Bayern Munich are into the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals after a 7-1 thrashing of Red Bull Salzburg completed a 8-2 aggregate success which featured a Robert Lewandowski hat-trick at Allianz Arena on Wednesday.
The Polish superstar was back to his absolute best with a record treble inside of 23 minutes, the fastest hattrick in the history of the tournament, with two of those coming from the penalty spot as he moved level with Sebastien Haller at the top of the scoring charts for this edition.
Serge Gnabry, Thomas Muller (two) and Leroy Sane both got in on the act too with Kingsley Coman teeing up the former and Leroy Sane assisting Muller twice before Lewandowski thanked him as Julian Nagelsmann’s men ripped into the Austrians with their attack-minded setup.
However, simply painting the match as a numerical whitewash for the Germans would be doing a disservice to Salzburg who approached the game with every intention of going for it only to see those plans undone despite some enterprising play of their own.
Although they might have only had a Maurits Kjaergaard consolation strike to show for it at the end of a chastening defeat, Matthias Jaissle’s men made an equally bright start but failed to take the chances which they created bar the one laid on by Brenden Aaronson.
A shaky Maximilian Wober-influenced defensive display perhaps flattered Bayern in allowing them to work up a four-goal lead after 30 minutes of play but there was enough early on to show that more clinical finishing could have kept Salzburg in the contest for longer.
It was a fascinating tie overall as the first leg showed Bayern at their most vulnerable with Lewandowski frustrated in front of goal and no Manuel Neuer between the sticks. So with the Poland international particularly purposeful from the off in leg two, Bayern ended up looking like a completely different, and frighteningly dominant team.
Granted, the visiting midfield let themselves down badly, but they were also not overrun the way the result might have suggested. Instead, inaccurate passing and clumsy ball possession led to them shooting themselves in one foot, with the two penalties taking care of the other, as much as Bayern’s impressive finishing did them in.
Lewandowski earned the first penalty with brilliant ball play, but the second spot kick was far less clear cut and the Bavarians being awarded that opportunity after a period of Salzburg rallying as good as killed the tie as a contest.
Bayern admittedly still miss the likes of the dominant Leon Goretzka in midfield and have defensive issues which require Nagelsmann’s attention, but it is hard to underestimate the confidence factor that an in-form Lewandowski and Neuer bring in different ways.
The German is a strong leadership figure at the back, and while still a top shot stopper, he is almost as important for his style of play as his saves. In the possession oriented system that Nagelsmann plays, his defensive teammates have come to expect him to push up behind them and provide both an extra passing option, and a bit of defensive sweeping up which Sven Ulreich is unable to replicate.
As for Lewandowski, there are few superlatives left, but when he is that involved, it is almost impossible for him to not feature as one of the scorers and that momentum is perhaps what Bayern have been lacking in recent weeks when they have looked below-par.
This was an impressive finishing display by Bayern and a welcome return to form, but we should not pretend that Nagelsmann has sorted out the defensive issues which could yet undo this team against higher quality opposition. Much will depend on what the quarterfinals bring, and whether stiffer opposition can take advantage of the German giants need to be on the front foot.