Newspaper article International New York Times

At Long Last, Bayern Shows It's Not Perfect

Newspaper article International New York Times

At Long Last, Bayern Shows It's Not Perfect

Article excerpt

Bayern Munich let up after taking an early 2-0 lead over Manchester City and ended up losing, 3-2, snapping a 10-game winning streak in European play.

Bayern Munich is by any measure the team of 2013. It has won every trophy in its path and showered itself in plaudits during an early Christmas party on Sunday night.

The celebration was justified, and the timing was right because Munich will be in Morocco next week, representing Europe in the obligatory FIFA Club World Cup end-of-the-year tournament.

However, and wouldn't you know it, not even the Bavarians can treat the Champions League as "freundschaftsspielcharakter," or friendly competition. Munich slipped easily into a two-goal lead in their own stadium on Tuesday, then paid the price for complacency when they sat back and allowed Manchester City to win, 3-2.

"We can live with defeat," said Bayern's captain, Philipp Lahm. "We are still group winners."

Indeed they are, but marginally so. The teams finished tied with 15 points after six games, and had City managed one more goal, it, rather than Munich, would have won the group -- and with it a seeded place in the knockout round next year.

"Congratulations to Manchester City," commented Pep Guardiola, the coach who so seamlessly picked up the winning habit from his predecessor, Jupp Heynckes. "Sometimes you need to lose a game," he added.

The smile on Guardiola's face was sincere enough. He has always understood, and known how to use, the motivating factor of occasionally losing soccer games.

Yet on Tuesday, while Real Madrid continued its obviously burgeoning challenge of winning back the Champions League title, Bayern Munich contributed to breaking its own record 10-game winning streak in the competition.

The loss came after the Muncheners went on the road and munched Werder Bremen, 7-0, in a Bundesliga match last Saturday. It came after that Christmas celebration with 200 invited guests at one of their city's top restaurants. And it came after a porous City defense had conceded two goals, to Thomas Muller and Mario Gotze, inside the opening 12 minutes.

"I think we showed our human side today," Muller later confessed. "We took our foot off the pedal." And Muller used the word that sportsmen so often deny when he said he and his teammates grew complacent.

City, to be sure, was bold and brave. It, too, had left key players out of its lineup because, with progress in the Champions League assured for the top two teams in the group, Manchester City has a bigger priority when it faces Arsenal in the Premier League on Saturday.

"To win here by scoring three goals, without Kompany, Yaya Toure and Aguero, shows we have a very good squad," said City Coach Manuel Pellegrini. "We played very badly again in the first 15 minutes, but after that we started to keep more of the ball, and then we played as well as Bayern. …

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