While Barcelona briefly appeared to be losing their heads in one part of Europe, Pep Guardiola was furiously rubbing his in another. If he is to transform his Bayern Munich legacy by winning the Champions League, he won’t do it the easy way.
This was a slog, in as much as a game can be when the winning goal is scored inside two minutes. At the very least it was harder than it needed to be, with Bayern going ahead through the brilliant Arturo Vidal and then spending the majority of the match loosening their grip.
Had Jonas not fluffed one brilliant second-half chance, then Benfica would have had an away goal to build on.
Instead, Bayern fight on in pursuit of a fifth straight Champions League semi-final, having already fought back from the dead to get past Juventus in the previous round.
Of course, Guardiola’s reputation in these parts depends on what happens in the remainder of this competition, not what has gone before. If he departs for Manchester City as European champion, he might finally have captured the hearts of Munich. If he leaves only with a bunch of Bundesliga titles, the minimal expectation around here, he will likely only have their respect.
That this tie is remotely in the balance is a surprise. Bayern were excellent in the first half but lacked the killer touch to build on a wonderful start.
They were ahead after 110 seconds, ripping to shreds a defence described by Guardiola as the ‘best in Europe’. In this instance, the Portuguese were simply flattened by one of the continent’s most dynamic attacks, with Juan Bernat taking a pass from Robert Lewandowski on the left and crossing to the far post. Vidal beat Eliseu to the header and Bayern led.
Compared to the shambles of their start against Juventus in the last round, it was masterful. In likelihood, it should also have been better. Franck Ribery had Benfica petrified on the left, Douglas Costa taunted them down the right. That pair are a glorious nuisance and here they succeeded in clearing space in the middle for Vidal.
If Chelsea do succeed in reuniting the midfielder with Antonio Conte it could prove a wonderful piece of business.
Quite aside from the goal, he was a surging menace with his dribbles from deep. For good measure, he also blocked Benfica’s best two chances of the opening half, first with a lunge to intercept a cross from Pizzi and then to smother a volley from Nicolas Gaitan on the whistle. He does a bit of everything and all of it very well, with the only disappointment being a free header he sent over the bar via a bounce off the turf.
That ought to have skewed the tie firmly in Bayern’s favour, even if there did appear scant chance that Benfica had the wit to create chances, with the possible exception of Manchester United target Renato Sanches. Aged 18 and not shy of a trick, he looked their prime threat.
Less so, Mitroglou, resurgent in Portugal on his second successful loan away from Fulham. How bizarre that a striker who managed only three games and no goals at Craven Cottage scored 16 on loan at Olympiakos last season and has a further 18 at Benfica this time round. Felix Magath couldn’t stand him; Guardiola was this week singing his praises.
And yet he barely had a look at goal here. Jonas, with 32 goals this season, had one brilliant chance when Manuel Neuer was grounded and scuffed wide. It was a major let off for a team that had quite dramatically taken their foot off the gas.
Guardiola was a picture of agitation on the sideline through the whole of the second half. Bayern still had the edge, but the battle for a second goal was going nowhere. That was partially because the team that loves to create suddenly lacked imagination, but also because the finishers lost their way.
Robert Lewandowski, one of the sharpest strikers in Europe with eight goals in eight Champions League starts ahead of this game, shot straight at Ederson. Bernat also launched a shot well clear of the bar and Lewandowski overhit a pass that would have given Philipp Lahm an open goal. Guardiola turned away.
What should have been a breeze for a team that had scored 40 and conceded six in their previous 10 home games in the competition was altogether more sluggish.
For Guardiola, such gritty wins are never enough.