Barcelona's sad new reality: Bayern Munich prove Catalans can no longer compete with Europe's elite
By the end, Barcelona fans were more concerned with a ball being tossed around in a stand behind Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s goal than the game itself.
They were dropped coldly and cruelly into their sad new reality by Bayern Munich, the Germans emerging with a commanding 3-0 win from Camp Nou on Tuesday night in their Champions league opener.
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Barcelona failed to muster a single shot on target, a statistic that highlights the disparity between the two teams, as if the scoreline alone was not enough.
The hosts began the game with a point to prove, their last outing against Bayern that infamous 8-2 from little over a year ago. They gritted their teeth, but that can only get you so far.
There was a ‘Koeman out’ banner in one stand, taken down by the club, but it doesn’t feel like it will be a long time before it springs back up again, and more with it.
The squad is not on the level of Europe’s elite, and crucially, neither is the coach.
Ronald Koeman invoked Chelsea’s Champions League win last season as one of the reasons Barcelona could upset the odds, but he cannot offer half the tactical nous of Thomas Tuchel.
Perhaps the scoreline was limited to three because Bayern Munich started the game in an uncharacteristically sluggish fashion, not quite clicking in attack.
They slowly found their rhythm and began to spend increasingly long stretches in Barcelona territory, including in the area.
After too many moves broke down just a few yards out from goal, Thomas Muller decided to try something else, and his effort from distance flew in off Eric Garcia’s backside.
It was poor defending from the Spaniard, who has had an error-strewn start to life back in Catalonia. Ter Stegen, wrong-footed by the deflection, bore a look of exasperation long before the ball hit the net.
It was a look he continued to wear for much of the night, as Bayern increased their stranglehold on the game.
The opener, although fortunate because of the deflection, saw Bayern move the ball from right to left, toying with Barcelona on a passing carousel reminiscent of the Catalans in their Pep Guardiola heyday.
How far they have fallen.
Koeman, arms crossed on the sideline, didn’t have much choice with his starting line-up because of the team’s spate of injuries. He opted for a cautious 5-3-2 system, perhaps with the 8-2 thrashing in mind.
At home, at the Camp Nou, it has been many, many years since Barcelona have played so defensively. Many years too that they have started a game so sure they were levels below their opponents.
By the time the game finished it was boys against men, quite literally, with Koeman throwing on Alejandro Balde, Gavi, Yusuf Demir and Oscar Mingueza, to join Pedri and Ronald Araujo, all of whom are 22 and under.
That’s the one area of hope for the club, and his willingness to use La Masia talents is one of the few reasons Koeman has retained his position. Barcelona were better after the substitutes came on, with Gavi, in particular, injecting some fight into a weak performance.
Philippe Coutinho, back after months out injured, was also bright on his return and offered some sparks that hint he can start over at the club, and become an important player this season.
However, it's in the youngsters the club's future lies, and one day they may be able to play in games like this, and win them.
That is not Barcelona's current situation, though. It may not be the case for some time.
As a weary Gerard Pique sighed afterwards, “It is what it is, we are what we are. It’s not an excuse, it’s a reality.”