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Gnabry strikes twice as Chelsea’s hopes crumble

Bayern Munich
Gnabry (51, 54), Lewandowski (76)
The Bundesliga champions were in stunning form at Stamford Bridge
At Stamford Bridge

It shows the scale of what is required that, if Chelsea are able to make it to into the quarter-finals, the events of 18 March 2020 will eclipse those of 19 May 2012.

They take with them a 3-0 deficit to the Allianz Arena where they were crowned champions of this competition for the first time in their history on that latter date. Penalties were required then – only a miracle will do now.

Those away goals and this emphatic performance from Bayern Munich and Robert Lewandowski suggests this time has already run its course. The tournament’s top-scorers bumped their season’s tally up to 27 as their striker brought his to 11 to take the individual mantle outright in a second-half display that showed the gulf in quality between these two.

The brunt of the forward’s work was as provider to a former winger of the capital, Serge Gnabry, already made London his own this season with a four-goal display against Tottenham Hotspurs. His former Arsenal fans were no doubt cheering on this brace against their west-town rivals, too.

Even if the 0-0 scoreline suggested it, it would be wrong to think Chelsea were at least Bayern’s equals in the first period, even if it would not be wrong to say the hosts did hold their own.

Much of the joy the home crowd enjoyed came in those opening 45 minutes. But they were allowed to remain in this match for as long as they were because their errors were not taken advantage of by the Bundesliga frontrunners.

Thomas Muller struck a tame shot at Wlily Caballero in the first 40 seconds after Jorginho had relinquished possession too easily. Further slack play in the Chelsea midfield meant a one-two between Kingsley Coman and Muller took out six players in blue. The former’s shot, wide of the near post, was particularly slack given Robert Lewandowski could have been found supporting in the box.

The Champions League’ joint-scorer did eventually get his sniff in the middle – off the back of one of many errant touches from Ross Barkley – but was snuffed out by Caballero. Moments earlier, the Polish striker had stung the keeper’s chest in an attempt to lift the ball beyond him.

But the change in approach from Bayern after the break was clear. And it was no surprise to see Lewandowski at the forefront of a change in tact that centred around embracing their own qualities rather than wait for any further Chelsea missteps.

The opener, on 51 minutes, saw the forward do the brunt of the finishing for the winger. Gnabry’s initial pass to Lewandowski was returned via a reverse-pass that took defenders and keeper out of play to ensure a simple swept finish made it 0-1.

For the second, their combination had a bit more to it. Lewnadowski nipped in ahead of Cesar Azpilicueta to cushion a header to Gnabry. No sooner had the winger found the striker peeling away to the left was he called to sprint ahead as a first-time pass slipped him through. A tricky finish into the far corner was made to look a formality.

And so, it felt only right the Polish international would get his, and also right that he did not have to work too hard for it. Left wing-back Alphonso Davies did the heavy lifting this time, bursting from deep beyond a couple of challenges to square across the box to a free and thirsty Lewandowski.

If the groans of frustrations from Chelsea fans were bad enough when crosses from left and right saw no one gamble, longer-term pain came in the form of suspensions to Jorginho and Marcos Alonso for the second leg in a fortnight.

Both were avoidable incidents and it is hard to gauge which was stupider – Jorginho’s jibes to the referee after a foul had gone Chelsea’s way, or Alonso’s asking for a decision to be made when he flashed out an elbow while jostling with Lewandowski with seven minutes of the 90 to go.

The night ended as it began, with Chelsea fans singing of that great triumph at the Allianz Arena back in 2012. They need something even greater than that to stay alive eight years on.