Football Features

“The right-footed Robben” shows the value of persistence as Bayern beat Lyon to make the Champions League final

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:19, 19 August 2020

In an end-to-end night of football, Bayern Munich beat Lyon 0-3 in the Champions League semi-final.

The result puts Bayern into their first Champions League final since they last won it back in 2013 and gives them a chance to record a second historic Treble. The win came thanks to two goals from Serge Gnabry, the 25-year-old former Arsenal winger who now has as many goals in Champions League semi-finals as his former club do in their whole history.

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Although it’s easy to clown Arsenal for not finding a way to give a talent like Gnabry any minutes, Bayern didn’t sign him directly from the Gunners. The German first was sold to Werder Bremen for €5m and then did what any good player in the Bundesliga does and joined Bayern. The Bavarians signed him for a low €8m back in 2017 and then sent him on loan for a season.

All of this was bringing him to a boil, and now in the 2019/20 Champions League the water is finally bubbling. Gnabry has 23 goals on the season, almost double his previous season-high of 13. The thing is in the Bundesliga he’s only got 12 goals, nothing too incredible.

Where he has really shone has been in Europe. Where he has been as prolific as anyone not named Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland. He’s not been as consistent as either of the above strikers, notching in multiple games, but what he has shown is something Bayern must have feared they had lost when Arjen Robben first got old and then left the club: an unrelenting capacity for the spectacular.

In Bayern’s second game in this Champions League campaign, Gnabry returned to North London and did his former club proud by absolutely devastating Spurs. The game finished 2-7 and the German winger scored an incredible four times.

He looked an absolute whirlwind that night, but didn’t score again until Bayern visited London again. This time it was Chelsea he put to the sword, scoring twice to put Bayern’s dominance into effect on the scoreline.

Again he didn’t follow that up with anything but when Bayern were facing Barcelona in the quarter-final, Gnabry effectively settled the game with his side’s third goal. After assisting Ivan Perisic for the second, Gnabry raced in behind Clement Lenglet so quickly it looked like the French was running through molasses. The finish was equally unnerving and put an end to any hope Barcelona had of competing.

This kid was quite clearly capable of the spectacular, and all he seemed to need was the stage to show it.

And so finally, we come back to tonight, the Champions League semi-final.

Lyon started brightly, gutting the Bayern defence wide-open and creating the kind of chances they really should be scoring. Bayern couldn’t get into their rhythm. That is, until the 18th minute. Serge Gnabry picked up a long pass out wide on the right.

He deaded the ball instantly and, with his road to goal blocked started to run laterally. Lyon began to press him from behind so he switched angle and started accelerating towards the box. Now Jason Denayer stepped up to confront him, but Gnabry simply stuttered and then shifted the ball to his left and then with absurd ease absolutely smashed the ball into the back of the net.

This was a miracle of a goal, the kind of magic Arjen Robben used to deliver regularly for the Bavarians. Gnabry effectively took Robben’s spot in the XI and this was not only “a Robben goal” in terms of being immense and clutch it was almost literally the same kind of goal Robben always used to score, drifting in off the right.

Gnabry doubled the score just after the half-hour mark, appearing in the right spot to tap-home from close range after a great save from Rafael Lopes. This finish was less amazing but the run from outside to in (again, very Robben) that set the attack in motion was magical. The goal also gave Bayern the breathing room they rode all the way to the 88th minute when they finally sealed the win through Robert Lewandowski.

Serge Gnabry is obviously not Bayern’s main man in attack, nor is he their secondary superstar. Those roles belong to Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller. But Gnabry is something equally important: an attacking maverick, someone capable of the truly spectacular in attack, someone capable of breaking open a game and burying an opponent with absurdly good goals.

He slayed Spurs and Chelsea, stuck the dagger into Barcelona and tonight he savaged Lyon to put Bayern into the Champions League final (their first since 2013, when Arjen Robben delivered Bayern’s first Treble with an incredible late goal). Les Gones were gouged by this glorious German, this wicked winger who scores wondergoals and is en route to becoming a Bayern Munich legend despite five years ago struggling to get a game for first Arsenal and then West Brom.

Serge Gnabry shows all youngsters the value of persistence and constantly believing in yourself. Gnabry coming good at 25 is as much of an example for the youth as Jadon Sancho’s meteoric rise as a teenager is. This kid did it the right way, now he’s got a chance to make history and deliver a Treble for Bayern Munich as the right-footed Arjen Robben.