Bayern Munich qualified for the Champions League knockout stage and relieved the pressure on boss Nico Kovac with an emphatic 5-1 victory over Benfica at Allianz Arena.
The German champions are fifth in the Bundesliga after a mixed run of results but two goals each from Arjen Robben and Robert Lewandowski put Bayern on their way to their biggest winning margin of the season, rendering Gedson Fernandes’ strike nothing more than a consolation as the visitors tumbled out of the competition.
Franck Ribery scored the fifth but it was the nature of Bayern’s performance that will have pleased Kovac more than the result, his side playing some of their most incisive attacking football of the season, albeit against a porous Benfica defence.
The victory leaves the Bavarians free to focus on reviving their domestic hopes as their final group game against fellow Group E qualifiers Ajax will have no bearing on their progression.
Robben’s opener epitomised the type of goal he has been scoring in the Champions League for 16 years, scything his way through the left side of Benfica’s defence before waltzing into the box and guiding the ball into the top corner.
On the stroke of 30 minutes Robben burst through on goal again, latching onto Thomas Muller’s pass and cutting onto his favoured left foot before arrowing a shot through three back-pedalling defenders and into Odisseas Vlachodimos’ net.
Muller headed over the bar before Lewandowski rose to meet Joshua Kimmich’s ensuing corner and headed the ball down into the bottom left corner to put the game beyond Benfica’s reach before half-time.
Within seconds of the restart, Fernandes played a slick one-two with Jonas and slammed an instinctive finish beyond Manuel Neuer to give Benfica hope of a comeback that dimmed five minutes later when Lewandowski once again out-jumped his marker at a corner and headed down into the net.
Ribery was on hand to slot home the fifth when David Alaba cut the ball back to him from the byline, the Frenchman drilling the ball low into the corner before being substituted to rapturous applause.
Normal service is resumed #MiaSanMia #UCL #FCBSLB 5-1 pic.twitter.com/GZ3b9o9nFb
— FC Bayern English (@FCBayernEN) November 27, 2018
What does it mean? Kovac can breathe easier
Kovac was feeling the heat after seeing his side slip to a 3-3 draw against Fortuna Dusseldorf that left them nine points behind Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund, but the performance of his top players against Benfica suggested he has not lost the dressing room by any means.
Robben rolls back the years
While Ribery, Muller and Lewandowski were all superb, the first half of this game belonged to 34-year-old Robben, his dancing feet and unwavering eye for goal producing two memorable finishes to set Bayern on their way to victory.
Young defenders come unstuck
German Conti and Ruben Dias were found out time and time again as Bayern’s ageing forwards tormented Benfica’s central defensive pairing, whose relative inexperience at this level showed.
Key Opta Facts
– Bayern have now progressed to the knockout stages in 21 of their 22 appearances in the Champions League, including each of the last 15 since they were eliminated in the first group stage in 2002-03.
– Benfica have failed to progress from the group stage of the Champions League in nine of their 14 appearances in the competition, including both of their last two campaigns.
– Lewandowski has become the seventh player to score 50 Champions League goals, doing so in his 77th game in the competition – only Ruud van Nistelrooy (62) and Lionel Messi (66) have reached the milestone in fewer appearances.
– Robben (34y, 308d) became the third oldest player to score a brace in the Champions League, after Filippo Inzaghi and Michael Zorc.
– Robben (31 goals) is now the outright second top scoring Dutch player in Champions League history after Ruud van Nistelrooy (56), overtaking Roy Makaay and Patrick Kluivert (both 29).
Bayern face Werder Bremen away from home in the Bundesliga on Saturday, while Benfica will lick their wounds before preparing for a home game against Feirense.