It says a lot for the state of modern-day Barcelona that the question at the start of his 2021-22 Champions League campaign was less if he could win the title rather than how soon he could get out without it being embarrassing. The defeat against Bayern Munich on Tuesday’s group debut was widely expected, and expectations are so low these days that the fact that the score was “only” 3-0, the fact that Barça was not completely humiliated, it will be seen by some as a positive aspect.
But the gap between the sides was evident. Bayern were by no means at their best, playing at mid-pace and with surprisingly little penetration. But he was absolutely in control and after a couple of initial volleys, Barcelona simply didn’t threaten. The hosts don’t even have to shoot on goal.
Barcelona were the most obvious victim of football’s new financial reality. Suddenly not too big to fail, the pandemic exposes the hopeless mismanagement that left him $ 1.4 billion in debt. The obvious consequence of this, game-wise, was Lionel Messi’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain this summer, but this was actually just the latest manifestation of much bigger problems with recruiting they have. left the club still strangely dependent on Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets (and not just for their willingness to cut salaries). Six of Tuesday’s starting eleven played in the 8-2 quarter-final defeat to Bayern in the penultimate season, the match that marked the symbolic beginning of the end of an era, even if the roots are long gone. first.
Among those who are no longer at the club it is obviously Messi who stands out. There was a feeling that it could transform any game, that no matter how bad Barcelona were playing, it could produce something brilliant. His lack of pressing may have exposed midfield – leading to those heavy losses in recent years, not just at Bayern, but also at PSG, Liverpool, Roma and Juventus – but while he was on the pitch there was hope. There was little of this Tuesday, in the club’s first Champions League season without Messi from 2002-2003.
The underlying crisis was compounded by more family concerns. Any team would be shaken by the injury problems currently affecting Barcelona, who were without Sergio Agüero, Ansu Fati, Martin Braithwaite and Ousmane Dembélé; Jordi Alba, kicked out at 74ns minute, he may have joined them. This was an extraordinary match for Luuk De Jong to make his Barcelona debut, and also extraordinary that Barcelona now have strikers in their squad who failed to reach the level in Newcastle and Middlesbrough.
And then there is the classic Barcelona trope of a coach and the president arguing. Ronald Koeman’s contract expires next summer and he appears to have already given up hope of getting an extension, although Joan Laporta, having failed to find a replacement this summer, has promised a new contract if Koeman meets certain criteria.
“My relationship with Laporta has improved, but something happened last week that I don’t think is right,” Koeman said recently. “He was suggesting that the coach doesn’t have all the power. He talked too much and was not wise on two occasions. It can be done privately. I like it when a president is busy and asking questions, only this shouldn’t be happening in the press. This was the problem. I’m willing to stay, I’m just having fun. Thanks to me, this club has a future. “
This is a typical Koeman response, as he is not a person naturally inclined to hide his light under a bushel, but he is not devoid of truth. He has promoted many young players and can realistically claim to have done a reasonable job under nearly impossible circumstances. But that future he speaks of is not imminent; admitted that it will take at least two years before Barcelona can start competing with the best.
The decision to start with a three-man defense, albeit forced to some extent, helped frustrate Bayern and worked up to a point. Bayern weren’t fluent and lacked the verve that best characterizes the club. The extra man on the back helped fill in the gaps. The first goal, scored in the 34th minute, was also deflected by Thomas Müller. But Bayern had the ball for nearly two minutes before the shot, which gives an idea of just how much Barcelona’s ambitions have changed. Perhaps the impact was to crush Barcelona, but the fact that no one blocked Müller and Eric García turned around, so the ball was deflected to the lower back, has nothing to do with the structures; those were basic individual errors.
Robert Lewandowski scored two goals in the second half, both in subsequent attempts after Bayern’s shots hit the post, to complete a comfortable 3-0 win. This has been a relative walk, and Barcelona remains a disaster.
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