For the first time in more than two decades, Barcelona have suffered a knockout in the group stage of the Champions League. Fans will have to get used to the unfamiliar feel of Thursday night games in a competition the club has never played in since it was renamed the Europa League.
That change will be the first of many, as new coach Xavi saw the scale of the rebuilding needed uncovered Wednesday night at an icy Allianz Arena.
The harsh truth is that this may be the last Wednesday night appointment in Europe that Barça has had for a long time, because they have a fight on their hands to finish among the top four in La Liga and qualify for the Champions League of the next season.
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Bayern Munich’s 3-0 win is just the latest punch to the stomach; The Catalans are reaping what they have sown in recent seasons, with the main culprit being former president Josep Maria Bartomeu. How has Barça fallen here? “Management is as simple as that,” Gerard Piqué said Tuesday.
Chief Bartomeu brought the club to the brink of financial, economic and institutional crisis and that is only getting worse now, and the club’s budget represents the revenue to advance to the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Hopes of making signings in January are further diminished by this elimination, while the club’s hopes of finding € 1.5bn (£ 1.3bn / $ 1.7bn) in financing for its new Espai Barca project may also be damaged.
Xavi grimaced at the band, helpless in the face of Bayern’s lighthearted show of force, although this elimination was always likely despite his positivity about the club’s chances.
The 3-0 losses to Bayern and Benfica early in the group stage gave Barcelona an uphill challenge, made worse by the numerous injuries they have suffered.
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Yet when Ousmane Dembele opened an opportunity over the bar in the first half, it was impossible not to think about the club’s decision to sign him over Kylian Mbappé in 2017, when they were full of cash from Neymar’s sale to Paris Saint. -Germain.
Mbappé, who shone with PSG on Tuesday night, can sign for Real Madrid this summer when his contract expires and spice up Barcelona’s wound. Record signing Philippe Coutinho came off the bench to no avail in the second half. He did much more damage when on loan at Bayern, scoring twice in the humiliating 8-2 destruction in Lisbon in 2020.
The club has lost its best player, Lionel Messi, due to financial problems, while Luis Suárez and Antoine Griezmann were forced to leave for similar reasons. All three will be in the round of 16 and could turn on their televisions on Thursday nights to see how their former colleagues fare among the second class in Europe.
Some of them may not stick around for much longer. Xavi was enthusiastic about the opportunity to coach some of his former teammates, including Piqué and Jordi Alba, but both suffered in Munich. The former was outwitted by Robert Lewandowski for the first goal, while the latter retired injured, a constant problem for the left-back these days.
Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza were tough when Muller headed home, neither good enough to compete at this level.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen was to blame for the second goal, ruining Leroy Sane’s shot from afar, with the German goalkeeper far from his 2017 peak.
Sergino Dest looked lost on the right wing and was hooked at the break, leaving only Ronald Araujo as a reliable defender.
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The Uruguayan impressed even as those around him crumbled, but rebuilding the rest of the defense will take time. And the attack, as it has been in the post-Messi era, was also toothless.
While defenders can be trained to some extent to play Barcelona-style, La Masia has never produced quality attackers on a regular basis. Barcelona has looked elsewhere, incorporating players like Neymar, Suárez, Samuel Eto’o, Ronaldinho and others. They also cannot sign players at that level in the foreseeable future.
The only positive thing to hold on to is the progress of their young midfielders, Gavi, Pedri and Nico González, although some of the European giants may seek to test Barcelona’s resolve with offers in the summer, teams that may be more attractive than the Catalans, perhaps. for the first time in history, and with tumbleweeds in the bank account, some at the club may be tempted.
From the dizzying heights of winning the hat-trick, twice, to this descent into the Europa League, Barcelona’s downfall has been swift, self-inflicted and humiliating.