Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Bayern batter Arsenal - Real Madrid overpower Napoli in exciting clash

Published:Thursday | February 16, 2017 | 2:00 AM
Real Madrid's Karim Benzema (right) fights for the ball with Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly during the Champions League round of 16, first leg, match between Real Madrid and Napoli at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, yesterday. Real Madrid won 3-1.

MUNICH, Germany (AP):

Bayern Munich answered their critics with a comprehensive 5-1 rout of Arsenal in the first leg of their Champions League clash to put one foot in the quarter-finals yesterday.

In the other game played yesterday, holders Real Madrid rallied to beat Napoli 3-1 in Spain to set up an interesting second leg in Naples.

Thiago Alcantara struck twice in a superb performance for Bayern Munich, while Arjen Robben, Robert Lewandowski and substitute Thomas Mueller scored the other goals. Arsenal now face what seems a near-impossible task in the second leg of the Round of 16 on March 7, despite a first-half equaliser from Alexis Sanchez.

Bayern had been unconvincing in their five games since the winter break, looking tired and lacking the dominance they displayed at the start of the season. But the home side soon took control of the game.

There was little Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina could do to stop Robben from opening the scoring in the 11th minute. Given too much space, the Dutchman cut inside as he's done so often before and let fly with a shot that went in off the underside of the bar.

Bayern dominated and it looked only a matter of time before the home side would add to its tally. Instead, Arsenal were given a lifeline when Lewandowski took down Arsenal captain Laurent Koscielny and the referee awarded the penalty before the half-hour mark.

Amid deafening whistles from the home fans, Manuel Neuer saved Sanchez' weak spot kick and Sanchez then missed the rebound but the Chilean cut the Bayern fans' cheers short when he prodded in at the third attempt.

Suddenly, the momentum was with Arsenal. Granit Xhaka should have scored when he shot straight at Neuer, and Mesut Ozil might have made it 2-1 at the break, only for Neuer to come to Bayern's rescue again.

 

SECOND HALF

 

But it was all Bayern for the second half, after Arsenal lost central defender Koscielny in the 49th minute.

Robben and Philipp Lahm combined on the right ring, the latter producing an inviting cross for Lewandowski to rise above two defenders and head inside the right post in the 53rd.

The Poland striker produced a brilliant back-heeled flick to send Thiago through to score another three minutes later.

Bayern had a host of chances thereafter, first through Lewandowski, who struck the crossbar after rounding the 'keeper, then through Robben, who was blocked by Kieran Gibbs, illegally according to the Bayern players, who demanded a penalty.

The claims were forgotten when Thiago grabbed his second, minutes later, with a deflected shot after a corner, before Mueller completed the rout two minutes after he came on in the 86th.