By Stefan Coerts, Goal.com Although no team has won back-to-back Champions League titles since the rebranding of the competition in 1992, title-holder Bayern Munich started the season as the red-hot favorite to retain its trophy.
The Bundesliga giants quickly affirmed their status as Europe’s standout team with some indomitable performances in the group stages, most notably in the 3-1 away victory at Manchester City, but they have been struggling to live up to the high expectations in the knockout stages.
After failing to impress against Arsenal in the round of 16, they were caused even more problems in the quarterfinals by a Manchester United side at their lowest ebb for a quarter of a century.
Pep Guardiola’s men came away from Old Trafford with a hard-fought 1-1 draw in the first leg and fared little better at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday, despite eventually recording a relatively comfortable 3-1 win.
Very much like last week, Bayern dominated possession but failed to create any chances of note until Patrice Evra’s opener just shy of the hour mark shook the team into life. While it did display remarkable mental strength as Mario Mandzukic immediately restored parity before Thomas Muller and Arjen Robben put the tie to bed, Bayern no longer looks unbeatable.
The Bavarians looked short on ideas against the Premier League strugglers and the remaining teams in the Champions League will have noticed how United’s ultra-defensive game plan frustrated Guardiola’s side.
Atletico Madrid showed against Barcelona that it has the potential to trouble any team and will fancy its chances against Bayern, too. The Vicente Calderon side has impressed throughout the competition with its dogged discipline and lethal counterattacks and should no longer be considered underdogs.
Tuesday’s ties, meanwhile, illustrated that Real Madrid - second favorite prior to this week - and Chelsea are far from invincible as well. The Santiago Bernabeu outfit was fortunate to progress to the semifinals as Dortmund spurned numerous chances to turn around a 3-0 deficit in the second leg, while Jose Mourinho’s men needed a late Demba Ba goal to shake off Paris Saint-Germain on the away goals rule.
Bayern will still enter Friday's semifinal draw as the favorite to win the competition, but the gap between the German club and its rivals has closed dramatically. The Champions League is wide open.