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'All credit to the team'

Proud Guardiola sees lessons to be learned

The applause was loud and warm when the Bayern players entered the ballroom at the Lowry Hotel just before 11 pm in the evening. The stoppage-time goal that caused FCB’s first defeat of the Champions League season away to Manchester City, and indeed their first loss in any competition this term, failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the 250 or so guests. The feeling instead was one of pride, because despite the (technically meaningless) 3-2 defeat the men from Munich showed real depth of character.

“I don’t believe in making light of defeats. We could have avoided this one. But there’s no reason to over-dramatize it,” said Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in his opening remarks to the players, officials and sponsors at the post-match banquet. “It didn’t work out for us this evening, but it won’t spoil the mood.”

Pep Guardiola soon cast off his glum expression too. The Spaniard said he was “very, very proud” of his team and praised the players for showing “immense character” away to the English champions. “The players did an outstanding job, and everyone could see we didn’t come here for a holiday. We came here looking to win.”

Ten-man power play

The widespread feeling of pride was largely based on Bayern’s reaction to two heavy blows after 20 minutes, when Mehdi Benatia was sent off for a foul as last man and City took the lead from the ensuing penalty. “We fought our way back into it brilliantly,” commented Jérôme Boateng. In a rousing finish to the first half, the Reds gave their vocal travelling support plenty to cheer when birthday boy Xabi Alonso and Robert Lewandowski turned the game on its head in favour of the depleted visitors.

“We refused to look for a hiding place and we were very good in possession,” declared Arjen Robben, “all credit to the team.” The fact that Bayern had to play with a man down for more than 70 minutes of the match ultimately took its toll late on as the 2013 Champions League winners came under increasing pressure: “We were drained of energy,” acknowledged Manuel Neuer. “But that’s normal when you play for so long with ten men.” Furthermore, Bayern “covered a huge amount of ground,” Boateng added.

Lessons to be learned

“Playing for so long with a man less is very hard work,” agreed Rafinha. Guardiola could not have agreed more, “especially against the likes of Aguero, Navas and Nasri. They’re always dangerous.” It was Aguero who ruthlessly put away chances on 85 and 91 minutes, aided by “two silly mistakes that shouldn’t be happening,” Boateng remarked self-critically. Neuer, who was “so close to saving all the shots,” was particularly irritated because Bayern “could have caused a sensation away to the English champions with ten men”.

The defeat is of no consequence in terms of the Group E outcome, but was annoyingly avoidable. However, it could turn out to be useful after all. “It’s good it’s happened today. Maybe there’s a lesson in it for us,” mused Guardiola. “Because if that happens in the Round of 16 or the quarter-finals, you’re out. We have to learn from this.” The Bayern coach is sure of one thing: “This match is good for our development.” And, as Boateng declared: “It won’t knock us out of our stride!”