The most stunning aspect of Barcelona’s 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich on Tuesday was how predictable it was, and how simply the players and coach Ronald Koeman accepted their dramatic descent from European powers to outsiders.
Catalans had gone 38 games without losing in the Champions League at home less than a year ago, but they have already lost their previous three European games at the Camp Nou, losing 3-0 to Juventus and 4-1 to Paris Saint-Germain before Tuesday’s disaster.
The result may not have been as abysmal as Bayern’s 8-2 humiliation in the 2019-20 quarterfinals, but the performance was much more desperate, with Koeman’s side failing to register a single shot on target.
While some fans booed the performance, the overarching feeling was one of apathy, with fans celebrating the rare instance when their team was able to keep possession for a little period of time.
The players’ reactions were equally telling.
After the 8-2 thumping, veteran defender Gerard Pique declared that the club needed to be reformed from top to bottom, but he appeared to embrace the new normal on Tuesday, saying, “It is what it is and we are what we are.”
Coach Koeman agreed with Pique, claiming that he had no choice but to field a defensive 3-5-2 formation due to the team’s extensive injury problems, which included left back Jordi Alba playing despite being sick the night before and only two forwards available, forcing the coach to choose Sergi Roberto as the right wing back.
Barca finished the game with four adolescents on the field, and the promise of youth was the only bright spot on an otherwise dark evening, with Koeman confident that the team will improve in the coming years as players like Gavi and Alex Balde gain experience.
The coach also stated that the team’s fortunes would improve once their injury problems were resolved, but there is no guarantee that this will happen quickly: Ousmane Dembele has had a career riddled with injuries, while Ansu Fati will be returning from two knee operations after missing the previous season.
A new signing has been made. Sergio Aguero has also been plagued by injuries recently, and at 33, he is hardly the type of player to solve the physical differences that were evident as Bayern consistently outpaced and outpowered their Barca rivals.
Because the Catalans are in Group E alongside the inferior Dynamo Kyiv and Benfica, they should qualify for the last 16 as runners-up.
Reaching the knockout stage, on the other hand, may only postpone another embarrassing night when they face a top team.
Pique stated that his club was no longer among the favorites to win a competition that they had won three times in the previous decade, and local media echoed his judgment.
The front cover of the Spanish tabloid Marca read, “Poor Barca,” while the front cover of the Catalan daily Sport featured the Barca players staring regretfully at the Camp Nou with the caption, “The Sad Reality.”