By Raj Das.
There were 71 minutes on the clock and Lionel Messi had the ball in the middle of the pitch. Two Bayern players surrounded him on his right, and two more were on his left.
His Barcelona teammates remained static and waited for him to play an incisive through pass. They were spent, shellshocked. The scoreline read 2-5 to Bayern Munich.
Days have passed since the Champions League quarter-final in Lisbon but fans, experts and journalists are still struggling to find the right words to adequately describe Barcelona’s pathetic meltdown.
Everyone knew that this lacklustre Barcelona would face an uphill struggle against the record Bundesliga champions. But nobody was prepared for what lay in store.
Leon Goretzka and Alphonso Davies
As has been the theme throughout the season, Barcelona lacked cohesion and came up second best in every department against Bayern.
The Germans physically imposed their authority in the game, which is perhaps best exemplified by the duels between Nelson Semedo and Alphonso Davies.
A reverse camera angle captured the moment when Davies hoodwinks Semedo and makes the run that would lead to Bayern’s fifth goal. Just notice the difference between their frames from that angle.
The Portuguese looked small and skinny compared to the strong and hulking frame of the 19-year-old Canadian international.
There were other examples as well.
In midfield, Leon Goretzka was a much more effective and physical attacking threat than Frenkie de Jong, who had a decent game in truth. But de Jong is a holding midfielder, capable of feeding incisive through passes for others.
Goretzka, on the contrary, is like a young Frank Lampard who loves to make late forays into the box. He is not simply content to create but also wants to score.
He also hassled the Dutchman throughout the night, which culminated in the latter’s frustration and complaints to the referee at one point in the second half.
It is also telling that the ageing Barcelona covered only 98.28 kilometres of ground, in comparison to the Germans’ 107.55 kilometres. That shows the amount of intensity that Bayern put into their performance; a consequence of having more youngsters in their squad.
Individual Mistakes Cost Barca Again
It is a shame that the Anfield theme continued this season as well.
Last season, it was Jordi Alba’s misplaced header that gave the ball away to Sadio Mane, which led to Liverpool’s opener through Divock Origi.
This time, it was a misplaced pass in midfield from Sergio Busquets in the third minute that led to a Bayern counter-attack, from which Thomas Müller profited.
The second goal, scored by Ivan Perišić in the 21st minute, came via a misplaced Sergi Roberto pass.
There were flashes of Liverpool as well in the way in which the Bavarians set up a high line. Like Liverpool, they hassled and harried the Catalan giants, trying to nick the ball back at every given opportunity.
In fact, Bayern’s seventh goal also came from a mistake by Messi, after the ball was nicked off him in midfield.
It was ridiculous to see the usually imperious Marc-André ter Stegen look like an amateur goalkeeper, or worse. It was arguably his worst performance in a Barcelona shirt.
He looked clueless every time he had the ball, and Robert Lewandowski almost made him pay in the first half itself. The German looked stunned, and was casual with his passes on many occasions.
The Redemption of Philippe Coutinho
After spending a year and a half pursuing the Brazilian from Anfield, the Catalans had finally managed to land Philippe Coutinho in 2018. Just a year later, he was deemed unsuitable.
His transfer fee was estimated to be around £142 million. Funnily enough, Liverpool utilised those funds wisely to rope in Allison Becker, Virgil van Dijk and Fabinho.
Coutinho literally funded their UEFA Champions League title for the 2018-19 season, and the three players also played key roles in the Reds’ Premier League victory this season, their first in three decades.
I had earlier said that Coutinho had the perfect opportunity to extract a modicum of revenge if he could deal some damage to his ‘parent’ club.
He did much more than that, scoring twice and providing an assist as well.
Coutinho did nothing significant in Barcelona colours, but what is interesting is that both his former employers Liverpool, and his now loan-club Bayern Munich have heaped humiliation and misery to the Catalan giants.
He has not only set them back by millions of pounds, but has also directly been the reason for the success of Barcelona’s bitter European rivals.
Coutinho has been an ill omen for Barcelona, like the raven from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem. Ever since Neymar left, Barcelona have been looking for their Lenore. But in Philippe Coutinho, they have only found the raven.
It Gets Worse and Worse Every Season For Barca
First it was 3-0 in Rome; then it became 4-0 at Anfield. Now 8-2 in the Estádio da Luz. It keeps on getting worse with every passing year. It is almost as if Barcelona arrive at the latter stages of the Champions League only to humiliate themselves further.
For three seasons in a row, Barcelona went unprepared to a big European game. Their third consecutive meltdown makes us realise more than ever that it is nothing more than a psychological matter.
Quique Setien’s false promises were there for all to see once again. During the buildup to the game, he was said to be devising a strategy to make Messi more available in the final third of the pitch.
Yet, the Argentine had to assume creative responsibility, and was occasionally found in the midfield trying to conjure something up for his team. It was Messi’s pre-assist to Jordi Alba that led to Luis Suarez’s goal that momentarily seemed to have brought Barcelona back into the game.
How can Barcelona recover?
Barcelona cannot recover. They need to make wholesale changes, starting from the club hierarchy itself. It is surely a matter of time before Setien is sacked. Sporting director Eric Abidal could also follow suit according to Sky Sports Italia correspondent Gianluca di Marzio.
Gerard Pique has already offered to retire should ‘fresh blood’ came in to replace him. He also feels the club has hit rock bottom.
In truth, it is difficult to make sense of Josep Maria Bartomeu’s decisions. Ernesto Valverde should have been fired after the Roma debacle, but he let Txingurri continue. This enabled him to gift the Barcelona fans with the horror-show in Anfield.
Maybe Setien will not be fired after all.
It is also really unfortunate for the club that the pandemic came at a time when there is a weak and inept leader like Bartomeu at the helm. The Barcelona president has already spent a billion pounds on players, and the lack of ticket sales and other merchandise has only exacerbated the Blaugrana’s already delicate financial situation.
Barcelona will not recover from this. Take it as a note of footballing prophesy. A change of leader will still not change the fact that they wasted five precious years of Messi, and squandered a combined £407 million on flops such as Philippe Coutinho, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele.
In short, the new dark away kit for the next season perfectly symbolises the dark days ahead for the Catalan giants.