They conceded three rather than eight this time, but Barcelona’s Champions League defeat to Bayern last night served to underline just how down in the mouth they are. Their squad has been severely weakened and now injuries, particularly in attack, have exacerbated that. A sign of the times at the Camp Nou is that Barça really could have done with Martin Braithwaite being fit. And, of course, Sergio Agüero, who was brought in to give Lionel Messi an added incentive to renew – and has been left hanging. Barça will have to make some use of him when he’s back from injury. The Blaugrana were also without Ansu Fati – heaven knows what the doctors are up to with him – and Ousmane Dembélé, who is intent on being Barça’s answer to Gareth Bale. Following his return to Atlético Madrid, there was no Antoine Griezmann, either.
Barcelona no match for far stronger Bayern side
Shorn of forwards, Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman went with Memphis Depay and Luuk de Jong up top. The latter is hopelessly slow and proved useless at playing on the break, something the Catalans were forced to do by their clearly better visitors. It was striking to see Barça, who for so many years have dominated possession home and away, particularly at the Camp Nou, be pinned back by a strong, well-organised, assured Bayern side with that air of consistency and reliability that characterises everything the Germans do, be it cars, washing machines or football teams. It was a long night for Barça, a kind of death row at the end of which all that was ever awaiting the hosts was defeat. Nobody could possibly expect anything else.
Speaking post-match, Gerard Piqué sought to offer some hope. Barcelona were missing players, above all in attack, he said, and that’s true. There are some very promising youngsters emerging, he added. Also true. Things can certainly only get better, but Barça need to purge the effects of these years of delusion and excess, years in which they lived like the reckless gambler who goes to the casino, loses everything including the watch on his wrist, and then has to give the taxi driver his cuff links just to get back to the hotel. A tough year is in prospect, although it won’t usually be as tough as yesterday. And given the state of things, it isn’t a good idea for club president Joan Laporta to unsettle Koeman more than he already has.