis in the competition.Image: Reuters/M. Dalder

The fundamental quality that makes Zidane's side so successful is difficult to grasp. Real often seem to be lacking in a system, preferring to rely on individuals to make decisive contributions at critical moments. But it works, even if the individual must sometimes be an opponent. To win the odd game in this fashion could be dismissed as a fluke but Madrid keep doing it on the biggest of stages.

"This club has a very long tradition of victories and we are contributing to it, we're writing this part of history, as others have done before. One (tradition) is that Madrid never give up."

Heynckes will finally give up soon enough though, and after this defeat will come the inevitable inquest and concerns for the future. But the truth, as the 72-year-old suggested, is that there's little soul searching required. Had Ulreich not had the costliest of brain fades, had Alaba recovered quickly enough to make the first leg or had one of Bayern's desperate late assaults bounced kindly, they'd be looking at hotels in Kiev.

But as those in red shirts lay prone on the pitch while their opponents headed to soak up the deafening adulation, it was clear that will be of no consolation.

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