When an airport luggage delay resulted in FC Bayern München's players arriving late for the pre-match media conference ahead of Wednesday's UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg at FC Basel 1893, a handful of travelling reporters wondered if it was a bad omen.
Their fears were confirmed when Bayern, struggling for form since the resumption of the German domestic season in January, were downed by a late Valentin Stocker strike which leaves them chasing the tie in the return fixture on 13 March. The Bundesliga heavyweights had begun the match in promising fashion and carved out numerous early opportunities, but, as has been the case all too often of late, a breakthrough was not forthcoming and gradually the threat dwindled as Basel battled their way into the contest.
"We had two or three chances to go ahead," said Bayern captain Philipp Lahm. "If we'd managed to put one away, things would have been a lot easier." Franck Ribéry had two of those, failing to beat the outstanding Yann Sommer after being played through first by Arjen Robben and then Lahm, who added: "I think we're missing that little bit of luck at the moment."
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer agreed that an early goal would have suited Bayern's game plan, explaining that the longer his side fail to break the deadlock, the harder it becomes: "
We only seem to win when we take the lead in the first half. If we don't, it turns out like tonight. It's just not happening for us at the moment."
Indeed, considering their imperious opening to the campaign, Bayern have stumbled considerably since the turn of the year, winning just two of their last five league matches and relinquishing their leadership of the Bundesliga to Borussia Dortmund. The club's senior management had hoped the return of Europe's premier competition would inspire an upturn in fortunes, but the negative trend merely continued on the continent.
With this year's 19 May final to be held at Fußball Arena München, expectations weigh heavy on Bayern's shoulders, as their body language at St. Jakob-Park revealed. Robben was the notable exception. Having been reinstated to the lineup after three games on the bench, the winger diligently hunted every loose ball, yet it was his ability to turn a game with a moment of inspiration which was required in Switzerland and again the Dutch international struggled in the final third.
Mario Gomez, another who remained largely anonymous in the Bayern attack, said the players understood fans' frustrations but warned against knee-jerk reactions. "We're going through a difficult phase," said the Germany striker. "We recognise that the situation is getting serious but we need to remain calm.
We've still got the return leg at home and we'll need to show our true colours there."
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