Bayern Munich made a brutally efficient case that it is the team to beat in the Champions League this season, humbling visiting Barcelona, 4-0, on Tuesday in the first leg of their semifinal at Allianz Arena.
Thomas Mueller scored two goals and set up two others for Bayern, which did not
so much change places with Barcelona atop the pedestal as shove the visitors off it.
“They gave us a thrashing,” Barcelona’s Gerard Piqué said.
The eagerly anticipated showdown between European heavyweights, both four-time winners of the competition, was a mismatch. Bayern dominated the midfield even as it surrendered much of the possession, frustrating Barcelona’s passing game before it could get close enough to create chances and then punishing the Catalans at the other end.
Bayern used its size advantage to dominate in the air on set pieces, at times simply bullying Barcelona into submission.
Barcelona had hoped to get a boost from the return of its star Lionel Messi, who started after missing three Spanish league games with a hamstring injury. But Messi, unable to find an inch of space in Bayern’s blanketing defense and clearly not fit, was virtually invisible. He took only one shot and saw little of the ball.
Barcelona never seemed to have a chance. Losing his marker in the scramble after a corner kick in the 25th minute, Mueller drove in an open header for the opening goal. Four minutes after halftime, he headed another corner back into the goal mouth, where Mario Gomez swept it past goalkeeper Victor Valdés. Barcelona was stunned, and it only got worse.
Mueller set a crushing pick on defender Jordi Alba to free Arjen Robben to score from a tight angle in the 73rd minute, and then he slid in to produce his second goal in the 82nd.
By then Barcelona seemed to be praying for the end.