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Thursday, February 23

The Extra Time (CL, 22/2)

A look at Basel 1 - 0 Bayern Munich and Marseille 1 - 0 Inter Milan, Wednesday's Champions League fixtures.

Basel 1 - 0 Bayern Munich

Problematic finishing and Arjen Robben's de facto absence bloodied Bayern's chances of netting an away goal, but it was their hilariously suspect defense to blame for the eventual loss in the opening leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie with Basel: quite simply, it often appeared as if Bayern wasn't marking Basel's attackers but chasing ghosts.

Overlapping Problems (Steinhöfer with possession)

Early, after Markus Steinhöfer was released down the touchline, Basel found themselves with, effectively, a 3-on-3, as the rest of either side were in no position to effect what was to come.  Steinhöfer had a step on the brilliant Philipp Lahm but not enough space to round towards goal, Jerome Boateng had Alexander Frei floating through his centre and Holger Badstuber was the only Bayern player in any sort of position to do anything about Xherdan Shaqiri's trailing run towards the box.

It really shouldn't have been complicated: Lahm closes down Steinhöfer, Boateng tracks Frei and Badstuber holds up Shaqiri until either the right-back Rafinha or one of Bayern's holding players, David Alaba and Anatoliy Tymoschuk, arrive to provide a spare body at the back.

Badstuber's Perfect Seat

Instead of tracking Shaqiri, however, Badstuber shaded over towards Lahm, presumably to provide support should Steinhöfer get the better of him. But then, inconceivably, when it became clear Steinhöfer was looking to play in a cross, not only does Badstuber actually turn his head and see Shaqiri unmarked and arriving at the area but he also doesn't even take one step in the direction of his responsibility.  Steinhöfer's cross is true, and had Shaqiri's first touch been up to his usually-high standards, Boateng doesn't have the time to slide over and save a goal.

A Ball-Watching Smorgasbord

Steinhöfer's next cross saw Boateng and Rafinha wanting to get in on the spectating action: with Marco Streller sandwiched between them and no other Basel threat in any dangerous position, the Bayern defenders had more than enough of the circumstance to ensure Streller's negation.  But with both Boateng and Rafinha ball watching -- and the latter slowing his pursuit -- and Badstuber's occupying of a position of chief insignificance, Streller was free to cross the face of Boateng and almost beat Manuel Neuer, a goalkeeper who is perhaps the evolutionary Oliver Kahn.

Nearly-Decisive Indecision (Only the Key Players Pictured)

After playing a corner short in order to swing in another cross from a more advantageous angle, Basel had their best opportunity yet: Basel centre-back Aleksandar Dragovic got on the end of the cross and only a forearm attached to a sprawling Neuer saved Bayern's clean sheet.

Badstuber's back turned to Dragovic, his mark, let the Basel defender slip behind him unnoticed.  While it was an egregious error, Rafinha had been playing his own mark offsides and was in a position to not just switch off onto Dragovic but actually see what was happening right in front of him.  But instead of covering Badstuber's blindside, Rafinha allowed Dragovic a free path towards almost opening the scoring.

Basel's Good...

Basel's next best opportunity came off a beautiful one-two between advancing left-back Joo-Ho Park and Benjamin Huggel: Huggel, after dragging Boateng out towards the edge of the penalty box, came back sharply towards Joo-Ho who then keyed in the opening action of their tandem passing.  Mario Gomez had done well to keep Joo-Ho anchored towards the touchline but, after the pass was released, the German striker foolishly chased the ball instead of cutting off Joo-Ho's move inside.  Huggel, then, did his part to fend off Boateng's challenge before slipping the ball back towards the centre to meet Joo-Ho.

...Bayern's Bad...

Had Tymoschuk been in a better position before Joo-Ho made his pass to Huggel, he might have been able to cut the South Korean off before reaching the penalty area.  As it was, he wasn't, and Joo-Ho got to its edge before the closing down Gomez or Tymoschuk could reach him.

And then Badstuber made quite the magical blunder: rather than staying home and preventing a ball into Aleksandar Frei who was both stationary on the spot and signaling for the ball at his feet, Badstuber decided to shift to his right, wanting to prevent a non-existent run in behind him towards the near post.  Beyond there simply not being the space for such a ball to be completed, he left a forward unmarked on the penalty spot.  Frei's first touch only found the woodwork, however, so damage was yet again averted.

...and Rafinha's Ugly.

Unfortunately for Bayern, Rafinha was not about to let himself be outdone by Badstuber.  In the eighty-sixth minute, Basel's second sub, Jacques Zoua, was dribbling from right-to-left towards the crown of the penalty area, essentially unmarked.  With Badstuber actually doing well to close Zoua down after being caught on the wrong foot, all Rafinha had to do was keep the channel closed between Zoua and Basel's first sub, Valentin Stocker.  But, like Badstuber before him, Rafinha left the penalty area, presumably scared of Stocker potentially slipping to the outside for reasons unknown, and Zoua slotted a ball to an in-on-goal Stocker, who then finished the work left of beating Neuer.

Which is all to say that Bayern didn't really defend well.  And while they are certainly on the shortlist of likely Champions League winners, Basel have done more than enough to establish their own bonafides as a European challenger.

Marseille 1 - 0 Inter

Apparently a goal was scored, definitively answering whether a tree falling in a forest still makes a sound. 

h/t: reddit user Zosoer, for bringing this to the world's attention.

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