Toothless Barca fail to progress to last 16 after heavy defeat to Bayern Munich

Catalans had got out of he group stages every season since 2000-2001

 Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski is challenged by  Barcelona’s Clement Lenglet during the Champions League match at the  Allianz Arena in Munich. Photograph: Philipp Guelland/EPA

Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski is challenged by Barcelona’s Clement Lenglet during the Champions League match at the Allianz Arena in Munich. Photograph: Philipp Guelland/EPA

 

Bayern Munich 3 Barcelona 0

Game over. The delusions of grandeur can now finally be laid to rest. The years of feast are over and the years of famine are at hand. Barcelona are now a Europa League team, and in many ways this trouncing in the Munich snow merely confirmed what we have already long known about them. Whatever Barcelona once knew, they have forgotten; whatever they once had, they have lost. This club’s enormous debt can be measured not just in cash but in expertise, in talent, in pure footballing instinct.

The house was already crumbling. We knew that too. And yet every passing month brings fresh indignities. Barcelona have already experienced the flash sales, the half-empty stadiums, the 8-2 against Bayern, losing the greatest player of all time for free and replacing him with Luuk de Jong.

In terms of La Liga points they are closer to Levante in 20th place than Real Madrid in first. But elimination from the Champions League group stage – for the first time in 21 years – felt like another critical watershed: a second-tier competition for a second-rate club.

There will be tangible, short-term consequences. Barcelona’s finances – already around €1.4 billion in the red – will take another monstrous hit. Their chances of attracting fresh players in January have also receded. But perhaps the biggest blow is to their sense of self. Even on their worst days, there was still a status and a heft to them. Now, they are just another club who used to be good once.

And yet going into this game they still held out faint hope. A win here, or anything other than a Benfica win against Dynamo Kiev, would do the trick. Both their lottery tickets, however, were effectively shredded within the space of 45 minutes, as Benfica ran into an early 2-0 lead in Lisbon and Bayern eased into a two-goal lead of their own despite never really seeming to get out of third gear.

Already qualified, Bayern had vowed to be ruthless. And in the absence of Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich this was very close to Julian Nagelsmann’s strongest starting XI. It took them about 20 minutes to work out Barcelona’s lopsided 4-3-3, and before long their celebrated front four were feasting on the open spaces behind the full backs, running at defenders who looked not just outmatched but downright scared.

This was the pattern for the first goal: a simple ball in behind from Leroy Sané, Robert Lewandowski toying with the creaking Gerard Piqué before crossing for Thomas Müller to score with a looping header. Lewandowski v Piqué may once have been a fair fight, but these days it almost feels like blood sport: a striker at his peak against a defender who can barely even remember his peak. Piqué is only 18 months older than Lewandowski.

Lewandowski and Bayern have done this to far better teams than Barcelona, of course, but there was a sort of sadism to them here, brought into sharp relief by the paucity of Barcelona’s ambition. This much was evident late in the first half, when Ousmane Dembélé ran forlornly at the Bayern defence, pursued by four red shirts and none of his own team-mates, who had stayed well back to catch their breath ahead of the inevitable next surge. Barcelona came with no greater aim than to limit the damage, and could not even do that.

By then Barça were already 2-0 down, Sané smashing the ball in from 25 yards after neat work by Kingsley Coman on the right.

Jordi Alba had succumbed to an early injury, the ethereal Sergiño Dest was withdrawn at half-time, and Xavi’s plan of carving Bayern open on the flanks was in tatters. This was only his fifth game in charge, a game he described in advance as “a final”. Certainly it felt like the end of something.

Jamal Musiala made it 3-0 after a raking diagonal ball from Lewandowski and a neat cross from Alphonso Davies.

It could yet be the beginning of something, too, for Barcelona if Xavi has the vision to look beyond Guardiola-era nostalgia and its empty, comforting tropes – cherish the ball, big energy, play with style – and actually work out what works in elite football in 2021. Their midfield has guile but lacks sharpness; their attack has sharpness but lacks guile; their defence is frankly an embarrassment, and often any relationship between the three is entirely coincidental.

You could see them trying to work things out as the game leaked away: making their triangles, pressing with purpose, trying forlornly to create something from nothing. But really, there are no quick fixes here. For Barcelona the road back will be nasty and brutish, and it will not be short. – Guardian

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