“It’s shameful,” said Gerard Pique in shock in the aftermath of Barcelona’s 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich. “Shame is the word.”
The sentiment was different on Tuesday, as Barça fought at least this time, but Bayern were at ease again, 3-0 Champions League winners at Camp Nou.
The notable humiliation of the blaugrana in August 2020 was so significant because these teams should have been rivals of a similar standard. Thirteen months later, Bayern were supported to win big again. The only surprise was that Barça limited their opponents to three.
The Catalan club eventually listened to Pique’s calls for “changes at all levels” – new president, new manager, new team – but it’s hard to honestly suggest this is a better suit, even if they have a little more struggle. .
While Pique was one of six XI players left from the Lisbon formation, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez were among the five to make their way. Antoine Griezmann also left, called from the bench in the quarter-finals. Those three outstanding strikers represented Barça’s seven shots in that tie.
Luuk de Jong made his debut on Tuesday, with Barça still looking for a post-Messi formula. Griezmann was one of two players to have moved from Barcelona since the start of their previous match at the end of August.
Perhaps Ronald Koeman has the merit of forging a kind of coherent unity in the meantime. A three-man defense made Ronald Araujo an early stage star as he battled Leroy Sane, helping Barça reach the 31-minute mark intact – the 2019-20 clash resulted in Bayern’s four record goals in the same period.
But the pressure increased and three minutes later came the turning point, when Araujo’s defensive partner Eric Garcia turned his back on Thomas Muller’s long-range attempt and inadvertently deflected the ball past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Koeman, coach of the Netherlands when Barcelona were beaten last year, told this week how “several players have suffered a lot” in Portugal, perhaps explaining their reluctance to come out of their shells after falling behind.
Revenge had been in the mind of the Barca manager as he discussed seeking “our style to hurt the opposition”, but here he seemed optimistic. Before and after the opening on Tuesday, Dayot Upamecano dominated De Jong and Memphis Depay, winning nine of 15 duels, scoring four tackles and four interceptions.
Bayern have won eight of their 12 games against Barça, but have rarely been so much higher, not getting a captivating score but controlling the proceedings with the belief that the five-time European champions lacked the offensive talent to put them in trouble. The hosts have not shot on goal in a Champions League game for the first time since at least 2003-04, Opta said.
That gap shouldn’t have been new to Koeman, although he had a worried expression as Robert Lewandowski stabbed in a mere second, Alphonso Davies’ shot was blocked and Jamal Musiala’s retinue hit the post. Offering some of his more sobering thoughts earlier this week, Koeman had reflected: “Can you get back to the level where you will really win the Champions League and be the best in Spain for years in a row? Not so at the moment. We hope he comes back ».
The crowd seems to have come to terms with the same realism. Having been absent when Barça’s oldest Champions League XI played their previous match, they remained with a squad that included four full-time teenagers. Veteran Pique is also still on the pitch, who falls hopelessly at Lewandowski’s feet five minutes from the end after another rebound, giving the striker time to find the net once again.
Pique led the cheers in a show of appreciation for those supporters at the final whistle, while attention now turns simply to leaving the group. It is a modest ambition, but this is the first time that Barça have lost a first match in the Champions League since 1997-98.
Beyond that, the financial rewards certainly provide more achievable goals than the rewards offered for Bayern and teammates. Revenge in this match will have to wait. How long, who knows?