Barcelona 0-3 Bayern Munich
10 years ago FC Barcelona beat Manchester United 3-1 in the Final of the UEFA Champions League at Wembley Stadium so convincingly; it was actually quite terrifying. Fast forward a decade later and the Catalan club now look a mere shadow of the once formidable European giants they once were.
Under the command of popular manager Pep Guardiola, Barça had just won their second Champions League crown in three years in London. They played with confidence, flair and with a style everyone could only sit back and admire. ‘Tiki-Taka’ was used by pundits and commentators alike to describe this new way of playing which very quickly revolutionised the game before our eyes. Now under the watchful eye of former player Ronald Koeman, the Catalan club are worlds away from those heights after a 0-3 home drubbing to German champions Bayern Munich last night at Camp Nou.
Barça looked lost and out of ideas. They struggled to really challenge the Munich defence with any meaningful attacks and instead seemed content on keeping men behind the ball and try to frustrate their German visitors. In the end they were tactically inept against their Bavarian opponents.
The young Julian Nagelsmann, who managerial trajectory is following a similar pattern to that of 2011 Guardiola, has already got Bayern playing a free-flowing, high-pressing offensive style that Koeman and co couldn’t handle. It was like the ghosts of that infamous Barcelona side from a decade ago had turned up, possessed the away side, and taught the current crop of Barça stars a lesson in their own back yard.
Summer signing Memphis Depay was an isolated onlooker up front with limited service from his teammates. He was probably wishing he had an Antoine Greizmann or a Luis Suarez to partner him up the top of the pitch. Alas, this is not that team either anymore.
The home side was crying out for some magic, some inspiration to come from nowhere. They were crying out for Lionel Messi.
Many were intrigued by how Barcelona would fare in their first European match without their hero after a summer of turmoil saw to his abrupt and shocking exit from the club. An attempt to launch what was an absurd idea of a European Super League was a seismic failure, and club president Joan Laporta has been left trying desperately to clear the truckloads of debt the club had accumulated under the previous regime ever since.
This saw many players head for the exit including Messi – arguably the greatest footballer to ever don the infamous red and blue stripes of Barcelona. This was something many believed was impossible. Messi lived and breathed the city. If he was a prince, then Camp Nou was his castle. The Argentine himself cried during his farewell press conference, admitting he was ready to sign a new contract extension at the team he so dearly loved – but in this tale there was to be no happily ever after for player or club. With Barça confirming that Messi had no future at the Spanish giants, he received a royal reception days later at Paris Saint-Germain after agreeing a two-year deal with the French club. This was quickly followed by the departure of Greizmann, who joined former Barça striker Suarez at Spanish champions Atletico Madrid on deadline day earlier this month.
Senior household members of the team that stayed at Barcelona, such as Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique, have all had to take substantial pay cuts in order for the club to register new signings such as Depay, Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia, due to La Liga’s salary cap restrictions.
It’s not been all doom and gloom. Barça have got off to a decent albeit unimpressive start domestically. A 4-2 win on the opening day against Real Sociedad was followed by a 1-1 draw at Bilbao. A hard-fought 2-1 victory over Getafe at the weekend sees Koeman’s side currently seventh in the La Liga table, undefeated and on seven points with a positive goal difference.
But Champions League nights are special in this part of the world. Barcelona haven’t won the competition since 2015 – and their fans are desperate for the team to regain the European Cup they cherish so much. They have played decent sides in La Liga so far this season, but Bayern Munich are a different animal together and they proved last night just how far Barcelona have fallen in a very short space of time.
The Bavarian side were comfortably better in every department. Bayern’s press was relentless, they moved the ball quickly and accurately, they created more goal-scoring opportunities. If it wasn’t for a lack of composure in front of goal and a couple of decent saves from Marc-André ter Stegen then the away side could have had five or six goals to their name and no one would have complained.
Camp Nou is only operating at 40% capacity due to the ongoing pandemic, but even then there were plenty of pockets of empty seats all around. Messi’s departure has descended the club’s attendance into low numbers unseen in my lifetime, when usually there are queues upon queues of supporters scrambling for the best seats in the house. Usually a fortress to behold, especially on European nights against the biggest clubs the continent has to offer, Camp Nou was unusually quiet for a majority of the 90 minutes – but in these uncertain times the atmosphere was missing just as much as the tiki-taka Barcelona style we have became all too familiar with over the past 10 years or so.
I wonder whether Guardiola, Messi and co from that team a decade ago on that beat Manchester United at Wembley would believe you if you told them that Barça would only go on to win the Champions League only once more in the next 10 years. Whether they would believe that a team as mighty as Barcelona would go from a possession-based, attacking style of play to a defensive, men behind the ball, counter-attacking style like the one we saw last night?
One is right to fear for this once great European superpower. It is a transitional period for the club and football fans know how long those periods can take. Barcelona probably will bounce back from this and challenge amongst Europe’s elite once again in the future – the question is how long will it take them to reach those levels again or am I wrong? Could the class of 2011 be the last hurrah of this great club?