Playing through the pain
They gritted their teeth and threw themselves into battle. Although there were major doubts over Robert Lewandowski, Jérôme Boateng and Mats Hummels leading up to the second leg against Real Madrid, it was decided shortly before the match that all three could play.
"I honestly didn't think it'd be possible for me to play today," admitted Hummels after the match. The 28 year-old sustained an ankle injury in training a week and a half ago and has barely trained since then. However he and Boateng, who has been struggling with an adductor problem since last weekend, managed to form a strong and solid central defence in Madrid.
The two men won back possession for their team nine times each, more than any other player in a red shirt. It took a lot for them to do that, as Hummels explained: "Jérôme and I somehow managed to suppress everything. We had to play through the pain barrier and tried everything necessary to win this type of game." During the game you wouldn't have thought the duo were battling injuries.
During breaks of play, however, you could often see painful facial expressions, slight limping or stretching. Boateng in particular had difficulties from the middle of the second half onwards. "The muscle locked up at some point. I tried to battle through it but it wasn't easy," said the 28 year-old, who tried "to play a bit more with the eyes". And he did so successfully, since Boateng made the most clearances for FCB.
Lewandowski's impressive conversion rate
If something did get past the defence, Manuel Neuer was mostly on hand between the posts. The Germany goalkeeper returned to the side following a foot operation with an impressive performance in the first leg, and he put in another strong showing at the Bernabéu, making six saves and providing great support to his teammates. He couldn't do anything about any of the goals and suffered a fracture in his left foot during Real's third goal. He'll be assessed in Munich on Wednesday to determine exactly how long he'll be out for.
Neuer had kept his team in the game for a long time, as did Lewandowski whose opening goal last night put FCB back on course for a place in the semi-finals. The Pole missed the first leg because of a shoulder injury but there were no signs of it on Tuesday. The striker didn't shirk any challenges and confidently converted his penalty. It was his sixth Champions League goal from the penalty spot in six attempts.
Frustration and pride
Unfortunately it didn't prove to be enough for victory, but the quartet recieved great respect for their performances. "When I see how Hummels, Boateng, Lewandowski and Manuel Neuer played, I can only take my hat off to them," praised chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Hummels also allowed himself "a bit of pride" along with his "frustration and disappointment" after the match.
He'll have to take that into the upcoming games as there are still tough assignments to come. "We want to wrap up the title and next week we have a big game in the cup. That'll be next highlight," said the World Cup winner, referring to the semi-final against Borussia Dortmund. When asked if they'll be fit then, Hummels simply answered: "We will be!" It looks like they'll be gritting their teeth and battling again.